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Tag: forensic medicine

Exquisite Corpses

by on May.05, 2011, under The Truth Is In Here

Review for the Brooklyn Rail of Down Among the Dead Men: A Year in the Life of a Mortuary Technician by Michelle Williams; 2010; Soft Skull Press

by Jeffrey Stanley

What lay in front of us was a headless body; fully clothed, but headless. Curiosity got the better of me and I just had to pull back the top of the body bag to see what other injuries this poor individual had sustained. Resting between his knees lay his motorbike helmet…‘Where’s his head?’ I asked.

Clive picked up the helmet with his gloved hands and said in a voice of perfect seriousness, ‘He had it gift-wrapped.’ Hanging from the bottom of it were ragged tatters of flesh and what appeared to be cervical vertebrae…looked into the visor and found myself fixated by the face behind it…As I was preparing myself to start the evisceration, I began to wonder how we could hope to make any difference to this man.

2010 was a year of the macabre in creative nonfiction. First came the popular The Poisoner’s Handbook by award-winning science writer Deborah Blum, followed closely by Douglas Perry’s The Girls of Murder City which I reviewed in the Rail last September. Michelle Williams’s Down Among the Dead Men: A Year in the Life of a Mortuary Technician completes the grisly triptych and differs from the other two in that it’s not a history lesson but a you-are-there contemporary memoir. Set in suburban Gloucestershire, about two hours west of London, the book details Williams’s rise from somewhat passionless health care assistant for the National Health Service to medical technical officer working in a hospital morgue, to manager of her own hospital mortuary.

The most surprising element of the narrative is Williams herself, who is neither a serious physician, impassioned science nerd, nor weird loner. She is a young, attractive,    CONT’D AT BROOKLYNRAIL.ORG>>

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