Trigger Warning: This novel and review discuss the following: cremation, burial, anatomy, dead bodies, grief, death.
Goodreads Rating: 4 Stars
Yes, you read that title right: Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory. As in, this book is definitely about death, and what happens to our human remains.
I personally think I have a decent understanding of death. I don’t fear it, but I have a healthy respect for it as I certainly feel like I have a lot to offer this world so I’m not ready to “punch my ticket” anytime soon. I grew up in a household where family hunted for food, and where pets didn’t “run away”. My first funeral was for my great-grandmother when was twelve, so I was able to understand that this was much different than when Chester, our first family pet, died when I was little. My parents never sheltered me from death- they just presented it as a fact of this world, and this gave me a respect for life and the science behind it.
So, when at book club a while back, one of the girls (Hi Carrie!) mentioned this audiobook, and I thought it sounded intriguing to hear about how one decided to go into the mortuary business.
In the memoir, Doughty discusses her first day in the crematory, and how she learned to face the dead every day, and what drew her to such a career. She explains some of the things that pique our curiosity about death, but don’t really want to ask. She goes into detail about how a body goes through the cremation process, and what it’s like to prepare a body for a wake, and the history behind the funeral process. Doughty also talks about the tough stuff that’s even hard for me to mention to you all- and for that, you’ll have to take it upon yourself to find out.
Listening via audio, which Doughty narrates herself, you can tell that the author has a good sense of humor and a lot of respect for what she does. She knows it takes a certain kind of someone to handle being a mortician, and she mentions that she would want to take care of her patients the way that she would want someone to take care of her or her family members at their time of death. Her writing style is very conversational, which lends itself well to the audiobook. Her information and supporting research to back up her experiences is thorough, and she mentions how difficult it is to find such information online- which made it difficult for her to find out how to even get into schooling or the business itself.
Overall, despite the grim nature of the job, Doughty she’s a light on the dark subject, injecting humor when she can. Her anecdotes had me giggling, and the deeper conversations had me really contemplating what I would want for my final days of rest- something that, though not exactly fun to think about, is still important to contemplate. I also enjoyed reading about a topic outside of my comfort zone, and can see why Carrie recommended it in the first place.
Published: September 28, 2015
Publisher: W. W. Norton Company
TL/DR: Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty is a memoir about a woman’s experience working in cremation and the funeral home business.
Read it? Yes. It’s thought-provoking and illuminating, while also humorous.
Recommend it? Definitely, but with a trigger warning (see above.)
Buy it? I purchased my copy via Audible, and I would certainly recommend getting a copy of the audiobook, but a hardcopy will do too. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed in this memoir.
If you liked this novel or review, check out these similar reads:
- The Broken Girls by Simone St. James
- The Invited by Jennifer McMahon