Rated Reads

Curtains: Adventures of an Undertaker-in-Training

by Tom Jokinen

Rated: High

Put an experienced writer and producer into a mortuary for a few months, and out comes a book like Curtains. The author actually quit his job with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation to work as an apprentice undertaker with his friend Neil Bardal in Winnepeg, Manitoba Province, Canada. And although he never really explains why, he offers this near the end as a “sort of” explanation:

“I started this trip … thinking funeral directors were, at best, well-meaning crackerjack salesmen whose answer to the madness of loss was to dress it up, package it, … leaving the real work of grief to the families after the cheque had cleared. Instead, I found a community trying hard, if not always succeeding, to carry their customers from confusion to clarity, and at times helping them to confront real death in a genuine way.”

The reader is exposed to all of the gory glory of working with corpses, interspersed with the history of the profession, the variety of burial/cremation choices, and the likely future of undertaking. Jokinen visits with other funeral directors around the continent, interviews workers in a variety of different background positions (like the guy with the backhoe, the people that design urns, etc.), and attends a major trade show, all in order to give us a glimpse into the invisible side of dying in Western Civilization.

Overall, the book works very well. The descriptions are not gratuitously disgusting, just the facts with enough detailed descriptions to know what is going on without curling your toes. You end up feeling much more comfortable with the entire mortuary cosmos, and even a little empowered for when it is time to make arrangements on behalf of your own family members.

Rated: High, for language. It was really sad to get hit with a half-dozen f-bombs near the end of a pretty mild (at least until then) reading experience. There are also close to a dozen uses of various mild to moderately vulgar terms and phrases.

— Reviewed by Craig Smith

Craig Smith is chief medical officer of Tacoma Cat Hospital. In addition to providing book reviews on Rated Reads, he podcasts about feline health issues through iTunes and www.tacomacat.com.

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  • Curtains: Adventures of an Undertaker-in-Training
  • by Tom Jokinen
  • Rated: High
  • Genre: Nonfiction
  • Reviewer: