Another re-read for me, this time because my workplace book club suggested it. Feelings were mixed, in part because the text and writing style were, contrary to the title, so loose. The naysayers felt like the chapters were disjointed and that the writer was too flip, looking for a joke rather than research, but for my part I think it’s well balanced.
Stiff follows what happens to the human body after we die – not the experience of death, not what happens to “us,” but the various things that can happen to a body once there’s no one there possessing it anymore. Roach spends a lot of time with those donated to research, so we get to see physicians practicing facelift techniques on disembodied heads, corpse farms that study how decomposition is changed by environment and time, and crash test subjects who aren’t likely to complain about unrestrained collisions as they can’t survive an accident they weren’t alive for in the first place.
Revisiting this book (her first) reinforces that Roach’s strong authorial voice was present from the beginning, but I agree with the detractors in my book club that noted some disjointedness in the “narrative” of the book. I think her later books improve, and that this could have used a through line explaining why Roach visited each potential end point. But I also think that Roach’s humor is welcome in a macabre subject and she treats the bodies she writes about with a humanity that is appreciated. All her joking is reserved for the absurdity of the situations she observes rather than the non-living subjects.