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Curtains : Adventures of an Undertaker-in-Training
At forty-four, Tom Jokinen decided to quit his job in order to become an apprentice undertaker, setting out to ask the questions: What is the right thing to do when someone dies? With the marketplace offering new options (go green, go anti-corporate, go Disney, be packed into an artificial reef and dropped in the Atlantic...), is there still room for tradition? In a year of adventures both hair-raising and hilarious, Jokinen finds a world that is radically changed since Jessica Mitford revised The American Way of Death, more surprising than Six Feet Under, and even funnier and more illuminating than Stiff. If Bill Bryson were to apprentice at a funeral home, searching for the meaning of life and death, you'd have Curtains.
A CBC journalist in Winnepeg taking "a month's leave to dabble in deathcare" reveals the changing face of the funeral industry in this informative but rote tour of duty, an update of sorts on Jessica Mitford's 1963 The American Way of Death. On his first day as an intern at the Winnepeg crematorium run by Neil Bardal, the undertaker tells him that "the traditional funeral is gone and it's never coming back"; the bereft world has embraced cremation, with specific impact on a number of industry segments, from vehicles and florists to tombstones and caskets. Jokinen is nonchalantly graphic when getting into the day-to-day of cremation ("I dump the pan of bones onto the steel table and crunch through it with the heavy magnet"), touching on juvenile at times, but makes the point in many ways that, eventually, we'll all be paying for this industry's changes. The industry's big bet is that 75 million North American baby boomers, afraid of death, will want unprecedented control over their funerals, illustrated in examples like a successful Milwaukee funeral home owner who calls Ritz-Carlton and Disney his models. Readers who understand that Joniken took on the role of apprentice undertaker for one reason (they're reading it) will find an interesting glimpse into an almost-invisible industry, and the forces pushing it in strange new directions. (Mar.) Copyright 2010 Reed Business Information.
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Da Capo Press
March 22, 2010
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