Smoke Gets in Your Eyes / by Karie Luidens

My review of...

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory
Caitlin Doughty
W. W. Norton & Company, 2014
click to buy on Amazon

I admit that at first I was rather afraid to pick up this book—would the doom and gloom of a memoir about mortality bring me to despair? But once I started reading it I couldn’t stop till I’d read through to the last page. Now that I’ve set it back down, I feel like I’m not even afraid of death anymore, let alone of books on the subject. Doughty takes on the topic with great humor and grace, ultimately reminding us how natural our mortality is and encouraging us to face it rather than flee from it.

She does this in part by taking us on a tour of the modern funeral industry. As a licensed mortician who’s worked in cremation, embalming, and funeral direction, she’s certainly qualified to wax poetic on the subject. But this memoir is more than a collection of anecdotes from the crematory: it’s also an account of her evolving relationship to her own mortality. Doughty writes about her painful personal encounters with death as openly as she does about her professional encounters. She also weaves in the expertise of anthropologists and the wisdom of cultures across history. 

The resulting book is, at the very least, poignant and entertaining for the individual reader. On a larger scale, I hope her efforts will help change the way our current secular culture confronts death.