The Undertaker’s Daughter by Kate Mayfield (3 out of 5)

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Home Sweet Home? Funeral Home Sweet Home throws a whole different curve ball in there. Kate Mayfield grew up in small town, segregated Jubilee, Kentucky. Her father is the town undertaker, and Kate’s upbringing is by no means the norm. How could it be? Kate bears witness to all sorts of town secrets, weird fetishes, and of course, the bodies of victims of murders, accidents, and suicide. Kate’s father takes a pretty central role in this book, because keeping up the façade of the town funeral director, he begins to crack. Kate’s parents marriage takes a direct hit when he begins cheating, and he begins drinking all the time. Kate gets older and begins to change from a trusting, helpful child to a rebellious, straightforward teen, all the while trying to learn about life outside of a funeral home, while watching her father’s walls begin to crumble. Growing up in a town like Jubilee had to be an experience in itself, and adding to it the fact that Kate is surrounded by death her entire childhood into her teens, while trying to break away and learn what life is outside of the cloistered walls of the funeral home and the town itself. There have been a number of books out in the past year about being an undertaker, growing up in a home where your family were undertakers, not to mention memoirs of morticians. It’s an aspect of life (and death) that fascinates the public consciousness and many of us read these types of books to satisfy the curiosities of death itself; the process, the aftermath, the healing. Still others read about them to see the human nature side of things; how does one live comfortably in a home when there are corpses there? Did those living there develop an indifference to it, or do they get creeped out? How does one come to terms with it? Do they come to terms with the reality of it? Tons of questions coming to the surface. There will never be a shortage of people eager to read this sort of memoir. And yes, I am one of those people.

I really wanted to love this book. Instead, I ended up liking it a good deal. It wasn’t missing anything, I just couldn’t tune into Kate’s psyche the way I had with other memoirs that were similar in subject matter. More than one blurb I saw mentioned it as Six Feet Under meets Mary Roach. I got a little of that, but I wasn’t a big fan of either the show, or the author. I enjoyed Mary Roach’s first two books, but lost interest. She is so far into detail that I felt like the emotional side was neglected. And yes, there is one, despite the fact we’re dealing with a dead body. Those who are left behind- that’s the emotional side. I felt like Mayfield’s book was the opposite- she dwells a great deal on the emotional side, and there is a little in way of detail of what goes on behind closed doors of the funeral home, but it gets lost in the emotion emanating from the author. I kind of was hoping for a nice balance of the two, but I didn’t quite find the balance. I also really wanted to feel a connection to the family, instead, I wanted to beat the hell out of her father when he started to turn to other earthly delights to get through the nights of his occupation. Everyone has to have a coping mechanism, and some people have destructive ones. The book just fell apart for me midway through Mayfield’s seguing from child to teen who wants to rule the world; I felt like the anchor had slipped for me as a reader. Of course, I plowed on until the end. Overall, you have to admire Mayfield’s moxie in morphing from the dark side to the side with sunlight and life. I just didn’t quite get into this book as much as I thought I would have. An effective biography, nonetheless.

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~ by generationgbooks on March 22, 2015.

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