- ISBN-13: 9781476761213
- ISBN-10: 1476761213
- Publisher: Scribner Book Company
- Publish Date: July 2014
- Page Count: 179
- Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.3 x 0.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 0.75 pounds
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2014-06-30
- Reviewer: Staff
In this potent memoir, Meredith begins a career as a handler of the dead following a scandal that shatters his family when his is only 14. His father, a professor of literature, is accused of sexual harassment and fired. Meredith's devastated mother withdraws, and Meredith and his sister are left floundering through the remainder of their youth. Flunking out of college, Meredith first works with his father removing the bodies of the deceased from their homes. He then gets a job at Brotherly Love Cremation, and describes the grim details of his work. During this period of his life, Meredith is numb, likening himself to a possum: "The possum is a coward. He avoids conflict by disengaging, by hiding behind his open eyes. He cleans up the dead. He eats carrion so we don't have to smell it, see it, catch its disease." Careening through women and drink, Meredith describes without emotion the girls he uses and dumps, the demise of his Philadelphia neighborhood, and the violent deaths of several guys he knew from high school. The "festival of death" at work every day stirs no feelings in him about life. Change doesn't seem to be within his power, and he fears he might become his father. Realizing that "picking one thing to be" might be his salvation, he writes in the final pages that he can see his work as a service to others, a mercy, although this bright wrap-up seems a bit too neatly contrived given what comes before. (July)
Life lessons from working with stiffs
Amid the 21st-century glut of overindulgent memoirs, The Removers is a poignant, near-perfect addition to the genre. Andrew Meredith writes of growing up in a crumbling Philadelphia neighborhood, his family quietly imploding in the wake of a scandal that cost his father his university job.
A once promising student, Meredith drops out of various colleges and halfheartedly dates various women throughout his 20s. His zombie existence is punctuated by possibly the worst job in the world: Transporting bodies from houses and hospitals to a funeral home, then cremating them. He is joined in this work by his father, a poet and professor who is reduced to moving bodies to make ends meet. This story is bittersweet, but also frequently, improbably hilarious.
“Philadelphia, you big bitch, throw me a bone,” Meredith writes. “It’s June 1998. I’m twenty-two. I’ve bounced from failure at school to crappy job and back for two years. I spend my time outside the house either dragging the local dead around or getting drunk listening to rock and roll before coming chastely home to sleep ten feet down the hall from my parents. I’ve now handled far more dead women than live ones.”
Meredith is clear-eyed and generous in his storytelling, relaying with skill and honesty everything from his first sexual encounter to his family’s inability to communicate. While he creates a powerful sketch of a very specific time and place—a family in crisis in 1990s Philadelphia—this book will ring true to anyone who ever yearned to grow up, only to find that coming of age is more painful and beautiful than they ever imagined.