S.G. Browne

S is for STIFF

The digestive organs and the lungs disintegrate first, for they are home to the greatest number of bacteria…The brain is another early-departure organ.  “Because all the bacteria in the mouth chew through the palate,” explains Arpad.  And because brains are soft and easy to eat.  “The brain liquefies very quickly.  It just pours out the ears and bubbles out the mouth.”

The previous kernel of post-mortem knowledge comes from Chapter 3 of Mary Roach’s STIFF: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, a wonderful little book about what happens to the human body after it stops walking around and starts to smell.
STIFF was instrumental in my research into what Andy and the other zombies in Breathers might have to contend with as they confronted the reality of their decomposing existence – sloughage, bloat, maggots feasting on their subcutaneous fat.  All of the everyday things zombies worry about.  In addition, STIFF also provided some insight into the consequences they might face should they get a little too uppity:

Over the past sixty years, the dead have helped the living work out human tolerance limits for skull slammings and chest skewerings, knee crammings and gut mashings; all the ugly, violent things that happen to a human being in a car crash.

From STIFF I learned that when maggots feast on subcutaneous fat it sounds like Rice Krispies, that when the internal organs liquefy they turn to chicken soup, and that up until 1965, necrophilia wasn’t a crime in any U.S. state.  Not really sure what made everyone change their mind then, but since I was born in 1965, I’m sure there’s some cosmic connection.
What made STIFF such a pleasure to read, rather than simply pouring through a bunch of facts about putrefaction and rigor mortis and forensic science, was the funny, matter-of-fact style of Mary Roach.  Her humor and light-hearted irreverence toward the dead makes reading about impact testing and anal leakage a lot of fun.  No, really.

If you like a good non-fiction read with a touch of morbid fascination, then I recommend you pick up a copy of STIFF.  As Entertainment Weekly says, it’s “Gross, educational, and unexpectedly sidesplitting.”

(Next entry:  T is for Tom)

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Filed under: Breathers,The Writing Life — Tags: , , — S.G. Browne @ 4:17 pm

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