05 February 2015

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty

Doughty's obsession with death began young after a tragedy at the mall. Continuing into adulthood, this obsession led her to a job at a crematory, collecting, prepping, and burning the dead. Smoke Gets in Your Eyes is a collection of essays combining her experiences at the crematory and her strong, non-traditional views on death and our treatment of the dead.

My expectations going into this book were rather high. And rather incorrect. I expected a book more focused on death and dying a la Mary Roach's Stiff. Eagerly opening the book, expecting information, history, cultural analysis, I was quickly disappointed in that the book was more focused on Doughty than on death. This is a memoir, not narrative nonfiction as I believed. Unfortunately it took my mind too long to flip switches, and I ended up feeling very lukewarm about the book.

Sprinkled throughout the collection are tidbits of information on historical and contemporary traditions regarding death and dying. Each time they popped up, I was excited and quickly let down due to the lack of detail and depth. Then there were sections that felt oddly placed to me or even disingenuous such as the strangeness with Luke and the thing at the park that was handled really cavalierly all things considered (trying not to spoil things here).

Had I gone into this book with a different mindset, I do believe I would have enjoyed the read. Doughty has a wonderful voice in her writing, and her humor and wit and insight were prevalent throughout. The bodies, alive and dead, that peopled the book were well developed and unique. Plus, I am definitely in the minority here as almost everyone seems to love this book. For better and more positive reviews, try S. Krishna's Books, Estella's Revenge, and Sophisticated Dorkiness,  

This may be one of those books that I have to re-read - without my original notions.


  1. You know, I'm really glad I read this review. I've waffled on reading this, and it's settled somewhere towards the bottom of my TBR pile. I think I would have gone into it with the same expectations you had... and been just as disappointed. At least this way, when I do get around to it, I'll have realistic expectations! (Side note: This review has made me move Stiff back up the list - I absolutely LOVED Bonk but haven't read Stiff yet!)

  2. I loved this book for what it was, but I can see how it might be disappointing if you went into it expecting something different.

  3. Awww, I'm sorry this one didn't jive for you! Maybe one day if you decide to re-read. I definitely know how those expectations not being met can shoot a book down.

  4. I'm sorry to hear you didn't enjoy this! At first, I didn't think it was going to live up to my expectations either, perhaps because the beginning was too much just a memoir, but the more meditative bits about cultural views of death and the death industry toward the end made this something I really enjoyed. If you try it again, I hope it works better for you :)


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