A Different Kind of Horror


hiBy: Jaclyn Peraino

A lot of horror centers on fiction or fantasy; the existence of ghosts, monsters, and supernatural phenomena can be refuted. The horror of the human body and its natural cycles, however, are unavoidable and undeniably true. If you’re ever wondering what kinds of nasty (or exciting) things happen to your body after death, I suggest you pick up Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach. This non-fiction story is sure to give you chills while providing you with some fascinating facts about the many, many uses of human corpses. Did you know that when you donate your body to science you might be used as practice for something as trivial as face lifts? Or that many companies use actual human bodies in car test crashes? Not dummies, actual dead humans. Test crashes have allowed companies to learn exactly how much impact the body can take on a crash and have led to the advancements of the safety precautions in the vehicles we have become accustomed to. There’s even a college in Tennessee (University of Tennessee) that has a yard dedicated to letting dead bodies decay. Not so surprisingly, it smells terrible. These bodies are left to decay naturally to learn about what happens to just about every part of the body. This can be helpful in forensics when time of death needs to be calculated. This site has some corpses left in water, others buried in bags, and some in clothes. Scientists will go out and run chemical analysis on various parts of the bodies. And, of course, they’re usually wearing heavy-duty boots left only at the lab to avoid smelling like rotting flesh when they return home for dinner. Those are just two of twelve intriguing topics covered in her novel. Other topics include crucifixion, cannibalism, decapitation, and head transplants.

This book has received wide recognition including a New York Times Best Seller, Barnes & Noble’s 2003 “Discover Great New Writers” pick, and Entertainment Weekly’s “Best Books of 2003.” The author has the perfect sense of humor to write on this topic. She’s sensitive but witty. It’s comical but filled with things you never thought you needed to know before: how much pressure for a bone to break, how the gut of a corpse expands due to gastric bacteria, how people in ancient times felt about death and preservation. The breadth of coverage and the language used make this book a great read for anyone, even people who don’t have a science background or people who thought they had no interest in learning about corpses. Trust me, you won’t regret reading this book. Plus, you’ll be filled with a multitude of fun corpse facts to share at your next family gathering


One thought on “A Different Kind of Horror

  1. I think this type of horror is personally much scarier. Especially with people who are strict nonbelievers in anything supernatural, this type of story can still get at them. Although I have not read this story, it would be incredibly interesting to see how it is written. Is it more of a non-fiction, straightforward writing, or more like the narrative of a corpse?

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