"My Life with Corpses"
(Reviewed by Cindy Lynn Speer DEC 19, 2004)
"This is precisely what I was saying earlier. Living must be learned, and it can only be learned in contact with those who are living."
Oz was born into a family of corpses. Her mother died in childbirth while bearing her sister; though dead, she did not stop moving, stop going through the day-to-day chores of life; nor did that child when she died a few years later. The father would soon follow, after his second little girl, Oz, was born. Years later, Oz is “rescued” from her family and taken to live with live people, but by now her own reactions are deadened. Dead people don’t feel. They don’t react much to anything, except to humor. And they think everything, especially things most living people don’t think are funny, are hilarious.
Oz left Kansas determined never to come back, but then her old friend and rescuer, who taught her so much about living, has been discovered missing. His body is no longer in his grave, only a copy of her book in its place, the account of her life with corpses. So she’s waits while the diggers explore the area, attempting to discover if Mr. Stark is really in his grave or not. While she waits, she tells us the real story, the truth about her life with corpses.
It is a fascinating book, detailing, not so much about of her life but instead concentrating on two things... how living with corpses made her the way she is (she aptly uses the comparison of a boy raised by wolves) and thus how she grows and develops; and, about how many corpses are wandering around society, especially in the college she goes to. Apparently academia is a perfect place for the dead. That explains a lot, doesn’t it? She also spends much time fighting the corpse inside of her. She mentions once that she’s afraid if she stops concentrating, she’ll die, too.
The book hits a chord because it does seem like, all around us, there are walking corpses. Of course I don’t mean literally, as in the book, but definitely in the figurative sense. Apathy is its own little death, and it is hard not to get one’s heart weighed down so that one just doesn’t care about anything. Or, like one of Oz’s favorite professors, so caught up in something that is intangible, that doesn’t matter, that her brain and body disconnect, leaving a corpse in its wake that has none of the brilliance of the previous incarnation. When Oz looks herself in the mirror and concentrates on being alive, it’s not simply that she sees the corpse in herself, the ultimate inevitability of her death, but she sees the apathy and darkness within her. It would be easy not to care. Easier for her, because she was raised not to care, raised to be dead.
This is is not a scary novel...no Resident Evil or Dawn of the Dead sequences, here. It is a thought provoking and beautifully rendered novel about what it truly means to be alive. Breathing, worshipping, bearing children, being smart... these things are not enough.
- Amazon readers rating: from 6 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from My Life with Corpses at the author's website
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
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- The official website for Wylene Dunbar
- Written Voices interview with Wylene Dunbar
- The San Diego Union-Tribune review of My Life with Corpses
- Curled Up review of My Life with Corpses
- The Onion review of My Life with Corpses
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About the Author:
Wylene Dunbar was born in Sterling, Kansas. Her farther was a wheat farmer and cattleman; her mother is a painter/photographer. Wylene received her Ph.D. from Vanderbilt and her law degree from the University of Mississippi. She has taught philosphy and practiced law. After being a longtime resident of Oxford, Mississippi, she now lives in Nevada City, California.