I was tempted to save this memoir for a Halloween blog post, but that might give you the wrong idea about this book written by a “gravedigger’s daughter.” Rachael Hanel, who blogs here, tells the story of growing up in a small town in Minnesota. Her father was a caretaker at the cemeteries, as well as a digger of graves.
The emphasis on cemeteries and graves in the book make their way onto the page of her blog, as well. Very educational and even entertaining to look directly at headstones and death, without flinching. While Hanel’s family story and history is very middle America (and I don’t mean that dismissively–it’s interesting for its specificity), the style she wrote the memoir in deviates from the norm. It is overwhemingly memoir-ish throughout, but also threads through journalistic techniques and in the last portion of the book even becomes more like a lyric essay–lyrical and reflective.
I was stunned to see how many photographs were “allowed” in Hanel’s book. They add a lot, and they made me a little (oddly enough) jealous because I know how difficult it is to get a publisher to agree to using photographs (presumably because of the cost).
As a child, Hanel was interested in violent deaths, even reading Helter Skelter, the story of the Manson murders, at age eleven. This fascination is not surprising given the emphasis in the family on death. Adult reflection tells us she has learned this:
Reading became a protection; the words were a blanket I wrapped tightly around me. The stories helped me prepare for the inevitable. I surrounded myself with these words, reminders that bad things happen to good people. I read somewhere that we are drawn to stories of death and disease to convince ourselves that we would act differently. That somehow, by learning of someone else’s story we can protect ourselves.
I not only agree with these words, but I think they are a main reason I love to read memoirs.
For a related memoir, check out this one.