Kgirl's Book Shelf

Curtains: Adventures of an Undertaker-In-Training
Tom Jokinen

Tom Jonkinen left a job as a producer for CBC radio to become – what else? – an undertaker. Fascinated by the business of death, Tom decided to dig right in (wakka wakka) and find out what happens between the time that someone dies and the time that others formally say goodbye to the deceased.

I asked Random House to send me this book in particular for review because 1) I am morbid and morbidly fascinated by the details of death and 2) because 1) doesn’t mean that death doesn’t scare me. It does. To death. So I watch/read/ingest a lot about death in the hopes of not being as scared of it, I guess.

Anyway, Tom Jokinen is a good writer of this book. And by that, I mean that he writes about a touchy subject in a way that is both funny and sensitive. The only time I ever felt uncomfortable while reading this book was when Jokinen was describing, in surgical detail, his first foray into embalming a corpse. Incisions and drains and veins make me queasy. Luckily, stories about dead people don’t, so I was able to read on.

But I do think that this book would have been ok without quite so much of the clever. Clearly a coping method (probably in all aspects of life), Jokinen found something cute – and mainly self-depreciating – to say about pretty much everything important that happens in the book. It got a little exhausting at times, and I wish he would have trusted the strength of his writing to stand on its own every now and then. However, that is a minor criticism.

Curtains is mainly about an experience in a working-class, Winnipeg funeral home, so I know that I shouldn’t have been looking for a more culturally inclusive story of death, but I was. As a Jew, I was hoping to get more props for the way we traditionally implement a more ecologically friendly burial (no preserving, no fancy clothes, no chemicals, no fancy casket) – a major need in the traditional burial business, apparently. And, as a Jew, tales of huge gas ovens make me squirm, so I had to skim the cremation bits.

This was a nice alternative to my normal death-industry fare – and by that I mean Six Feet Under and CSI reruns – and I know a few other morbidly curious people that will enjoy this as much as I did. I’m certainly glad that it didn’t get buried on my bookshelf for long.

Curtains is available for pre-order now, shipping March 9, 2010



  1. sounds fascinating! I have always wanted to read Stiff, another non-fic book about what happens to the dead.

    There is a company, btw, called something like Simple Alternative that does basic, basic no-frills funerals with plain pine and they even do rentals, where the inside part of buried, but the outer, decorative part gets reused many times. Isn't that interesting? I've always wondered if it's possible to bury people in a shroud now, or whether there are legal/public health reasons against it. I'm thinking my supergreen dad would love that idea some day.

  2. I;m all for an eco friendly burial. We are closed casket types and I have strict instructions that it is a cardboard box for my dad.

    I;ve heard of that Simple Alternative. I read an article recently about home funerals. Can't remember if it was local and am sure the regulations vary wildly.


Talk to me.