A candid and at times brutally honest view of life and death and a child’s struggle to not be like his parents.
A dark, poignant, and emotionally brave coming-of-age memoir: the story of a young man who, by handling the dead, makes peace with the living.
For almost twenty years I mistook my father’s downfall as my own. But it wasn’t. It was not my sister’s either, nor my mother’s.
A literature professor at La Salle University, Andrew Meredith’s father was fired after unspecified allegations of sexual misconduct. It’s a transgression Andrew cannot forgive, for it brought about long-lasting familial despair. In the wake of the scandal, Andrew’s parents limp along, trapped in an unhappy marriage. Meanwhile, Andrew treads water, stuck in a kind of suspended adolescence—falling in and out of school, moving blindly from one half-hearted relationship to the next, slowly killing the nights drinking beer and listening to music with his childhood friends.
Broke, Andrew moves back home to his childhood neighborhood in Northeast Philadelphia and takes a job alongside his father as a “remover,” the name for those unseen, unsung workers who take away the bodies of those who die at home. He describes, as only a professional can do, the intimate, horrific, poignant, and occasionally morbidly comedic aspects of handling the dead. Just how do you carry a 500-pound corpse down winding stairs? What actually happens to pacemakers, tooth fillings, surgical screws, artificial hips, and anything else that the deceased has within his or her body? Andrew begins to see his father not through the lens of a wronged and resentful child, but as a sympathetic, imperfect man who loves his family despite his flaws. Eventually the chip on his shoulder starts to lose its weight.
Poetic without being florid, and with the literary ability to transform the naturally grotesque into the exquisite, The Removers is a searing story of a young man who finds in death a redemptive path toward the forgiveness of the living, including himself.
Meredith writes with ease and a lack of self-consciousness that is refreshing and engaging; that he is able to analysis and describe his formative years with such honesty and naturalness is a pleasure to read. Thoughts and actions flow easily onto the page. Meredith survives the breakdown of his parents’ marriage, the discovery that his parents are sexual beings (this seems to gross all adolescents) and his determined efforts to not become like them – which involve many self-destructive behaviours and a void in his life.
Work becomes a redemptive therapy – but one that takes many years to achieve the unconscious goal of self-love. It is a strange and unique industry (death) that opens the door to Meredith’s release and allows him to grow and flourish. I think that we will see good things from this author in the future.