It’s something you’ve been told your entire life. Put away your toys. Color inside the lines. Straighten your room. Keep your handwriting neat, make your bed, wipe the countertops, take out the trash.
Neatness: maintenance, paycheck-getter, or personality trait? Depends on who you are, mostly. In “The Removers” by Andrew Meredith, cleaning up was ultimately a method of coping.
The body had been there awhile.
On his second run for the funeral home, Meredith was cocky, thinking he’d seen it all until he went into the dead man’s room. So how did Meredith, a twenty-something college drop-out, ever get to that point?
He’d grown up in Philly, in an area just minutes from most of his extended family. His parents were both professionals; he and his sister had childhoods filled with activities, Sundays at Grandma’s, aunts and uncles and cousins.
And then one day, when he was an adolescent, Meredith came home to a house that remained mostly silent for the next decade: his father had had an affair with a college student, which seemed to ruin everything. Still, for the sake of family, Meredith’s parents decided to stay together.
In that atmosphere thick with sadness and hostility, Meredith says that his “outsides… become even more frozen than before, and the tiny remnant of who I was before the house went silent… retreated even deeper…” He floated through Catholic school, flunked out of college, and quickly endured a series of superficial relationships. Finally, “dreadful broke,” depressed, and bored, he asked his father to help him get a job as a remover of dead bodies.
Later, while working at a crematorium, Meredith says “you could’ve powered a forklift with the stopped-up rage in me.” He grew even more morose and, though he was curious about former lives of the deceased, bodies melded into one “Mildred,” making his job with the dead into a certain dead-end job.
But realizations were dawning slowly: Meredith began to understand that picking a path was okay, and that his was “good and helpful work.” Furthermore, his parents did their best. And, he says, “I start to see the dignity in doing the necessary.”
Five minutes after I opened the package containing “The Removers,” I knew I was in trouble. Clear my calendar. This book is good.
It’s also gruesome, wryly humorous, beautiful and horrible, all at the same time. Meredith metes out slices of a slacker life filled with teen angst and simmering anger, in a voice that’s sometimes shocking in its seeming lack of emotion. That’s dark – disturbingly so – but through it, we catch glimpses of a boy growing up, which softens what we’re told. So wrapped up was I in this book at that point that I realized I’d been holding my breath.
That’s a sure sign of a good read and a good reason to look for this memoir. For anyone who relishes a shadowy coming-of-age story, “The Removers” is one you won’t be able to remove from your hands.