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I heard about this book because it was a Hurston Wright Foundation (brainchild of one of my favorites, Marita Golden) Legacy Awards nominee for 2014. As noted on the website, “the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award is an annual fundraising gala that honors and celebrates excellence in Black literature.”
In Nine Years Under, Booker recounts her nine years spent working under the mentorship of Albert Philip Wylie in Wylie Funeral Home. From the day she talked herself into the job at age fifteen, to the day she knew that it was time to move on, this book reveals the things that you never thought you’d know about what goes on behind the scenes one of the least glamorous professions.
When teenage parents of a deceased infant wanted Wylie Funeral Home to arrange the service, Booker learned from Wylie that sometimes you just have to do the right thing. The parents could only come up with $100 to pay for the service but Mr. Wylie agree to take what they could pay and cover the rest himself.
Although it may be apparent when an illness has caused changes in and individual’s weight before death, it’s not always something that a grieving family considers when choosing an outfit for burial. In the cases where clothes do not fit, Booker reveals tricks used by Wylie to fit the bodies into the clothes. I’m not sure if this is an industry standard but I found it thoughtful that Wylie does this to eliminate what could be an additional burden on the families.
Hair is not something that crosses my mind when I think burial but Wylie Funeral Home has rarely buried a woman whose hair didn’t need to be done. For hair that Wylie couldn’t manage himself, there was an on-call stylist.
In addition to the look inside the life of a funeral home director, I liked the tidbits about entrepreneurship and am glad Booker made that a part of her story. Even with what she learned, her experience seemingly had no impact on her career path. This was one of the things that I thought didn’t come to any resolution in the book.
I was also left wondering what happened to Booker’s mother who she mentioned received a cancer diagnosis. I felt some storylines seemed odd for this book and the recounts seemed insensitive in places (too many places) but hilarious in others. By the time I finished the book, I felt so-so about it. I’ll be watching to see what she writes next.
“I would later learn that death smiles are man-made, a minor technique of skin adjustment.”
Nine Years Under
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