7.05.2014

Working Stiff, by Dr. Judy Melinek and T.J. Mitchell

Working Stiff
One of the questions Dr. Judy Melinek hears is some variation on "How can you do this job?" Since 2001, Melinek has been working as a forensic pathologist. Her job is to determine cause of death—homicide, accident, suicide, natural causes, medical complications, or undetermined. Her memoir, co-written with her husband T.J. Mitchell, shares examples from all of those categories. Working Stiff is the story of how Melinek became a medical examiner during her fellowship in New York City's Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in 2001 and 2002.

Working Stiff is not told chronologically. Melinek and Mitchell grouped cases together into rough categories in the book's chapters. Reading it is akin to sitting down with Melinek and listening to her stories. Many of them are grim. Some are downright gruesome. (Thankfully, this book is not illustrated.) Some of her stories are heart-breaking. A few remain frustratingly without a conclusion. During her time in New York, it seemed that Melinek saw every way that a person might die in the city. She was even on site after September 11 to help identify the thousands of victims.

Because Working Stiff does not follow a narrative arc, there's not a lot of structure other than the categorizing of cases. The last chapter ends with Melinek finishing her fellowship and moving with her family to take up a position in San José, California. Melinek never really answers the question of how she can do her job without breaking down. At one point, she attributes her steadiness to being an effect of her father's suicide when she was a teenager. She responds to one questioner than she is doing it "for the living." Melinek never really dives below the surface of her psyche to answer the big question in Working Stiff. If you are looking for a good answer to that question, you will be disappointed. But if you're looking to spend some time with, and hear stories from, a forensic pathologist, Working Stiff is perfect—as long as you have a strong stomach.

I received a free copy of this ebook from NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review. It will be released 12 August 2014.

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