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THE BATTLE OF ARGINUSAE :
VICTORY AT SEA AND ITS TRAGIC AFTERMATH IN THE FINAL YEARS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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KILLING ERATOSTHENES:
A TRUE CRIME STORY
FROM ANCIENT ATHENS
By Debra Hamel


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READING HERODOTUS:
A GUIDED TOUR THROUGH THE WILD BOARS, DANCING SUITORS, AND CRAZY TYRANTS OF THE HISTORY
By Debra Hamel


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THE MUTILATION OF THE HERMS:
UNPACKING AN ANCIENT MYSTERY
By Debra Hamel


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TRYING NEAIRA:
THE TRUE STORY OF A COURTESAN'S SCANDALOUS LIFE IN ANCIENT GREECE
By Debra Hamel


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PRISONERS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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SOCRATES AT WAR:
THE MILITARY HEROICS OF AN ICONIC INTELLECTUAL
By Debra Hamel


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ANCIENT GREEKS IN DRAG:
THE LIBERATION OF THEBES AND OTHER ACTS OF HEROIC TRANSVESTISM
By Debra Hamel


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IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY TWEET:
FIVE HUNDRED 1ST LINES IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
By Debra Hamel


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I've decided to stop accepting review copies. The downside of getting buried in free books is that reading increasingly becomes an obligatory act. After some seven years of blogging books, it's time for me to return to the simple pleasure of reading only the books I want to read, when I want to read them.



  
From a random review:

  

« Garcia-Roza, Luiz Alfredo: A Window in Copacabana | Main | Millington, Mil: A Certain Chemistry »

Dunbar, Wylene: My Life with Corpses

  

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Harcourt © 2004, 319 pages [amazon]
3 stars

The corpses of Wylene Dunbar's title are probably not what you think. Her book is indeed populated in part by the dead, but her corpses are most often mobile beings, difficult to distinguish from the living even for someone with a practiced eye, such as Dunbar's protagonist and narrator Oz. Oz grew up the only living member of a family of corpses, her mother and sister having died before Oz was born, her father perhaps shortly thereafter. It is difficult, in Dunbar's world, to determine precisely when the transition from life to death occurs. The process of dying can be a lengthy one, and besides, corpses tend to retain the characteristics they enjoyed in life:

"...a southern corpse does not forget her manners just because she is dead, any more than a midwestern one suddenly learns how to carry on a charming conversation about nothing at all."

There are corpses everywhere--vacationing in Canada, publishing articles in peer-reviewed journals, meeting with friends at coffee shops--and if you're not careful you may get the life sucked out of you as well.Dunbar's story begins with an appealing mystery: the grave of Oz's childhood neighbor and friend Winfield Evan Stark has been found to be empty, Oz's own published account of her childhood among corpses lying in the grave in its place. This discovery prompts Mr. Stark's relatives to exhume a nearby grave in the hope of finding the missing body, a task over which Oz is for some reason set as overseer. While workmen dig up the grave, Oz writes a continuation of her earlier account, in part as a warning to the rest of us. As Oz discovered in adulthood, her family of corpses was not as unusual as she had supposed. There are corpses everywhere--vacationing in Canada, publishing articles in peer-reviewed journals, meeting with friends at coffee shops--and if you're not careful you may get the life sucked out of you as well.

Oz's narrative--Dunbar's novel--is punctuated by keen observations and patches of lovely writing:

"He was quite thin and I would say he was tall and lean, but you would think of Gary Cooper in High Noon when what I mean is that he was a rather beat-up stick; a long, emaciated collection of bones and skin supporting a large bearded head. Everything about him was that way, even his hair, which was slicked down and lightly grayed, above a long wolfhound face."

But Oz's philosophizing slows the narrative down, and neither she nor the characters she describes ever become real enough to make readers care what happens to them. What is maddening about the book, however, is that Dunbar leaves so many questions unanswered: why can people other than Oz see some corpses but not others? how did Stark "rescue" Oz from her family of corpses, and why did he bother rescuing her subsequently from her perfectly normal foster family? why is her book found in Stark's grave? And so on. This is evidently meant to be a thinking person's book, inspiring in us ideas about the loss of spirit that can precede corporeal death, but the imperfections of the premise around which Dunbar's serious narrative is constructed are too distracting for us to take the book very seriously. An ostensibly absurd premise can be made to work if it is logically consistent, if all the loose ends are tied up, but Dunbar leaves too much unexplained.

While My Life with Corpses disappoints, however, Dunbar is clearly a very good prose stylist. There are passages in this book that merit rereading. It will be interesting to see what the author offers us in the future. 

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About the blogger: Debra is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece, including Trying Neaira: The True Story of a Courtesan's Scandalous Life in Ancient Greece. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.

  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  






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Book-blog.com by Debra Hamel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - Noncommercial - No Derivative Works 3.0 License.