The Bookworm Sez: 'The Removers' shows a darker side of coming-of-age

The Bookworm Sez: ‘The Removers’ shows a darker side of coming-of-age

Clean up your mess!

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 (c.2014, Scribner, $24, 179 pages), cleaning up was ultimately a method of coping.

The body had been there awhile.

On his second run for the funeral home, Andrew 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. Author Andrew 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.

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Email her at

More in Life

Virginia Walters (Courtesy photo)
Life in the Pedestrian Lane: Thanksgiving

We at least have a good idea of what our political future looks like.

This is Arthur Vernon Watson at age 39, when he was transferred from the federal prison in Atlanta to the penitentiary on Alcatraz Island near San Francisco. (Photo courtesy of the National Archives)
Justice wasn’t elementary: Watson, Part 3

Anchorage probation officer Roy V. Norquist was monitoring Arthur’s movements and reported that he was pleased with what he saw

Cranberry sauce made from scratch with hand-picked berries makes a special holiday treat. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
Foraging with love and gratitude

Gathered and prepared by hand, cranberries brighten a Thanksgiving feast

Minister’s Message: When the going gets tough…

Suffering as a Christian is not always a popular preaching topic.

Letitia Wright as Shuri in “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” (Image courtesy Marvel Studios)
On the Screen: ‘Wakanda Forever’ picks up the pieces

“Black Panther” sequel grapples with grief and hope after franchise loses its star

Oxtails are cooked with onions, garlic and daikon. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
A bowl full of medicine

Oxtail soup makes a healing winter meal

Will Morrow (courtesy)
Ride on!

Later this month, I’ll turn 49

Arthur Vernon Watson was 23 years old when he was incarcerated in San Quentin state prison in California. (Photo courtesy of the National Archives)
Justice wasn’t elementary, Watson, Part 1

The Frolichs’ establishment, then called the Watson Motel, had been owned by Arthur Vernon Watson and had become a crime scene

Korean red pepper paste adds heat to this Mapo tofu recipe. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
A spicy meal to burn away the sadness

This hearty meal can be adjusted to be as mild or spicy as you wish

Nick Varney
Thanksgiving memories of the unhinged kind

Let’s take a first look at the oncoming day of feasting

The first snowfall of the year arrives in Kenai, Alaska, on Oct. 25, 2022. (Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion)
Minister’s Message: Delight in the wonder of winter

Seemingly overnight, we’ve transitioned from our summer playground to our winter lives