Jun 09, 10
Read on June 08, 2010
Still Life takes an unsettling topic, admits that it's unsettling, and moves on from there. I think Milgrom's writing works because she sounds like a regular person--sure, she has third generation Smithsonian taxidermists to show her around, but she isn't one herself. Nor does she strive to be. She views many of taxidermy's practices with a mix of wonder and revulsion.
I think taxidermy fits a discussion I once read about anatomical drawing--that it is intensely difficult because the goal is the capture the very details of what allows life to exist. The underlying structure is obsessively intricate. Accuracy is an arduous goal, and an ever-intensifying standard. Taxidermy strives for that goal with flesh--what was once the real thing, real life. Milgrom admits how creepy reanimation can be, particularly when done sloppily, as do the professionals she speaks to.
Her interview subjects are wonderfully varied, both in cultural background and in how they approach their work. She gives the book a nice historical feel, including the evolution of the field, while keeping it at a manageable length. It's a difficult balance; between historical and modern, detailed and overview, informative and brief. Milgrom does it well, with a highly difficult topic.