Amid the 21st-century glut of overindulgent memoirs, The Removers is a poignant, near-perfect addition to the genre. Andrew Meredith writes of growing up in a crumbling Philadelphia neighborhood, his family quietly imploding in the wake of a scandal that cost his father his university job.

A once promising student, Meredith drops out of various colleges and halfheartedly dates various women throughout his 20s. His zombie existence is punctuated by possibly the worst job in the world: Transporting bodies from houses and hospitals to a funeral home, then cremating them. He is joined in this work by his father, a poet and professor who is reduced to moving bodies to make ends meet. This story is bittersweet, but also frequently, improbably hilarious.

“Philadelphia, you big bitch, throw me a bone,” Meredith writes. “It’s June 1998. I’m twenty-two. I’ve bounced from failure at school to crappy job and back for two years. I spend my time outside the house either dragging the local dead around or getting drunk listening to rock and roll before coming chastely home to sleep ten feet down the hall from my parents. I’ve now handled far more dead women than live ones.”

Meredith is clear-eyed and generous in his storytelling, relaying with skill and honesty everything from his first sexual encounter to his family’s inability to communicate. While he creates a powerful sketch of a very specific time and place—a family in crisis in 1990s Philadelphia—this book will ring true to anyone who ever yearned to grow up, only to find that coming of age is more painful and beautiful than they ever imagined.

 

This article was originally published in the July 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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