Deja Vu All Over Again

Mary Roach is a terrific writer. Her first book Stiff struck just the right tone in offering up little known facts about the death process peppered with humorous anecdotes and insights.

That’s why it pains me to admit that her second effort, Spook, is so very, VERY dull.

Spook is a sort of sequel to Stiff. In the book subtitled, Science Tackles The Afterlife, Roach goes after all the crazy ways through the ages that science has grappled with the nature of the human soul. The effort is a whole lot of research with very little in its 295 pages to keep you interested.

I was so determined to make this book work that I put it down for six months when it got boring after the first chapter. Such a fan of Roach ( there is an irresistible twinkle of mischief in her jacket photo that reveals her dark, cynical Canadian soul!), I was convinced that the problem was with me: I would take the book up when I was ready to approach the topic of the afterlife, and appreciate the book’s nuance.

Last night I blew off the dust and recommitted myself. Sorry Mary, but there’s nothing here. Even you know this topic is boring (for crap sake, you resort to fart jokes on two successive pages!). There is nothing in Spook about Descartes’ and Leeuwenhoek’s and Le Peyronie’s search for the soul that couldn’t be found in the briefest of Wikipedia scans. Also, too much emphasis on Western science (I know what the Europeans thought, can we have some insight on what the ancient Persians or Asian culture thought about the soul?).

Spook does light up when Roach spends a chapter on Gary Schwartz, and his work with mediums at the University of Arizona, but by then we are halfway in and too, too late. If you want a great account of Schwartz’ work read his book, The Afterlife Experiments: Believer or skeptic; Schwartz will give you a comprehensive look at his medium research where Roach leaves you frustrated and guessing for more answers.

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I am all about second chances today. If Spook was an equal disappointment the second time around, the television show Medium was well worth another look.

Let me start by saying Medium has all the components I hate in a television show:

1. It’s an hour long drama: nothing bores me more.
2. It’s a cop show with a psychic angle: uggh! The only thing worse are CSI shows.
3. It has a side plot of the medium’s homelife with three young girls: why would I want to watch MY life on television? I only turn the damn thing on to get away from that train-wreck.
4. It stars one of the Arquettes, Patricia: never a big fan.

But Medium is really good, very watchable. It’s based on the experiences of real-life medium Allison Dubois, a would be criminal prosecutor who got sidetracked with the supernatural.

FYI: Dubois is featured – as are other ‘superstar’ psychics, Laurie Campbell and John Edward – in both Gary Schwartz’ The Afterlife Experiments and the Mary Roach book (and I once had a reading by Laurie Campbell – but that’s a WHOLE other story we won’t get into now).


Sandoval and Arquette – “I see discarnate people”

Why Medium is good:

1. First and foremost, the writing. The stories are good. What’s more, our heroes don’t live some faux-glam life a la CSI Miami (did you ever see forensic lab techs wearing Prada?). The Dubois’ struggle to pay the bills in a shitty looking apartment, and have their hands full with three young daughters, one of whom is also psychic. In fact it is this domestic side of Medium that is the most compelling aspect of the show.

2. Patricia Arquette is good. What’s more, she looks like she’s eaten a few square meals, not like the typical bone-racks we see on the tube these days.

3. Jake Weber , who plays Dubois’ engineer husband, Joe is infinitely watchable.

4. Miguel Sandoval plays the Maricopa County DA. It’s your typical tough-guy civil servant role, but Sandoval makes his counterparts (his very good counterparts) like James Woods and Miguel Ferrer, and Courtney B. Vance look like rookies. I would watch Miguel Sandoval read the Maricopa phone directory.

Medium airs Wednesday evenings on NBC

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