Playing Dead by Elizabeth Greenwood

 

I definitely grabbed this book because Mindy Kaling Instagrammed it. Confusingly, she seems to have deleted that post, but luckily nothing dies on the internet and there’s a screenshot out there for me to give as proof:

mindy-screenshot

 

Maybe she deleted it because she’s planning on faking her death and realized she might not want to give it away? Too late Mindy Kaling, sorry. Anyways, yes that was my main reason for deciding to get the audiobook and as usual, my kind of superficial reasoning paid off.

Elizabeth Greenwood sets out to learn about how to fake one’s death while feeling some serious stress about the amount of her student loans. I kind of wish she had gone into how our culture has gotten seriously out of control with the “you must go to college even if you don’t know what you want to go to college for” mindset we seem to force onto teenagers, therefore pressuring them into taking out tens of thousands of dollars in loans for a weak-ass Liberal Arts degree that won’t help them get a single job, but I digress. She owes a shit ton of money and is facing a lifetime of trying to pay it back, when someone jokes “Or you could fake your own death” and she thinks HOLY SHIT YES I COULD FAKE MY DEATH! And then she decided that researching pseudocide and writing a book about it was probably a smarter choice overall, and here we are.

So, the beginning of this book was crazy interesting. You know those books that lead you to sprinkle random facts from it into conversations even if it’s not even closely related to the topic you were discussing? Yeah I had that going on. SO fun! The early chapters focus a lot on her interviews with people who work in some way with disappearing people. Frank Ahearn is a “privacy consultant” and an expert in helping people disappear, and he talks a lot about the various reasons someone might not want to be found, and the major ways in which people trip up and get themselves found. Since such a big reason for pseudocide is insurance fraud, she also talks with Steve Rambam, who provides insight into how pseudocide comes into play in bogus insurance claims. Her work with these two men was really in depth, and are probably my favorite parts of the book.

The book starts to slip a bit when she talks to John Darwin, known (apparently) for faking his death and succeeding, until he turned himself in six years later. While I’m sure it was awesome to score an interview with someone who kind of succeeded at the thing, she spent a LOT of time talking to him, and he comes off as kind of a wang. According to Elizabeth, he spent a lot of their interview time talking about how much women throw themselves as him and how easily he can hook up with younger chicks. EWW. I don’t really think he deserved quite the amount of page space (or listening time) that Greenwood gave to him, and I got bored with the chapter on him. She does use his story to touch a little bit on how faking your own death can affect family and loved ones, but overall I’d pass. She was weirdly emotionally invested in talking to him. And then she dives into famous people rumored to have faked their deaths, and this is where I realized this book wasn’t going to be as awesomesauce as it initially seemed (maybe that’s why Mindy deleted her Instagram photo??). The distance between my interest in how people try to fake their deaths and my interest in people who spend their lives researching clues to prove Michael Jackson is still alive is VAST. I just do not give a shit if Elvis is really sittin somewhere gorging himself on peanut butter and banana sandwiches. This just felt like she was really stretching to meet that page count.

Anyways, this was still a really interesting read and I do recommend it. It was fun to listen to, and who knows? Maybe some of the information will be of use to me someday. Who knows where my journey will take me? It might just be that it takes me to living in some place where no one knows my name and I don’t own or drive a car because getting pulled over by the police for some minor traffic infraction is a really easy way to blow your cover.

~Sarah

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2 comments

  1. “The distance between my interest in how people try to fake their deaths and my interest in people who spend their lives researching clues to prove Michael Jackson is still alive is VAST” ahahaha. Yeah so maybe if it was more of the first part (or like…just the first part) I’d be down for this but I dunno if I want to do part 2

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  2. Oh this sounds sooooo good, and I also hugely admire Mindy Kaling’s orange nail polish. I like a nice orange nail polish! I like to do teal nails and one orange accent nail, and every time I do that and every time I look at my fingers I feel totally happy.

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