cover image The Way of All Flesh: The Romance of Ruins

The Way of All Flesh: The Romance of Ruins

Midas Dekkers. Farrar Straus Giroux, $25 (280pp) ISBN 978-0-374-28682-8

Dutch biologist-writer Dekkers offers an extended, quirkily charming meditation on Yeats's insight that things fall apartDfor everything, Dekkers says, is bound to do just that. Though we postmoderns, he contends, are obsessed with propping things up, from faces to buildings, we should recognize not only the inevitability but also the beauty of decayDone can find it in all manner of decayed things, from a South American train graveyard, where rusting axles and wheels lie piled on top of one another, to willow trees. Dekkers turns his sharp (at times savage) tongue on many Western attempts to stave off decay. He doesn't approve of conservation: he would rather we take care of and ""cherish"" things, but when their ""final days arrive,"" let them deteriorate. In a chapter called ""Souvenirs,"" Dekkers turns his fire on mementos: if your dog passes on, don't take him to the taxidermist, but simply remember him fondlyDand get a new dog. Dekkers even criticizes the impulse to ""build to last."" Many things, he argues, from ugly buildings to evil dictatorships, should come to an end. What we often portray as decay is really fulfillment: we should revel in autumn, treat old people with respect. (On a somewhat less convincing, more scatological note, Dekkers suggests we should even delight in defecation, which he terms a pleasurable ""creative process."") Despite his apparently grim subject and occasionally abstruse style, Dekkers writes delightfully (he calls dandruff, a sign of physical decay, ""skin confetti from your hair"") and emphasis on his book's quirky, combative nature could help this catch on in a big way with savvy readers. 140 b&w illus. (Oct.)