Wednesday, August 20, 2014

In Which I Do Not Actually Review Megan Abbott's Bury Me Deep

Oh, how I wish I could review Megan Abbott's Bury Me Deep.

Regular readers know that I have a somewhat strict blogging policy: To satisfy FTC regulations (and for general ethical reasons), I only review books that I've secured with my own resources. That means no ARCs, no packets from promoters, no electronic copies from self-published authors. But some time ago, I sent to Patti Abbott a copy of a novel that I thought she'd enjoy, and in turn, she asked me if I'd like a copy of one of her Edgar Award-winning daughter's mysteries.

I'm a reader first and foremost. What do you think I was going to say?

So there's the dilemma. I've just finished Bury Me Deep, a noir based off the 1931 case of Winnie Ruth Judd, and I can't review it. Can't talk about how Abbott walks a tightrope over the chasm between the literary and genre worlds, every sentence showing her knowledge of the writer's craft while the subject matter stays committed to delighting the reader. Can't mention how she manages to make Thirties-era slang both sound simultaneously authentic and comprehensible to twenty-first-century ears. Can't discuss how the novel falls firmly in the noir-as-ethical-instruction camp.

Not being able to opine at length about that last point really irks me.

See, Bury Me Deep focuses on Marion Seeley, wife of a morphine-addicted doctor who departs for a three-year stint as a mining company physician, leaving her in Arizona with naught but a marginal nursing job. Marion soon finds friendship with a nurse named Louise and her tubercular roommate Ginny, working-class girls who only scrape by thanks to the largesse of various "gentlemen" whom they meet a wild parties held in their house. It's at one of these parties that Marion meets Joe Lanigan. Handsome Joe, wealthy Joe, a staunch Irish Catholic who counts himself a member of numerous influential civic organizations. This Joe takes a shine to Marion, and Marion takes a shine to Joe, and soon Joe begins to call on Marion, and not long after that Joe has Marion flat on her back at the end of every evening. She thinks it's just a private affair, but private dalliances have a way of becoming public in spectacularly violent ways.

Were you to compare the Marion on page one of Bury Me Deep to the Marion of its final chapter, you'd be shocked. Had I purchased the novel myself, I'd now talk about the way in which Abbott steps her down from a prim, Dutch Calvinist girl to a battered fugitive with the stench of gunpowder on her dress. And what tiny, utterly believable steps they are. "Marion, there are things you are sure you'd never do, Louise had said to her once. Until you have." And Marion most certainly does them, each small sin swelling into an oh-so-slightly larger one. She spends the first half of the book bemoaning her husband's weakness for morphine, "but then she thought about her own: here a man with a way of smiling so and doffing hat and tilting head just so. These accumulations of gesture and a tender word or two and then she pliant on any bed, seat cushion, what have you? Well, if that wasn't a weakness, what was?" Marion -- and Abbott -- understand that guilt comes not from some extraordinary crime. It's the universal human condition.

But you can't take my word for it, after all. Guess you'll just have to read it yourself.

(Picture: CC 2007 by Madalena Pestana)


pattinase (abbott) said...

I'll have to send you more books you can't review! Lovely discussion.

Loren Eaton said...

I think the next book that I want to read from an Abbott is Concrete Angel. And I'm definitely going to pay for that one.