Monday, July 27, 2009

Bury Me Deep - Megan Abbott

Over the past few years, Megan Abbott has become not just one of my favorite new writers, but one of my favorite writers, period. Her new novel, BURY ME DEEP, is out now, and it continues a string of very potent successes. It’s one of the best novels of the year.

Inspired by the true-crime case of Winnie Ruth Judd, the infamous “Trunk Murderess”, BURY ME DEEP tells the story of Marion Seeley, who finds herself alone in Phoenix in 1930. Her husband, a doctor who has a morphine addiction, has lost his license to practice in the States, so he has to go to Mexico to be the camp doctor at a remote mine. Marion has a job as a typist at a medical clinic, and she becomes friends with one of the nurses there, whose roommate is a young woman suffering from tuberculosis. Marion spends a lot of time at the house these two friends of hers share, and she’s soon drawn into their life of wild parties. In the process, she meets Gentleman Joe Lanigan, a successful local businessman who has an ill, invalid wife, and when Marion falls in love with Lanigan despite her resolve not to, all the elements are there for a noirish yarn that pulls Marion into a harrowing spiral of crime.

Although I had heard of Winnie Ruth Judd, I didn’t know the details of the case that made her notorious, so I didn’t really know what was going to happen in this novel. And as Abbott explains in an interesting, informative author’s note at the end of the book, her story diverges from the facts of the Winnie Ruth Judd case in several important aspects, anyway. One thing I really like about Abbott’s work is that each of her four novels have been written in a distinctive voice, but there are subtle differences in that voice from book to book. In BURY ME DEEP, although it’s written in third person, the point of view is entirely Marion’s, and so the style is a languid, dreamy, romantic one for most of the book, like something from one of the love pulps of the era, but underlying it is the desperation that Marion feels at being left alone in a strange town that results in her eagerness for something or someone to latch on to. The reader gets so deep into Marion’s thoughts that it’s almost like first-person narration, and after a while you have to start wondering just how reliable that narration is. Marion’s desperation eventually turns to horror, fear, and anger, and those emotions come across in the writing so vividly that the ending of the book is very satisfying.

If I had to choose, I’d say that the terse, hardboiled prose of Abbott’s previous novel, the Edgar-winning QUEENPIN, resonates with me as a reader slightly stronger than the more deliberately-paced style of BURY ME DEEP. However, I’d sure hate to have to live on the difference. Like the rest of her books, this one drew me in and really had me flipping the pages to find out what was going to happen. Also like the rest of her books, BURY ME DEEP has a great cover, the sort that really pulls you in as well. If you like beautifully written historical noir, you can’t go wrong with BURY ME DEEP, or any of Abbott’s other novels, for that matter. Very highly recommended.


Charles Gramlich said...

Queenpin. That was the book I was looking for and forgot the name. I'm going to a bookstore this evening so I'll check out the Abbott files.

AndyDecker said...

After all the recommendations I bought and read THIS SONG IS YOU. The lovely pulp cover helped to choose from her three novels. I have to confess it was a very good novel with a not very surprising ending but very well written and atmospheric. Very sad occasionally and emotionally touching.

I then bought her first novel. Unfortunatly it is written in a manner I hate, first person present tense. A shame.

James Reasoner said...

The style in DIE A LITTLE, her first novel, took me some getting used to. I don't care much for books written in present tense. But if you stick with it, her storytelling ability will draw you in.

That said, QUEENPIN is very hardboiled, and I suspect you'd really enjoy it, Andy.

Richard Prosch said...

QUEENPIN is terrific. I read it right after Christa Faust's MONEY SHOT and the two complimented each other nicely. I can't wait to read BURY ME DEEP.

RJR said...

QUEENPIN confused me.It read like a period novel, but was it? I stopped reading it. I did like MONEY SHOT, but wasn't blown away.


Juri said...

Robert, I think what Megan was doing with Queenpin was to create an era only by language, without pointing anything else that might've given the era away - names of songs or films or naming presidents or mentioning that this was the year when people landed on the moon or some such.

And I think this means it's a postmodern literary novel.

I just received Die a Little in the mail and looking forward to getting to read it. I'd really like to hear what's wrong with first person present tense. It's just a way of narrating the story.

James Reasoner said...


I don't think there's anything wrong, necessarily, with first person present tense. It's just not how most books are written and so it takes me some getting used to when I run into one like that. I've read and enjoyed a number of books written in present tense (not always first person). Sometimes, though, I don't feel like going to the effort of getting used to it.

It doesn't bother me nearly as much as authors who don't use quotation marks.

AndyDecker said...

Present tense-novels - for me it is just a personal dislike. There is nothing wrong with it, it just doesn´t appeal to me.

Objectively it even infuses the content with a certain kind of urgency. It shortens the distance between the story and the reader, which should be a good thing.

Still I just don´t like it. :-) I stopped reading Patricia Cornwell when she switched from regular past tense telling to present tense.

Thanks, James, btw. Looking forward to QUEENPIN.

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed reading your review, James. Thanks. I hope to read it soon. I like Megan's books.

Ed Lynskey