Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Bury Me Deep by Megan Abbott

Simply put, Megan Abbott is my new favorite writer. Her run of The Song Is You (2007), Queenpin (2007), and Bury Me Deep (2009) is nothing short of utterly impressive. Fully steeped in the crime and pulp genres of the 50s, Abbott is knocking out deliciously rewarding page-turners, channeling Cain, Chandler, and Ellroy. Her work is pulpy, sexy, and gritty. Beyond that, she’s a great writer. Sentences roll off the pen, stories unfold, pages get turned.

Bury Me Deep is the latest, and damn is it good. It starts a bit slowly, but once it gets rolling, it’s a steamroller that can’t be put down. Loosely based on the Trunk Murderess/Blond Butcher scandal of the 30s, the book follows the travails of Marion Seeley, a wayward doctor’s wife. Due to a morphine addiction he can’t shake, the doctor has lost his medical license and heads to Mexico for work, leaving his wife behind to fend for herself in a small desert community in Arizona. Alone and forsaken by her husband, Marion falls in with two party girls—a nurse she meets at the clinic where she is working, and her sidekick who continues to party while battling t.b. Marion gets caught up in the thrill of it all—the parties, the flirtations, the sultry nights, and the men. She ultimately dives deep into an illicit affair with a respected businessman, who, as it turns out, is far from respectable.

But what makes Bury Me Deep so great is that lurking beneath the standard pulp plotline is a story resonating with emotional depth. Abbott offers up a world where good people, in moments of weakness, make bad choices that lead to disastrous results. The heart of the book lies within Marion as she battles with herself. Her inner-turmoil is profound. Why does she rush headlong into an affair she knows is wrong? Is it so wrong? Why can’t she stop? Is her betrayal due to loneliness or is her betrayal a sign of who she truly is? And when everything goes wrong, how do you figure out who your true friends are? How do you handle yourself when all your friends abandon you? And when you abandon them? And most importantly, how do you make amends? How do you take responsibility for your own actions? How do you live with yourself when the way you behave doesn’t jibe with who you think you are?

In this respect, Bury Me Deep resonates beyond the pulp milieu, mining emotional depths often lacking in much of the genre. Sure, it’s a town filled with party girls with shady pasts and uncertain futures; it’s a town run by men, driven by deceit, corruption, and privilege; it’s a town with questionable sexual mores, filled with addictions and unhealthy itches; a town filled with lung disease. But in Bury Me Deep, the stories do in fact run much deeper.

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