Previous reviews are at Mack Pitches Up

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Bury Me Deep by Megan Abbott

Synopsis of the First 25 Pages

It's 1930 and Marion Seeley is in Phoenix, Arizona, left there by her husband, Dr. Seeley, who took a job with a mining company in Mexico. Dr. Seeley lost his license to practice medicine in the U.S. because of his addiction to morphine and hopes to kick the habit at his isolated posting. Before he left he set Marion up in a boarding house and found her a job as a filing clerk and stenographer in a tuberculosis clinic.

Marion is still an innocent though fraying at the edges as she watches her husband's descent. She was still living at home at nineteen when she married and had never set foot in a hotel, eaten in a restaurant, or seen a motion picture.

At the clinic, nurse Louise Mercer befriends her and begin educating her in the seamier side of the "nice" doctors. Soon she is a regular at the house Louise shares with her roommate Ginny. Ginny, who previously had been on stage in "bloomers and pointy shoes," has tuberculosis and Louise has taken responsibility for her care. Louise and Ginny are fast women, worldly and pragmatic about what it takes to get by.

On New Year's Eve, Louise and Ginny host a party where Marion meets Gentleman Joe Lanigan, the life of every party, every one's friend, and a ladies man. Gentleman Joe takes a fancy to Marion and her life makes an abrupt turn.

I enjoy all of Megan Abbott's books. Queenpin, an Edgar winner, with its Jim Thompson atmosphere, was one of my favorite books in 2008. Norman over at Crime Scraps reviewed Abbott's Die a Little and wrote something that is true of all of Megan's novels: "This novel made me think of the television series Mad Men in its meticulous recreation of a period in the quite recent past." Here Megan puts us eighty years in the past and uses language and observations to make the world real. She does this in a natural and unforced way.

Megan's use of language is lyrical and evocative. Here she describes Marion meeting the director of the clinic
..taking her small hand between his palms deep as serving dishes, as softly worn as the leather pew Bibles passed through three generations' hands in the First Methodist Church of Grand Rapids...

And when she meets Gentleman Joe you can sense what is in her future
A motion picture actor, that's what he looked like, with that burgundy felt hat and his broad-shouldered topcoat and shoes shining lick chrrch floors on Easter. a smile like a swinging gate and smelling strong of sweet tobacco and slivered almonds and wind and travel and far-off places.

The pacing and development of the story is appropriate to the period and the characters as we watch Marion go from an innocent young woman to one who finds an inner core of strength that she would never have thought possible.

Bury me Deep was inspired by, and shares several elements with, the true story of Winnie Ruth Judd, known as the "Trunk Murderess." Abbott provides an author's note at the end of the book where she describes that case.