The above illustration, "Blowing Bubbles," has been adapted for use here by generous permission from the artist, Cyril Rolando.

November 18, 2010

Review: BURY ME DEEP by Megan Abbott

Marion Seeley is an innocent in a strange city. At first sheltered, then abandoned by her older, physician husband, and struggling to find her way in a Depression-era world wholly unlike anything she's ever experienced, she makes two good friends: Louise and Ginny. Through these women, the parties they hold, the corrupt and faithless men they entertain, Marion meets and falls hard for Joe Lanigan, a businessman and rising politico who charms all, high and low, men and women. But there's more to Joe than hair pomade, a flawless tuxedo, and an invalid wife; and he slowly wraps the trusting Marion in a web of drugs, deceit and murder.

Much of the publicity around this book has to do with the Winnie Ruth Judd case as its inspiration. That seems to do a slight disservice to the book, as though without that knowledge the reader might not appreciate the story. Au contraire, the reader need have no knowledge of the Judd case to enjoy this fine tale and its deft prose. The author reveals the passion, fear, jealousy, and rage of true noir but paints her characters and their motives with the delicate flicker of an eyelash. Revelations occur between the lines as tension mounts and finally bursts into betrayal and violence. Just read how the author paints both isolation and desire in brief depth:
At work again, walking down long clinic hallways, spinning carbon paper and willowy onionskin around the feed roll, jamming keys under fingernails, taking long dictations, crying in the ladies' room, tearing tissue into long curls around her fingers.

What glamour might I cast, she wondered, to embed needs under this man's skin, make him crave me so deep like the deepness of something that goes through the blood, goes through the blood and bursts soft or swells hard in the brain?
A thread running through the story is disease: the clinic where Marion works, the tubercular Ginny, the invalid wife, the drug-addicted husband. And also the diseased souls, most notably Lanigan's but also many of the men with whom the women come in contact: doctors, businessmen, politicians; not riff-raff or lowlifes, but respectable types whose sicknesses are hidden and treated with money and power, all the while they act as carriers of contagion and corruption. This might be a description of the clinic, or it might be a description of Joe Lanigan:
She said hello, Mr. Lanigan, and nearly curtsied, seeing him as she had, three days before, under a sugared skein of girl-pink champagne, under the heavy weight of parlor heat, thick on their skins, thick with their own energies, own high spirits. And now here like this, in the cool, bleachy hallways of the blasted-brick clinic, didn't it look so innoculated? Yet it was a pox, vermin in every sweating pore, sputum lining every crevice no matter how swabbed and brush-scoured it was.
The best noir is more than simply crime or mystery. It is a pulling back of the veil covering dark emotions and twisted spirits. Bury Me Deep is the most impressive work of pure noir I've read since James Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice, and is just as dark, sexy, and riveting as that classic.



  1. This is high praise, Naomi. Everything I've read concerning this book gives similar. Must be quite something. Thanks.

  2. You always bring a new insight to the reading, Joe, so I'll be very interested in what you think of it.

  3. You, too, Patti. Wishing the best for you and yours.