November 22, 2013 § 1 Comment
When Marion Seeley’s disgraced husband leaves for a position abroad, she is unbearably lonely. Although he left her with a modest amount of money, accommodation and some new clothes, Dr Seeley was the only person she ever spent time with. Marion, who works as a medical administrative assistant, knows that if she doesn’t move beyond her comfort zone, she will be condemned to a life of loneliness. When Nurse Louise Mercer invites her for a girls’ night, Marion boldly accepts – even knowing Louise’s reputation as a relentless party animal. Louise and her roommate Ginny welcome Marion to their circle with open arms and suddenly, Marion has a family. Ginny has tuberculosis, but Louise is committed to providing her with the medication and care that she needs. Marion is moved by the girls’ devotion to one another, especially throughout the wild parties and impromptu gatherings that seem to be the norm at their house.
‘I can’t know what you mean, Louise. I can’t. Elsie’s an everyday girl like we are, I am, I don’t know what you are, I don’t know it now,” Marion said, feeling suddenly dizzy, feeling suddenly the prickly junipers bursting before her eyes, making her head quaky. Who were these women? she wondered. Who were they and what was she?
Louise introduces Marion to Gent Joe Lannigan, their friend and benefactor. Gent Joe runs a chain of pharmacies, and his generosity has saved Ginny’s life on more than one occasion. Marion they are entangled in a fiery affair.
Only peripherally aware of Louise and Ginny’s resentment of her closeness with Joe, Marion is stunned when Louise confronts her. When Ginny pulls a pearl-handled pistol from her lingerie drawer, Marion has no choice but to shoot the girls who took her in so willingly.
Marion, there are things you are sure you’d never do, Louise had said to her once. Until you have.
What follows is so unexpected that I hesitate to describe it to you for fear that it would detract from the experience of reading the novel first-hand. The remainder of the book is concerned with the disposal of bodies, the covering up of two murders, the laying of blame and the path to redemption.
In BURY ME DEEP, as in DIE A LITTLE, Abbott brings the femme fatale to life. While DIE A LITTLE was concerned with which of the central women was the more powerful, BURY ME DEEP explores the concept in a little more depth. Initially, Marion is the shrinking violet to Louise and Ginny’s party-girl personas, but as the plot jack-knifes midway through the book, her psyche begins to unravel. Propped up by an unexpected source of support, Marion reconstructs herself. After the trauma of Louise and Ginny’s death and the complications of her affair with Gent Joe, there’s no way that she could remain the wallflower she was when her husband first left.
As a protagonist, I found Marion fascinating. She is aware of the fact that she is being corrupted from the inside out, but is also powerless to stop the process. Her self-awareness is the very same quality that allows her to build herself back up again and to enact elegant revenge against the person who most deserves it.
Marion also comes to appreciate and understand those who wronged her. I think it would undermine her strength to say that she simply forgives them for the danger they put her in – rather, she develops a kind of profound empathy for the people who have harmed her. One might even say she loves them.
“I look at you, Marion,” he said, “and all I see is death. I see dead girls and sorrow. It is not fair, but there it is. I can’t look at you without thinking of that night. Your beauty is blinding but behind it I see death.”
While DIE A LITTLE transported the reader to the merry indulgence of the fifties, BURY ME DEEP makes plain the stark desperation of the thirties. Reading this book in an era of relative luxury made me realise just how much of an impact the Depression would have had on the everyday life of a woman my age in the thirties.
When Marion buys herself in a tiny bar of nougat and realises that this indulgence will cost her hot meals and shampoo for a week, I think I nearly had a heart attack. I am constantly impulse-purchasing, and I buy four to five books per week. How would I have survived the Depression if a single chocolate could have destroyed my self-sufficiency for an entire week (Answer: I wouldn’t have)?
BURY ME DEEP is inspired by the case of “The Trunk Murderess”. In October of 1931, the bodies of a girl and her roommate were discovered in a pair of trunks at a train station in LA. When a young doctor’s wife comes forward and turns herself in, she is saved in much the same way that Marion is. Abbott admits to having been forced to fictionalise those aspects of the story that historical evidence neglects, but by and large, BURY ME DEEP strongly resembles the reality of the tabloid sensation that was The Trunk Murderess’ crime. The fact that this book is based on the experiences of a real-life woman makes it a much more sobering tale than DIE A LITTLE. The scene at the train station, where the contents of the infamous trunks is called into question, is actually quite sickening when you remember that there were once two bodies, two wild party girls brought to a horrific end, and transported in much the same way.
BURY ME DEEP is a much more sophisticated novel than DIE A LITTLE. This is to be expected, given that DIE A LITTLE was Abbott’s first, but the evolution of Abbott’s ability as a writer is enormously apparent. Once is a fluke. Twice is a coincidence, three times is confirmation. If there was any chance that Megan Abbott’s DIE A LITTLE was a fluke, DARE ME allayed those doubts. And now, with BURY ME DEEP, I can confirm: Megan Abbott is one hell of a writer.
October 17, 2013 § 2 Comments
Werewolves have always been a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine. Occasionally, I allow myself to indulge in a mini-spree of lupine literature. When I requested that The Craving (the sequel to The Pack) be held for me at Pulp Fiction, my trusted source recommended that I give The Last Werewolf a try. Given my affection for werewolves and the fact that Pulp Fiction’s recommendations have never let me down, I didn’t need to deliberate too long before deciding to buy it, too.
The Last Werewolf is a punch in the gut. You think you know what to expect, but it floors you anyway. And even once the shock of it is over, you can still feel the persistent ache from the impact. It’s that good.
Now, there are a few things you need to know before you pick this book up.
Firstly, The Last Werewolf is NOT another post-Twilight foray into human-lupine relationships. There is no paranormal romance here, readers, and if that’s what you’re into, I’d advise you to leave The Last Werewolf on the shelf.
Jake Marlowe is (as you might have guessed) the last known werewolf in the world. For centuries, he’s been hunted by the World Organisation for the Control of Occult Phenomena (WOCOP), but he’s managed to avoid being caught. Although he’d like to be able to say that this was due to his own cunning, the fact of the matter is that for the last fifty years, he’s had a man on the inside – his best friend Harley.
Now that he’s been confirmed as the very last of his kind, Jake has jumped to the very top of the wanted list. Harley, now in his seventies, begs him to flee from civilisation, but Jake refuses. After nearly three hundred years of life as a werewolf, he’s ready for the end. Tortured by the Curse that falls upon him with the turning of the moon, Jake is at the constant mercy of the wolf that shares his soul. He is a monster and a man at once, and the impossibility of this existence has readied him for death.
Unfortunately for Jake, this isn’t good enough for WOCOP. They’re ready for a fight, and they’re pulling every dirty trick they know to try coax the lupine aggression out of Jake. He’s not willing to play, though – the way he sees it, if WOCOP want his life, they can take it on his own terms. But then the impossible happens, and Jake finds that his priority is no longer to seek death – rather, he’s found a reason to stay alive.
Yes, there is love in this book. A huge, transcendent love. Romance, though? Not a skerrick.
Second thing to consider before reading The Last Werewolf: this book is heavy on the prose.I don’t mean that the author throws in one too many adverbs; in parts, The Last Werewolf reads like song lyrics (which is not all that surprising, given that Nick Cave’s recommendation is on its cover). It’s not an easy read, and you need to invest yourself in the novel if you really want to get something out of it. If you’re not keen on abstract, poetic prose, it’s not for you.
Duncan’s writing makes Jake’s experiences intensely personal. His observations, his actions and his thoughts are relayed to the reader with astonishing clarity and poignancy. In fact, Duncan’s narration is so intimate that the reader begins to truly suffer alongside Jake.
When I first started the book, I became quite bogged down in Duncan’s writing. It might even be fair to say that the beginning of the book is a little overwritten. However, I had been warned that this might happen, and I was determined to get past it. About a quarter into the story, something clicked for me and the author’s obsessively descriptive prose became the rhythm of the narrative. The beauty of Duncan’s writing contrasts sharply with the brutality of the story, and the book itself becomes an embodiment of the werewolf dichotomy – the hideous and the human, bound in a singularity.
In their cellular prison my devoured dead roused. (A consequence of eating people: the ingested crave company. Every new victim adds a voice to the monthly chorus.)
Lastly, The Last Werewolf is a very dark book. At its heart, it is a gritty exploration of a semi-suicidal mentality. It would be heartbreaking if it weren’t for the fact that Jake is a werewolf. The supernatural aspect allows the reader to distance themselves from the reality of such a mindset, given that it forces the narrative into the realm of the fictional. As his relationships are altered and developed, Jake’s psychological state changes, but it’s not an easy shift to endure. I became so emotionally invested in this book that I had to set it aside more than once. Unable to process any more devastation, I simply would have to close the novel and read something cheerfully trashy for a while, until I had prepared myself to re-enter Jake’s life.
Duncan demolishes the werewolf and builds it back up again, crafting an explosively convincing portrayal of a very modern monster. A highly literary, heavily written deconstruction of the traditional werewolf mythos, this book is not for the faint hearted, nor for the casual reader.
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘I keep telling myself I’m just an outmoded idea. But you know, you find yourself ripping a child open and swallowing its heart, it’s tough not to be overwhelmed by… the concrete reality of yourself.’
I honestly couldn’t decide whether to post a review of this book or not. I loved it so much, but it’s so hard to explain why I loved it that I felt I couldn’t do it justice. In the end, I decided to just do it anyway. If I convince someone else to read this book, I’ll have done it a service. If you would like a copy, give Pulp Fiction Booksellers a call on (07) 3236-2750.
Incidentally, my copy of the sequel to The Last Werewolf, Tallula Rising, should arrive on Tuesday. To say that I am impatient would be a gross understatement.