‘The Life We Bury’

My book club’s selection for November was “The Life We Bury” by Allen Eskens. Eskens is a Minnesota author, getting his bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota and his law degree from the Hamline University of Law. He studied creative writing in the master of fine arts program at Minnesota State University, Mankato. He also practiced law for a quarter of a century.

According to the Amazon description, “The Life We Bury” is about:

“College student Joe Talbert has the modest goal of completing a writing assignment for an English class. His task is to interview a stranger and write a brief biography of the person. With deadlines looming, Joe heads to a nearby nursing home to find a willing subject. There he meets Carl Iverson, and soon nothing in Joe’s life is ever the same.

Carl is a dying Vietnam veteran — and a convicted murderer. With only a few months to live, he has been medically paroled to a nursing home, after spending thirty years in prison for the crimes of rape and murder.

As Joe writes about Carl’s life, especially Carl’s valor in Vietnam, he cannot reconcile the heroism of the soldier with the despicable acts of the convict. Joe, along with his skeptical female neighbor, throws himself into uncovering the truth, but he is hamstrung in his efforts by having to deal with his dangerously dysfunctional mother, the guilt of leaving his autistic brother vulnerable, and a haunting childhood memory.”

Sounds like an interesting premise…but admittedly the book was slow-going at first. But holy cow, did it pick up after a couple or so chapters. I managed to finish it in like a day and a half of intense reading (along with the newspaper job thing), especially after dawdling for a bit and reading a few other books in between.

Joe just wants a better life for himself, so he moved away from his alcoholic mother to attend college in the Twin Cities. I could not stand his mother in the book. She kept laying on the guilt trips, including the time she was arrested for DUI and made him pay $3,000 to bail her out. And Joe’s brother Jeremy lives in that environment.

Carl has pancreatic cancer and basically tells Joe he didn’t kill the girl. But he has killed and committed murder, he just doesn’t specify (that’s revealed toward the end as to how he did murder someone).

This becomes more than an assignment for his college class. Joe sets out to clear Carl’s name. He and his neighbor Lila join forces to uncover pieces of the case, including a code in the murdered girl’s diary.

While the book held my interest, there were some parts of it that left me shaking my head, like “this is a little bit of a stretch” or made me think “that’s kind of unbelievable.” But it was a thrill ride toward the end, and the sequel to “The Life We Bury” came out the day before my book club met. Of course I put my name on the hold list at the library. Plus, a couple of Eskens’ other novels have characters from “The Life We Bury.” I’m looking forward to checking them out. But first, I have to finish a couple of books off of my own bookshelf.