Review: The Life We Bury

by Janna

My book club designated The Life We Bury as June’s book to read, and what’s super cool is that the author, Allen Eskens, is from Minnesota! He’s joining our book club for the night, and I can’t wait to ask him a few questions about the book. I really enjoyed this book, although I don’t typically read thrillers, and I gave it a solid 3 stars on Goodreads. It didn’t have what it takes to make a 4-star rating, but I enjoyed how easy and quick this book was to read.

Joe Talbor, a student at the University of Minnesota, must interview a stranger and write a biography about him for a final class project. Joe stumbles upon Carl Iverson, a Vietnam veteran who is dying of Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. And, oh yeah, Carl was convicted of murdering his 14-year-old neighbor, Crystal Hagen, decades ago. As Joe learns more about Carl, he realizes that Carl may be telling the truth when he says he didn’t murder Crystal. Joe and his neighbor, Lila, dive into Carl’s story, determined to dig up what really happened to Crystal. The twists and turns along the way are somewhat predictable, but they still kept me on the edge of my seat.

Joe’s backstory was super intriguing to me and was actually one of the most stressful aspects of the story. Joe basically raises his severely autistic brother while dealing with his alcoholic and abusive mother. He eventually leaves his mother and brother to attend the University of Minnesota, but can’t quite leave his former life behind. His mother ends up in jail and Joe has to care for his brother, while juggling classes, a job, and his assignment to interview Carl. I really enjoyed how Eskens injected a sense of urgency into these pieces of the story even when nothing “thrilling” was currently happening.

While I enjoyed this quick read, I did have a few problems with the plot line and the lack of character development. I really loved how quickly the plotline moved, but I wasn’t a huge fan of how conveniently everything ended. I can’t say much more without spoiling anything.

I also wished that Eskens had developed the other characters more. While Joe was a fully fleshed character who I could empathize with, the other major characters, Carl and Lila, just didn’t feel very real to me. Lila felt like a trope for the damaged, formerly promiscuous girl. And I just wanted more of Carl! Joe’s assignment is to interview Carl, and while I did enjoy his backstory, I was surprised at how small his part in the overall story was.

Problems aside, as someone from Minnesota, I LOVED that this book took place throughout Minnesota and Iowa. I knew each city and town, street and landmark that were mentioned. I also lived in Iowa for three years so I even knew those references. I’d recommend The Life We Bury to anyone from this area, just because of how fun it was to say “Ooo I’ve been there!”

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this quick read. This book isn’t going to change your life, but it will entertain you for the short week it’ll take you to work your way through it.

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1 comment

Kathleen June 29, 2016 - 6:59 am

I’m putting it on my list! I love a quick thriller, and I think it would be fun to read about my hometown. Thanks, Janna!

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