I started my reading in 2022 with Allen Eskens’ The Life We Bury, so I pulled this book from my secret stash under the stairs. I have a collection I keep hidden from Rooster so he won’t get mad about me buying another book. He makes the preposterous claim that I am damaging the house’s foundation because I keep adding books to my stash. (Okay, I’ll admit it, I am a book hoarder.) I tell him to get over himself, which generally ends the disagreement. Anyway, I found The Life We Bury an enjoyable read, meaning I hit on a winner with the first book I read this year.
Quick summary of Allen Eskens’ The Life we Bury
Joe Talbert has a writing assignment for his English class. He needs to interview an older person and give a brief biography of their life. Joe has a problem. His grandfather is the person he would have chosen to interview, but he died when Joe was young. He doesn’t want to contact his bipolar, alcoholic mother, so he rules her out of the equation. Joe heads to a nursing home to find a subject for his project. The only person they have without Alzheimer’s or dementia is Carl Iverson. The prison paroled Carl because he was dying from cancer.
Joe wanted his project to be about a war hero, but he got a pedophile murderer instead. A family emergency takes Joe away from the project for a while. His mother is arrested for drunk driving, and Joe brings his autistic brother to Minneapolis to stay with him. His neighbor, Lila Nash, enters the picture when she rescues Jeremy from a battle with the television’s remote control. She mentions Joe can get Carl’s trial transcripts if he can persuade him to sign some papers granting permission.
Joe and Lila break the code in the victim’s diary, proving that Carl might be innocent of the crime. The project takes on a life of its own as they attempt to clear Carl’s name before he dies. The big question is whether Carl wants to be forgiven or has another secret buried in his past that makes it hard for him to be pardoned. Danger lurks as Joe and Lila unravel the mystery behind Carl’s conviction.
My evaluation of Allen Eskens’ The Life we Bury
I enjoyed reading this book. I found the characters appealing, even Carl Iverson. They all had complicated backstories. Each of them had a secret buried in their past, even Joe. He felt responsible for the death of his grandfather. The first-person narrative, telling the story from Joe’s point of view, lent a lot to the book. He didn’t hold back on admitting his fears and his flaws.
The setting of Minnesota in the winter created the perfect amount of drama. Eskens did a great job creating the environment. He must have spent a great deal of time in the Midwest. I found the scene where Joe finds himself in the trunk of his car after being hit on the head with a whiskey bottle very realistic. The inclusion of an approaching blizzard adds to the suspense. The nursing home setting of Hillview Mannor also rings true.
My only criticism of Allen Eskens’ The Life we Bury
The only criticism I have of the book centers around the typical college student. I question why Joe would become so deeply involved with Carl Iverson since he had many other responsibilities on his plate. My experience with college students at an undergrad level is they do enough to skate past final exams. They aren’t much interested in older people, even if It is for an assignment. I know a little about college kids because I worked at a small university for seventeen years. I found the part of the story centered on how Joe devoted so much energy to the project hard to swallow. Other than that, I loved the book. There is also an exciting twist at the end.
Who is Molly Shea?
Molly Shea is an accomplished fictional short story writer from Indiana who writes short stories and novels about a fictional town called Tecumseh. To read more of her short stories and adventures, click here.