:: Article

Hothouse flowers

By Jonathan Woods.


Bury Me Deep, Megan Abbott, Simon & Schuster, 2009

Megan Abbott’s fourth novel Bury Me Deep, set mostly in the dry heat of Phoenix, Arizona in 1931, is as steamy as a glass hothouse used to raise poisonous orchids and carnivorous plants. It reeks of forbidden sex, wild parties, illicit drugs, blood and murder. What more could you ask for?

The opening line instantly gripped me: “Thrill parties every night over on Hustel Street.”

Is a thrill party the same thing as a group grope? Whatever it is, I wanted to be there, if not participating, then as a fly on the wall. Reading Bury Me Deep, you are the fly on the wall in this lush voyeuristic noir.

Poor Mrs. Marion Seeley works as a clerk typist in a medical clinic in Phoenix. Marion is a simple country girl who made a mistake in marrying Dr. Seeley. She’s also blonde and very attractive. A looker.

Dr. Seeley, failed Dr. Seeley, his medical license revoked, a morphine addict, abandons Marion in Phoenix and heads off to Mexico to take a job as on-site doctor at a remote mining camp. In Mexico no one gives a shit about licenses, revoked or otherwise. Dr. Seeley’s adventures in Mexico could be a whole other book.

But Bury Me Deep is Marion’s story. Quickly she becomes friends with Louise, a nurse at the same clinic where Marion works. Because of its dry desert climate, Phoenix is a haven for people suffering from tuberculosis and other lung conditions. Louise invites Marion for dinner at her cottage on Hustel Street, where Marion meets Louise’s roommate Ginny, a “lunger” – someone suffering from TB or other lung disease.

In no time Marion is a regular at Louise and Ginny’s. They cook, play cards, gossip about the doctors at the clinic. It’s all innocent girl fun. For Marion it’s a means of escape: from her dreary life typing medical records by day, from her claustrophobic thoughts staring at the walls of her rented room by night. She fixates on Dr. Seeley’s absence.

Next thing men arrive on the scene at Hustel Street. Among them the daunting, irresistible, Irish rogue, Phoenix businessman, pussy hound and small time gangster Joe Lanigan. Wild parties ensue. Marion drinks a glass of blackberry cordial, takes one look at Joe Lanigan and is lost:

She paused in front of the heavy wooden door…Joe Lanigan, in shirtsleeves and smoking a cigar, opened it. Oh, the look he gave her, didn’t it say such things to her. She felt like he could move her as if by invisible strings. He had such ways, you see.

It was his study, all mahogany and green leather with gold braid…she saw the long tufted davenport and knew she was meant for it, that she would in moments be pinned there, one foot on the floor, and he would have her, and he did.

After this Marion’s story tumbles off a cliff into sexual obsession, hustling pussy for Gentleman Joe, drugs, murder and mayhem.

If this all sounds a tad melodramatic, it is. But Abbott’s lush dialogue-driven prose pulls us along at a pell-mell pace and we don’t care. We can’t turn the pages fast enough. We love this story. Abbott takes us deep into Marion’s thoughts and inner being, her struggle to remain faithful to the addicted Dr. Seeley, her own addiction to Gent Joe’s cock. And we are fascinated; hypnotized by the snake that wends its way though this tale of blood and madness. Abbott writes like a cross between early James Ellroy and Anais Nin.

Bury Me Deep is a period piece. For authenticity Abbott uses quantities of contemporary [circa 1931] slang and detail. A vagina is a gash. Here [on page 19] is Louise warning Marion about the sex crazed doctors at the clinic:

“These docs, Marion, they do the nastiest things when your eyes shut, or you turn corners, or, God help you, set foot on a stepladder. Keep your wits about you. I got an eyeful of Dr. Tipton just last week…”

“What did you see?”

“He was doing something for that pretty redheaded lunger, the one with enough wind left in her sails to blow for a doctor with a snug wallet and a way with the soft shoulder.”

“Oh, Louise, are you sure?” Marion said…

“Sure as summer rain, dolly girl,” Louise said, flicking tobacco off her lower lip like Warner Baxter. Then she gave Marion a long look and shook her head. “You’re lucky you met me.”

Only if we look back, after watching Louise draw Marion into a world of corruption, debauchery and sexual obsession, do we realize the irony of Louise’s last words. “You’re lucky you met me.” Ha!

The twists and turns of the plot are as clever and unexpected as anything Raymond Chandler dreamed up. And when I came to the end, closed the last page and glanced at the alarm clock which read 4:00 a.m., Marion’s story seemed completely inevitable and true. The works of Paul Bowles came to mind. I can offer no greater praise than that.


Jonathan Woods is the author of Bad Juju & Other Tales of Madness and Mayhem [New Pulp Press, forthcoming]. When not writing he works part time at a small art gallery: Dahlia Woods Gallery.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, August 10th, 2009.