The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens

The Life We Bury

By Allen Eskens

PBR Book Review:

Every so often you come across a book that grabs you, and you can’t stop reading. This is just such a book. Joe is a college student with a biography due for a college paper and he needs someone to write about; anyone will do, he has a deadline to meet. This is how he comes to know Carl Iverson, a convicted rapist and murderer who is dying from cancer. As the book unfolds, the pace quickens, and the characters become authentic with real personalities. Give this book a try if you are in the mood for something well written with plenty of family dynamics and suspense, which I think is a great combination. I also loved that this was Allen Eskens’s debut novel. Recommend.

Book Club Talking Points:

This book has many discussion worthy threads. Joe’s mother is an alcoholic with bi polar disorder, which makes for dysfunctional family relationships. Joe also carries a lot of guilt about his mother and his autistic brother. He struggles with what loyalty to family means and his role as both brother and son as he moves towards breaking the childhood shackles. Joe also learns to forgive himself.
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*Discussion Questions

1. How did you experience the book? Were you immediately drawn into the story—or did it take you a while? Did the book intrigue, amuse, disturb, alienate, irritate, or frighten you?

2. What aspects of the novel did the author draw from to come up with the title for The Life We Bury?

3. Which character, if any, did you identify with the most? Why?

4. Was there a particular scene that resonated with you or stayed with you after you finished the novel?

5.How did you feel about the character of Carl Iverson when he was first introduced?

6. Would you say that the story is plot driven or character driven? In other words, do events unfold quickly? Or is more time spent developing characters' inner lives? Does it make a difference to your enjoyment?

7.How does guilt affect or influence the various characters?

8. What would you say are Joe's strongest character traits?

9. If you could change the character of Joe Talbert, what would you change?

(Discussion Questions by Publisher)

Book Summary
The Life We Bury tells the story of Joe Talbert, a junior at the University of Minnesota, who receives a class assignment to write a biography of someone who has lived an interesting life. At a nursing home he meets Carl Iverson, a man dying of cancer who has been medically paroled after spending thirty years in prison for the murder of a fourteen-year-old girl. Carl agrees to tell Joe his story, and Joe sets out to unravel the tapestry of the thirty-year-old murder.

To complicate things, Joe's bi-polar, alcoholic mother has taken up with a low-life who hits Joe's eighteen-year-old autistic brother. Joe is torn by the guilt of going to college and abandoning his brother. Throughout the novel, Joe has to intercede to protect his brother and is conflicted every time he has to once again leave his brother behind. The power of that guilt weighs heavily upon Joe and will demand a resolution of its own.

The Life We Bury is full of tension, twists and turns, and has a powerful, climactic ending sure to gratify. But in the end, it is the bond between Joe and his brother Jeremy that gives this novel its big (albeit tormented) heart.
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