Review: The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens

The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens
Kindle Edition, 306 pages
Published October 14th, 2014
by Seventh Street Books
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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. 

Thread by thread, Joe unravels the tapestry of Carl’s conviction. But as he and Lila dig deeper into the circumstances of the crime, the stakes grow higher. Will Joe discover the truth before it’s too late to escape the fallout?

My thoughts…

The Life We Bury was selected by my library book club for this month’s read and it surprisingly wasn’t what I had expected. From the synopsis, I was expecting to read a novel focused on Carl, a Vietnam Veteran who tells his story to Joe about the events that led up to his conviction of murder. We get so much more, we get see the struggles Joe is having dealing with his alcoholic bipolar mother and his Autistic brother Jeremy, while trying to get by financially and continue as a college student.

When an English class assignment requires Joe to write a biography, Joe visits a local nursing home to interview a stranger, Carl. Carl is a convicted murderer, rapist, and arsonist who served 30 years in prison and is now in the nursing home, dying of pancreatic cancer. Carl is accused of the murder of a 14-year old girl who lived next door to him, but, did he really do it? Carl agrees to tell Joe his life story, calling it his 'dying declaration'.

“do you know what a dying declaration is?” I didn't, although I gave it a shot. “It's a declaration made by someone who is dying?” “It is a term of law,” he said. “If a man whispers the name of his killer and then dies, it's considered good evidence because there's a belief—an understanding—that a person who is dying would not want to die with a lie upon his lips. No sin could be greater than a sin that cannot be rectified, the sin you never get to confess.”
― Allen Eskens, The Life We Bury

As Joe begins to hear Carl's story he contacts Carl’s lawyer and begins going over the evidence and court transcripts that was used to convict Carl. While doing his own investigation work, Joe is taking care of his brother Jeremy while his mother is sitting in jail. Helping Joe is Lila, his neighbor. Joe is infatuated with Lila but she doesn’t want any kind of relationship because of her promiscuity in the past, she is trying to change her ways.

As the investigation leads to more questions of what happened 30 years ago, Joe gets himself and Lila into big trouble with the wrong people while playing detective.

I was instantly drawn into the story and the characters, not so much Lila for some reason. Even though some parts were predictable and bit over the top at the end, I did enjoy The Life We Bury.  

Happy Reading -J 


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