Book Review: ‘Bury This,’ by Andrea Portes
Imagine the lingering malaise of an unsolved murder of a 22-year-old girl that has haunted your hometown for the last twenty-five years. Imagine how tainted the streets you grew up on must be. This is the storyline of Andrea Portes’ second novel, “Bury This,” regarding the brutal murder of Beth Krause in a small Midwestern town in 1979. A quarter of a century later, a group of film students persuade the original detective assigned to the murder to revisit the case, hoping to gain heroic status in the eyes of those still suffering beneath the mystery of the horrific crime.
This murder mystery can also be compared to an inner battle, akin to having skeletons in your closet. When confronting painful memories is beyond confusing and horribly painful, we tend to bury them with the illogical idea that ignorance is bliss, when in reality we are letting these important triggers fester away at our peace of mind, while basking in blind apathy. We’ve all been in this mental state to some extent, and this small, fictitious town is no exception.
Broken down into five parts with laconic chapters, the novel was easy to follow and hard to put down. The structure flawlessly aligned with my inner-psyche angle, too. The analytical, introverted part of me couldn’t help but notice the uncanny resemblance to Jungian psychology. Fascinated with the notion of collective unconscious and the process of individuation, I couldn’t help but notice the parallel between the five parts of “Bury This” and Carl Jung’s five major archetypes, which is essentially about transforming one’s psyche by bringing the personal and collective unconscious into consciousness.
The five main archetypes are persona, ego, shadow, anima / animus, and the Self. The versatile Jungian concept resonates with the non-linear structure, storyline, and character development. The alacrity of the four film students was prominent in the second (ego) and third parts (the shadow). Their idealistic, curious minds cultivated the necessary courage to finally put an end to the town’s collective suffering once and for all. The ego enables you to make sense of yourself and your actions, whereas shadow work is when you dig through your dark side in order to grow and evolve.
The non-linear chapters are from altering points of view, so the reader is able to delve into the mind of each character, gaining their individual perspectives. You’ll discover their dormant desires and deepest, darkest secrets, and thus learn about the underpinnings of their actions. Becoming intimate with each character was a daring escape and I appreciated how Portes didn’t hold back. The reader is able to get into the crevices of their minds, exploring their raw emotions down to the bone, which helps to carry out the motif that things are rarely what they seem. It also enhances the reader’s ability to develop compassion and empathy for each character while bringing them to life. You’ll also have a newfound appreciation for Carl Jung’s idea after finishing this book when he said:
“The healthy man does not torture others – generally it is the tortured who turn into torturers.“
It also helps the reader to understand how love can induce madness, which is an underlying theme as well.
People tend to view the process of cleaning skeletons out of their closets as a premature death, in which they’re not ready to give up the ephemeral, lively aspect of what used to be. The end of the third (shadow) part is tied together with a beautiful poetic scene. A red robin visits Beth’s parent’s house during the detective’s visit, which is a known symbol of growth and rebirth, and a cardinal was said to have visited the preceding day, which is a reminder of hope and belief in oneself (page 119). This is a charming example of synchronicity, an expression of a dreamlike reality from meaningful coincidences, which is one of Jung’s most profound yet least understood discoveries.
Speaking of Portes’ impressionistic, poetic style, she certainly has a way with words. I adored her repetitive use of words and staccato narration, for example:
“Brisk. Brisk. Be Brisk. Don’t let them know.” (page 20)
Writing with a unique, mildly syncopated rhythmic flow, she keeps her readers on their toes. She links complex ideas together in a simple poetic manner, such as:
“Scrubbed, scrubbed, scrubbed erasing all sins, the walls whispering regret. Take me home.” (page 253)
Portes also used a breathtaking analogy twice throughout her novel and I fell in love with it.
“It was a kind of madness. Like trying to pour an ocean into a teacup. Funny. All it could do was spill and break.” (page 255)
Another poetically brilliant line is:
“Their friendship, a castle made of sand.” (page 85)
It was a moment of clarity, in which light bulbs went off. I don’t want to spoil anything for the ones who have yet to read it, so I’ll stop while I’m ahead. Symbolism and irony, such as the name of a vital location that I’ll also keep secret, is tastefully utilized with a poetic elegance throughout the novel, tying overarching concepts together beautifully.
“Bury This” is a can’t-put-down type of novel for a wide range of audiences. It’s a tale of an unsolved murder, riddled with unexpected twists and revelations. I highly recommend it, especially as a beach-read this summer.
BY ANDREA PORTES
260 pp. Soft Skull Press. Paper, $15.95.
Check out the Andrea Portes’ website here!