A review of Curtis Ippolito’s Burying the Newspaper Man
By Justin Lee
There is a line from a City & Colour song that kept coming to mind while reading this story. It goes: “A haunted man who can’t outrun his ghosts. They’re in my skin and my bones.” I feel like that is a perfect epigraph for this story. In Burying the Newspaper Man the past is a specter. A haint. It’s a shade cast on you that won’t leave and let the light in.
Enter Marcus Kemp. A San Diego police officer who, while working his normal beat comes across a dead body in the trunk of a stolen car. The dead body belongs to the man who sexually abused Marcus as a child in Texas. Marcus then spends the remainder of the story trying to help whoever killed his abuser get away with it.
Marcus has lived his life since the abuse in a very regimented, almost ritualized way. When his mother and he moved to California, Marcus was still a teenager. He went through high school keeping busy with extracurriculars to help keep his mind off of what happened to him. That coping mechanism carried him through college and now as a police officer. The abuse he suffered has made him feel as though he has no agency over his life, “he recognized his actions were born from a more deeply-rooted, traumatized place. From the need to control what he could in his life.”
I don’t know if Ippolito intended for their move from Texas to San Diego to work thematically with the story he is telling, but it’s very effective. A new start in a new place around new people could truly help Marcus move on. The outsider perspective over California generally is that a person can start over there. Have a new beginning in a new, sunnier place. They can be whoever they want and whatever has happened before does not matter. What no one can know is that there is no amount of sunshine that can take away that kinda dark.
There is an alternate universe where this story revolves around a grizzled, hardened, probably alcoholic, detective that solves this case in some exceedingly convoluted plot. Fortunately, Burying the Newspaper Man is not that kind of story. Marcus is an everyman. A beat cop who works the job just like how a factory worker or laborer would. He’s got a big heart and cares for others, which gives the novel an emotional core that is just not common in the genre.
Ippolito really deserves a lot of credit for how well he handles some very dark subject matter. It never felt exploitative or insensitive. Quite the opposite. I’ve known people like Marcus. Family, friends, people I’ve met during my tenure as a correctional officer. People who have some tragic calamity happen to them early in their life and are stuck there. They fuse with that moment and stop being the person they were. Marcus felt as real as any of those people I’ve met.
Burying the Newspaper Man is a very bold, emotional story that delivers heartbreak and thrill in equal measure. If the past is what’s haunting us, does it have to define us too?
Justin Lee lives with his family in East Tennessee. He is an Ex-Correctional Officer and is currently working towards becoming a Social Worker. His fiction has appeared in Punk Noir Magazine.