Saturday, March 4, 2017

The Underworld

The Underworld by Kevin Canty
W. W. Norton & Company: 3/7/17
eBook review copy: 256 pages
ISBN-13: 9780393293050

The Underworld by Kevin Canty is a highly recommended novel about a mine fire in a small Idaho town.

Set in 1972 The Underworld is a fictionalized story inspired by a real event. Life in Silverton revolves around the silver mine, hard labor, and heavy drinking. Canty follows a handful of the people whose lives have been irrevocably affected by the mine, even before the disaster. David is a college student who is trying to escape Silverton and life in the mine where his father and brother work. Lyle has money in the bank and could retire, but he returns to life in the mine, thinking it will keep him from drinking all day. Ann thinks a baby will improve her marriage, but trips to the fertility clinic haven't helped.

The fire kills 91 men; 80 men survive. With so many lives lost in such a small town, the disaster touches every life in this small town.  We are introduced to the characters before the accident and then, afterwards, Canty portrays the grief, trauma, and devastation in the town as these survivors try to deal with the loss of lives brought about by the tragedy. "It’s a tough, hard-working, hard-drinking town, a town of whores and priests and bar fights, but nobody’s tough enough to get through this undamaged." It seems everything is always balanced right on the edge of turning violent. As these characters struggle with their lives, the town itself becomes a character. The amount of drinking to excess is overwhelming.

Canty manages to create these characters and flesh them out, while giving their inner thoughts voice and portraying their grief as they deal with their trauma. A disaster like this in a small town can decimate the town, literally, as people decide if they will stay in town or leave. How can they cope and keep going? Each character makes a different choice. Canty's writing is understated and reserved, but manages to capture the lives of these people in an empathetic yet realistic way.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of W. W. Norton & Company.

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