The Underworld

Kevin Canty's novel is an emotionally blistering look at a small American town in the throes of grief, thwarted hope and fragile healing. The Underworld draws on the history of a tragic fire that ripped through a North Idaho mine in the 1970s, killing 91 men. Almost everyone in town loses a family member, lover or friend in the disaster and must learn to forge ahead in its aftermath. This includes Ann, a disenfranchised housewife; Lyle, a retired miner living off Social Security and savings; and David, a Montana college student who attempts to escape his past but is sucked back into it.

Canty (Winslow in Love; Everything) tracks the rituals that bind working-class Americans: troubled marriages and indifferent parents, church services and bar-hopping, sex and longing. These forces help hold the town together before the disaster, but serve as bare recompense and unworthy edifices in the tsunami of grief that engulfs the town after the fire. Some characters buckle under the grief; others make halting, tentative lurches toward new lives. Some adhere to bits and pieces of morality while others make bad and dangerous choices. The underworld of the title isn't just the mine; it is also about the threshold of death and the hell of daily life that good people face in times of unbearable grief and incomprehensible events. Canty's compassionate yet unsentimental eye never judges. He is a master of understatement and the slow burn. Every epiphany is earned and the details he paints this landscape with are as ripe with memory and emotion as a faded Polaroid. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

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