DOWN TO THE DIRT by Joel Hynes


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The lives and loves of tormented and booze- and drug-addled teenagers in Newfoundland are examined and revealed to be as chaotic and unpleasant as those of tormented, booze- and drug-addled teenagers in North Dakota or Belarus.

With courteous acknowledgements to a long list of Newfoundland arts-funding entities and many friends, debut novelist Hynes goes digging for his portraits of maritime provincial youngsters, concentrating on the psychic agonies of Keith Kavanagh, dropout, drunk, screwup, passable hockey player, occasional fisherman, vandal and thief. Keith was cute enough as a teen to be taken to bed by an older woman, but whose life after the subsequent seduction of Natasha, a pal’s girlfriend, spirals ever downward until he becomes a candidate for detox. Natasha seems nearly as desperately unpleasant, being an equal participant in the seduction and having nothing against serial shagging under the nose of her irritable parents. Hynes follows the duo around their economically depressed coastal milieu, breaking away at (too-infrequent) intervals to let a couple of their ex-classmates have a say. Some of the few relatively upbeat moments feature well-executed scenes hockey-rink scenes, but even those degenerate into bloody violence. (But then—it is hockey.) There is a particularly gruesome scene of what was to have been the mercy killing of a dying pet cat, an assignment that goes particularly bad for Keith. Then, as the rather violent young couple begin to drift apart, victims of their ages, Natasha’s wispy ambitions and Keith’s violent addictions, Keith runs afoul of the law and is put on probation. The unlovely couple try to set up housekeeping in St. Johns, but they haven’t got the hang of it, and Natasha strikes out for the big city, leaving Keith to self-destruct.

Violent rock music rendered in prose.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2005
ISBN: 0-7867-1537-5
Page count: 224pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2005