NINE BELOW ZERO by Kevin Canty
Kirkus Star

NINE BELOW ZERO

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KIRKUS REVIEW

In Canty's fiction (Into the Great Wide Open, 1996; A Stranger in This World, 1994), the irrational has a way of winning out. His tough, resilient, often bitter characters know better, but at life's turning points they surrender almost inevitably to the yearning for self-destruction. This is the case again here. Set mostly in a small Montana town, an economic backwater haunted by the ghosts of the old, supposedly free West, the story follows the downward spiral of Marvin Deernose, a bright, sardonic Native American who allows himself to be caught up in the tormented interactions of a wealthy white family. Everything begins when Marvin, on a bitterly cold morning, stumbles on an accident and saves an old man's life. The man, Senator Henry Neihart, survives the accident, thanks to Marvin, only to discover that he's mortally ill. Justine, his deeply troubled granddaughter, comes home, ostensibly to tend him. In fact, though, she's fleeing horrors of her own: her four-year-old son has been killed in an automobile accident, for which she holds her husband responsible. Already damaged, Justine is drawn by her son's death to the edge of insanity. It's a tribute to the power of Canty's deterministic vision that, even though it seems inevitable that the angry, desperate Justine and the despairing, self-aware Marvin (struggling to control his appetite for booze and drugs) will meet and begin an affair, their collision is still striking. Canty also portrays--shrewdly--the anger the affair rouses in Marvin's town. And the outcome of Justine and Marvin's coupling, while unsurprising, has real power. Canty is, in fact, one of the most deterministic of American novelists since Frank Norris: in his world, things are almost always skewed by our wayward desires. Yet his convictions don't get in the way of a full and moving depiction of character. A sad, gripping novel, driven by a harsh and distinctive vision of life.

Pub Date: Jan. 19th, 1999
ISBN: 0375707999
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Talese/Doubleday