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THE UNDERWORLD by Kevin Canty Kirkus Star


by Kevin Canty

Pub Date: March 7th, 2017
ISBN: 978-0-393-29305-0
Publisher: Norton

Drawing on a true disaster, this brittle, compassionate story tells of a mine fire that devastates a small Idaho town.

The silver mine dominates the lives of families in and around Silverton, paying them well and tying them to a life of harsh labor, coarse camaraderie, and heavy drinking. Lyle retired a few years ago but returned to mining, even with $280,000 in the bank and Social Security in the monthly mail. David attends college in Montana, trying to escape, but he’s pulled back, feels “the past reaching out to claim him.” Ann has tired of the compulsory sex of married life, and the trips to the fertility clinic haven’t brought the baby that might improve matters. Canty (Everything, 2010, etc.) focuses on these three lives and touches on several others enduring terrible loss. “The things that have bound the family together are all cut.” The mine fire kills 91 men, spares 80, and leaves Lyle and another trapped a mile below the surface of Silverton. It’s a small working-class town, where people are stuck and secrets always get out, where the collars are blue and college is rare. Canty has a keen eye for details in this setting and suitably dry, spare prose. A just-rescued miner thinks: “Somebody takes his picture, somebody takes his pulse.” A neighborhood is captured with its “cracked sidewalks and chain-link fences.” Ann, chasing a new life, a new identity, twice mentions “her name stitched onto the breast” of the blue smock she wears for work in a grocery store. One nit: the quantity of booze consumed may be realistic—“Go to the bar and drink. That’s what we do”—but it’s also dispiriting, no pun intended, and may sap a reader’s sympathy.

Canty does a fine job of showing how disaster can lacerate a place or people without utterly destroying hope.