UNHALLOWED GROUND by Paul Guernsey

UNHALLOWED GROUND

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Dreary, downbeat first novel about the tribulations of a doomed blue-collar family in a swampy corner of Connecticut. The Morenos have more troubles than a dog has fleas. They began five years before when father Alexis (a Chilean married to a Yankee) disappeared, to be followed by son Terry. Now mother Mary Anne has sunk into sluttishness, popping Valiums when not entertaining her woebegone boyfriends, while daughter Ida stays in the cellar, rocking catatonically. It is Manny, the 17-year-old protagonist, who must hold the family together, with help from feisty old Grandpa Tarbox, though Manny is in poor shape himself--a high-school dropout, depending on pot to calm his bad nerves. Overarching the Morenos are Old Man Cahill, the sinister, Mob-connected owner of the swamp, into which he dumps toxic chemicals; and the swamp itself, which may or may not be a sinister force. (""The swamp has turned against us,"" says Grandpa. ""There's no bad places, only bad people,"" replies Manny.) After various flashbacks, swamp fables, and dire episodes (Ida is attacked by wild dogs, then molested by her mother's boyfriend), a series of denouements reveal that both Cahill and Manny's best friend Toby were implicated in his father's ""disappearance."" Primed to kill Cahill and avenge his father's death, Manny is so crushed by news of Toby's involvement that he cannot kill at all. But the worst blow is that Toby, a desperately sick kid, had himself killed Manny's brother Terry; he leads Manny to the grave in the swamp, and then kills himself. There are three genres here, haplessly entwined: suspense (the dumping of toxic chemicals), the supernatural (the swamp fables), and psychological realism (a study of troubled, fatherless adolescents). Too had that Guernsey, instead of crafting a coherent storyline, spent his energy relentlessly clobbering his characters.

Pub Date: Aug. 27th, 1986
Publisher: Morrow