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Works by Kevin Canty

Associated Works


Common Knowledge

Canonical name
Canty, Kevin
ca. 1953
Places of residence
Missoula, Montana, USA



This book snuck up on me. I can't remember how or why I picked it up, but nearly as soon as it began, I was sucked into Canty's characters and prose, pulled along through every passage and every heartbreak, every wondering. The patchwork effect he creates by weaving together the short chapters focused on characters who are so different, and yet so alike, is brilliant, and through simple prose that sifts through the tragedy of a mining disaster, the outcome is masterful. As fiction, it reads almost as something which is too real and too close, in his focus on the most irreverent details right alongside the most poignant emotions that manages to make it feel as if you're watching a video back through time, to something which happened--from living room, to church, to tunnel, to bar, to the driver's seat of a car where the reader seems to be riding shotgun with a confused driver, just like they're so often riding shotgun for intimate moments that feel too real, too close.

All told, I'm left wondering why I've never heard of Canty in the past, and anxious to pick up more of his work. In fact, I'm thinking about re-reading this one already.

Absolutely recommended.
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whitewavedarling | 5 other reviews | Aug 16, 2017 |
Really happened…In 1972, a fire broke out underground at the Sunshine Mine in Kellogg, Idaho; 91 men died of carbon monoxide poisoning. The disaster had a devastating effect on Kellogg and the nearby communities in Idaho’s Silver Valley. People who were there still vividly remember the events of that day. Source: NPR

Tom Wilkerson and Ron Flory were found 8 days after the fire and were the only survivors. Their story inspired this work of fiction.

When I first saw the title, The Underworld, and read the publisher’s blurb I made a wrong assessment that the book was a fantasy or science fiction. Somehow my brain latched on to the words – “none of the characters that populate the Underworld ever lived. . .” and made the leap to subterranean creatures never before seen.

In reality, the novel, inspired by true events, describes a hardscrabble life in a Colorado company-owned silver mining town in 1972. The cast of characters is small, mainly the Wright family and a few others. All residents are trapped; landlocked geographically, handcuffed by poverty and controlled by tradition. The company owns everything from the homes to the homeowners.

The story opens with David Wright, a college freshman, traveling from Missoula, Montana back to his hometown of Silverton, Colorado to attend a friend’s wedding. David’s easy drive from Missoula on the multi-lane highway ends when it bumps up against the mighty Camel’s Hump. Symbolically, and literally in David’s case, he puts chains on himself and the car’s tires before heading up the narrow mountain road toward home. Toward a place that the unimaginable has happened.

The day expires on the two-lane. . . the chains make a jingly sound that reminds David of Christmas and he sighs remembering all that was lost, everything slipping into the past. He is driving into the past. . .He moves through a whirling tunnel of snow, back and back and back.

From the moment you are born your life is predetermined here. If you are a woman, you will become a miner’s wife. If you are a miner, your son will be a miner and together you will descend daily into hell praying the mountain will spit you back out at the end of your shift.

There are few secrets in a mining town; much like Cheers, everyone knows your name. You develop deep bonds and friendships as everyone knows that one day, something is going to happen that will forever change things. The underworld. That cramped, damp, hot darkness of the mine fills all their lives; young and old alike.

Fear, the frayed high tension wire that connects everyone above ground as well as those a mile below hums in their consciousness day and night. It colors everything they think and do. Could today’s kiss good-bye in the morning be the last kiss? They drown their fear in alcohol and bravado. Most try to live loudly but there are those who withdraw into themselves creating a blank space where they smother feeling and emotion. They love, they hate, they fight, they pray…always aware they live on borrowed time.

It is no surprise that many dream of leaving but few have the courage to climb that mountain; it’s too scary to leave the devil you know for the one you don’t. Those that do leave are often pulled back by the bonds of family and the inability to understand and function in an uncontrolled outside world.

Then one day, it happens. . . 171 miners kissed their loved ones good-bye and headed to their underworld jobs. Life above ground followed normal routines. The instant the alarm was heard throughout the town, time stopped. The town’s worst nightmare had become a reality. Family and friends gather silently at the entrance of the mine and the long vigil begins. From that moment on, life will never be the same again in Silverton.

The fire will kill 91.

Whatever anyone thought they knew about themselves and how they would react to a mine disaster would prove to be wrong, Some will find the strength to start over, others will remain fixed in grief unable to restart a new life. This unfortunate town lost more than 91 souls, it lost its identity, its future. Somewhere, however, seeds of hope sprout for those willing to look for them.

In the difficult struggle to rise up, love will bloom and new friendships will be forged. Those finding the will to change have a bright new future ahead. Others, will remain focused on the loss and become alienated, bitter and unable to rise from the ashes.

I found this book a fast read. I guess I was drawn into the story by virtue of hearing about the local mine disaster near my home as a child. The story itself was told in simple terms, nothing floral or poetic, just told things in a manner that conveyed things as they probably would happen in real life.
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Itzey | 5 other reviews | Aug 3, 2017 |
I read Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's set of short stories of the Bengali immigrant experience, Arranged Marriage some time in July last year. I liked it enough to pick up another book of hers - this time a novel, but that sadly was consigned to the "to be read later in life" pile after ploughing through 15 pages of it. Yes, I do have a short patience level. I can't seem to follow the 50-pages rule sometimes.

Yet, I thought that Divakaruni's forte lies in short stories. So, that was how I ended up reading The Unknown Errors of Our Lives. It begins promisingly enough - the first story "Mrs Dutta Writes a Letter," was brilliant - rightly so it was selected for Best American Short Stories, 1999. But the book just fizzled away after that.

I had a feeling that the author was trying too hard to be poetic. Prose does that to you - in the endeavour to create that perfectly symmetrical, poetic turn of phrase, we befuddle ourselves with what we should really be concentrating on - the story. Towards the end of the book, I found myself just turning the pages, waiting to get past it (this year I have promised myself that I WILL sit through a book, no matter how tedious it may be). Soppy, sentimental, and rambling, The Unknown Errors of Our Lives was a tedious read, and my own error was in buying it. Even the title story was just too baffling - what was happening there? I am not sure still. Sudip Bose was scathing in his review:

Divakaruni's stories can verge on melodrama, and with their ever-present scents of cumin, coriander and jasmine, they are redolent of a curry seasoned by too heavy a hand - New York Times

I agree. Let this book be the known error of my life
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Soulmuser | May 30, 2017 |
Why is it so hard to escape the town of our birth? What keeps us from growing into a new life? Are we trapped in brutal, short lives?

In 1972, Silverton, Idaho is in the middle of nowhere, it's only reason for being the silver mine that needs workers. Men are paid well, trading long lives and their health for good money. They work hard, then play hard, frequenting the bar to drink and brawl. They are proud of their toughness.

Silverton is infused with toxins that ruin skin and health.

"There was arsenic in the smoke, chromium, cadmium, lead. Part of what it cost to live here...people died here after a while, lung cancer, liver cancer, for a few months the other year everybody seemed to have leukemia."

The women think about leaving their men, and do leave men who can't leave the only life they know. And when someone does break out, like David who is in college, they feel alienated and conflicted, resenting the pampered life of green shady lawns and uncalloused soft hands.

"This was never going to be his life, anyways, these leafy maples that meet overhead, a canopy over the street. Shingled houses with white trim, green lawns, third stories, turrets and arches. In a way, it feels good to let go, stop pretending. This place has its membership and he isn't part of it."

The third year of college is ending when David hears there has been a disaster at the mine. He drives his VW home. His father and his brother work in the mines.

The disaster claims 91 lives. David's brother is one of the dead. The stunned town struggles. Widows drown their sorrows in booze but find there is no haven from regret and grief. Two men are trapped for 14 days, and coming above ground reevaluate their lives. David reconsiders his choice to leave for another life.

This is a story about grief.
"Everything in life can be taken from you in an instant. Any minute. She had known this before. But now she understands it."
"Her friend is dead. But she could only forget it or else think about nothing else, and there is nothing to think, nothing to say. It cannot be undone. It cannot be fixed. It cannot be tolerated...Something breaks inside her, a little thing like a Popsicle stick."
One widow, Ann, who at twenty-two was already weary of her life and childlessness before the accident, now regrets not cherishing her husband more. Ann realizes she had closed the door on so many possibilities when she decided to stay in Silverton and marry. Now she is 'free' to choose again, but the choices seem limited.

Ann goes to a bar seeking a bartender who once seemed interested in her; now he doesn't recognize her and she thinks, "all this just seems so corrupt. A stimulus, a response, a line, a body. People just want to fuck...They see a woman, alone, vulnerable, they move in for the kill. That's how it is. A lonely woman is the devil's playground."

Ann had sung as a schoolgirl and now joins the church choir. She experiences the sense of greater community found in choral singing.
"The third time through the 'Ave Maria' she feels it, that lovely moment in which everything else drops away and she becomes this column of air, supported by the hips, her jaw dropping into the high notes, this physical thing becomes musical, becomes music, and all around her the same thing is happening and they are singing together, almost beautifully."
Ann becomes friends with David's brother's widow Jordan, whose grief plays out in angry and self-destructive behavior. David is drawn to Ann.

Some don't survive the death of their loved one, some try to leave. Ann and David turn to each other in their grief and in their need reach, again, for love. They have been to hell and back. Perhaps they will yet find some comfort in the world.

The Underworld is fiction based on an actual mine disaster. I loved the writing and Canty's moving characters. I look forward to reading more of Canty's work.

I received a free book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.
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nancyadair | 5 other reviews | Apr 19, 2017 |



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