The World Beneath
Aaron Gwyn
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Buy *The World Beneath* by Aaron Gwyn online

The World Beneath
Aaron Gwyn
W.W. Norton
192 pages
March 2009
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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Gwyn’s provocative novel contrasts the world we see with the inner territory of the mind, the world above with the world below and the permutations of a mind seeking safety. Three characters form the crux of this story: JT, half-Mexican, half-Chickasaw, a boy who doesn’t seem to fit anywhere; Sheriff Martin, whose search for the missing JT awakens memories of his younger brother, Pete; and Hickson Crider, a returned Iraq war veteran who suffers from PTSD.

When JT’s family reports him missing, Martin begins what he feels is a futile search. The loss of his brother Pete years before haunts him still, Martin’s discomfort exacerbated by JT’s inexplicable absence. Martin no longer believes in accidents, convinced “if you knew the effects, you could trace them to the cause.” As time passes with no sign of the missing boy, Martin loses hope of a positive recovery.

In Oklahoma, myth runs through every aspect of daily life, stories of other worlds built below the surface, the appearance of holes in the earth, holes that can swallow a person as though he never existed. Old mine shafts litter this landscape, empty chutes destined one day to fall into one another.

JT embraces his Chickasaw heritage, believing in the legend of Shampe, “the vanisher” who resides underground and snatches unsuspecting victims for life elsewhere. An old wise man counsels JT, a fatherless boy who cannot navigate this unfriendly life. “What to I do?” asks JT. The answer: “Go under.” Craving that other realm of existence, JT prays, “Let me be taken.”

JT’s disappearance is innocent enough, yet the catalyst for unforeseeable violence. When a hole appears in Hickson Crider’s backyard, the groundskeeper at a local golf course - and JT’s immediate supervisor - approaches the problem logically, only to be confounded. Eventually he covers the hole with a shed, but along the way a dark place has opened in Hickson’s psyche, the silent damage of the Iraq conflict warring with his adjustment to life at home, the instinct for survival versus the accommodations required by society.

In a cataclysm of nightmare and opportunity, the drama explodes with an act of violence and the consequences of that act. The safety of Crider’s world is threatened, the enemy intangible: “Miners have come from other lands to make it brittle. Because of them, your life could collapse.”

While Sheriff Martin seeks resolution to troubles past and present, he moves closer to a confrontation with the inexplicable, a horror set free by a broken mind. For JT, a troubled boy undone by the loss of his father, the world will never be a gentle place, only one of sorrow. In vivid prose that both enlightens and suffocates, Gwyn brilliantly details the shadowed places that haunt his characters and their willingness to reach toward the light or stumble into darkness.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Luan Gaines, 2009

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