The Underworld

A Novel

Kevin Canty (Author, University of Montana in Missoula)


For readers of Russell Banks and Richard Ford, a novel about loss, love, and redemption following a catastrophe in a small mining town.

In The Underworld, Kevin Canty tells a story inspired by the facts of a disastrous fire that took place in an isolated silver mining town in Idaho in the 1970s, in which almost everyone in town lost a friend, a lover, a brother, or a husband. The Underworld imagines the fates of a handful of fictional survivors and their loved ones—Jordan, a young widow with twin children; David, a college student trying to make a life for himself in another town; Lionel, a lifelong hard-rock miner—as they struggle to come to terms with the loss. It’s a tough, hard-working, hard-drinking town, a town of whores and priests and bar fights, but nobody’s tough enough to get through this undamaged. A powerful and unforgettable tale about small-town lives and the healing power of love in the midst of suffering.

Book Details

  • Hardcover
  • March 2017
  • ISBN 978-0-393-29305-0
  • 5.9 × 8.6 in / 256 pages
  • Sales Territory: Worldwide including Canada, Singapore and Malaysia, but excluding the British Commonwealth.

Endorsements & Reviews

“An excellent and terse account of a devastating mine fire in Idaho in 1972. . . . taut stretches of introspection and screenplay-ready dialogue [reveal] characters acting against their own best interests. . . . Canty honors labor and thoughtfully challenges the commitment the townspeople make to the thing that is so clearly ruining them.” — New York Times Book Review

“If you haven't spent an evening or two in the grand company of Kevin Cant;y's work, now is your time to start. . . . Canty's chosen genre is fiction, but he peddles truth.” — San Francisco Chronicle

“Canty’s real genius lies in his subtly drawn depiction of the emotional and psychological landscape of this 'big incomprehensible thing.'” — Seattle Times

“Canty’s care with prose recalls Raymond Carver, and his empathy for the common man extends a bloodline that reaches back to the likes of John Steinbeck and William Saroyan. . . . Canty has a gift for turning the commonplace into the extraordinary by asking the right questions and allowing the truth to unfold.” — BookPage

“[P]olished, deeply empathetic. . . . Canty’s controlled, spare prose provides an ideal vehicle for excavating these emotional depths. . . His sculpted, lapidarian cadence deftly navigates the terrain separating numbness and pain . . . to illuminate the fragility and preciousness of life.” — Booklist

“Canty offers a masterly story of heartbreak and struggle against fate and bad luck while heroic themes of love and forgiveness carry this memorable novel.” — Library Journal (starred)

“Drawing on a true disaster, this brittle, compassionate story tells of a mine fire that devastates a small Idaho town. . . . Canty has a keen eye for details in this setting and suitably dry, spare prose. . . . [The Underworld] show[s] how disaster can lacerate a place or people without utterly destroying hope.” — Kirkus (starred)

“[A] stunning and deeply moving novel… The voices of these characters are as memorable as their struggle to keep going in the face of tragedy.” — Publishers Weekly

“[Canty] is one of my favorite contemporary writers because of his amazing gift for character and image. . . . The Underworld is among his best work. Brutal and delicate, hilarious and totally heartbreaking. Like Charon, Canty makes a great ferryman into uncharted territory.” — Dan Chaon

The Underworld pierces with busted hearts, broken families, and the gristly days of work and drink that bind them. A lovely, melodic, and unsparing look at small-town life in the West.” — Deborah Reed

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