The World Beneath is a book that I picked up at The Stranger’s Slog Happy, a monthly happy hour event in which the Stranger staff invites their readers to come out and have a drink with them. There are food and drink specials, friendly people, and free books. Their literary critic brings out a whole mess of galleys and uncorrected proofs (same thing?) and people are invited to take books home with them, read them, and review them.
There’s really only one thing about Aaron Gwyn’s novel that bothers me, and I’ll take a moment to get it out of the way– it seems like a modern fiction cliche to have the story’s hero be traumatized by something that happened to them when they were younger. The death of a child by being run over, the death of a wife by fire, the death a little brother by drowning, the discovery of an artifact-collecting grandfather in the middle of an old-people orgy sex ritual, etc. Each hero is haunted by what they’ve seen or whatever else life has dealt them, and it has a tendency to inform their decisions for the rest of the book. It also has a tendency for flashback-making.
Oh, well. The rest of The World Beneath is about a few different things, all of which revolve around holes in the ground and Native American myths. There are three characters whose stories are told– each of them broken in a different way because of their traumas. JT, a half-Mexican half-Chickasaw boy, a loner, is obsessed with going underground to be with his dead father. Sheriff Martin blames himself for his little brother’s death and spends his entire life trying to make good on that, and Hickson Creed fought in the first Gulf War and is suffering from PTSD. The story flashes back and forth between two different timelines and JT’s own narration of some of the important events in his own life, and all three character’s lives intersect.
The World Beneath is a relatively short, spare story that sadly, loses some of steam as it moves forward but still is a story very much worth your time. This is Aaron Gwyn’s first novel, and I’m looking forward to the second.