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The World Beneath: A Novel

The World Beneath: A Novel

by Aaron Gwyn

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A mesmerizing literary novel that begins when a boy goes missing—and winds into an obsessive hunt with murderous results.


A mesmerizing literary novel that begins when a boy goes missing—and winds into an obsessive hunt with murderous results.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Two mysterious occurrences anchor Gwyn's uneven first novel (after a collection, Dog on the Cross): an outcast half Chickasaw/half Mexican boy named J.T. goes missing in smalltown Oklahoma and a strange hole appears in the yard of Hickson Crider, a veteran of the first Gulf War. The thread that pulls the two story lines together is Sheriff Martin, whose investigation into J.T.'s disappearance is slow out of the gate. As for the seemingly bottomless hole in Hickson's yard, it could be an abandoned well, a sink hole, a tunnel to an underground city built by Chinese immigrants or the doing of a Plains Indian incarnation of Satan. Secondary characters-like the sheriff's wife, who spends her pregnancy building model airplanes, or Hickson's neighbor-are compelling though never fully realized, and the supernatural elements don't get much traction. Gwyn is a talented writer working with a compelling premise, but in this novel, the pieces don't fit together. (Apr.)

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Library Journal

This novel evolves from a reflective bit of social commentary to somewhat of a crime thriller, with moderate success. It opens with the introduction of J.T., half-Mexican, half-Chickasaw Indian orphan who has recently dropped out of high school and works at a golf course. After his sudden disappearance, we meet Sheriff Martin and Hickson Crider, both of whom are haunted by difficult pasts. Martin's younger brother died when they were both children, and Hickson has struggled to put his life back on track after serving in the first Iraq war. All of these characters seem obsessed with the underground, specifically holes in the earth that lead to the underground. This is especially true of Hickson, who has a seemingly bottomless hole in his backyard. Gwyn's (Dog on the Cross) earthly conceit is successful enough, but he seems to give up on it with a detective-style plot twist in the last third of the book. Though it's entertaining, the reader feels short-changed after becoming emotionally invested in characters Gwyn so carefully constructed.
—Kevin Greczek

Kirkus Reviews
Gwyn (stories: Dog on the Cross, 2004) pens a grim, suspenseful first novel about murder in a small town. Thomas is only 15, yet he yearns for death. Both his parents are dead. His father, a Chickasaw, died in prison; his mother was Mexican. Thomas lives with his Spanish-speaking grandmother Nana, whom he loves fiercely, and his aunt. He has just one friend, Charles, a black kid from the ghetto. We are back in the dying town of Perser, Okla., the setting of Gwyn's stories. Thomas's feelings of isolation intensify at a Powwow where he learns of Shampe, a Native American boogeyman who lives underground but emerges to steal children; so says Enoch, a tribal elder, a folklorist and the wealthy owner of a drilling company. Thomas goes from being a straight-A student to a dropout working at the golf course, all because of Enoch's words: "Go under." Why would he give such advice? It's a major disappointment that Gwyn allows Thomas and Enoch to fade without an explanation, before shifting attention to two white men, Sheriff Martin and Hickson. Martin is a decent guy who feels responsible for the death of his kid brother in a childhood accident and so takes Thomas's subsequent disappearance personally. Hickson is a decorated veteran from the first Gulf War whose wife left him when he experienced PTSS. Later he got it together enough to become golf-course groundskeeper and Thomas's boss. His own obsession with the underground begins when a perfectly round hole appears in his yard. Gwyn cobbles together some suspense around Thomas, Hickson and his neighbor Parks. There will be two murders and a climactic confrontation underground, naturally, but the strain connecting the lost teenager to the equallylost adults is evident; the concept of a magnetic force pulling them all down feels spurious. The novel is not always coherent, but Gwyn's taut prose commands readers' attention. Agent: Nat Sobel/Sobel Weber Associates

Product Details

Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.00(d)

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Meet the Author

Aaron Gwyn’s fiction has appeared in McSweeney’s, Glimmer Train, and elsewhere. His first book, Dog on the Cross, was a finalist for the 2005 New York Public Library Young Lions Award. He lives in Charlotte, North Carolina.

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