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The Abyss

Novel by Jere Cunningham (USA) 1982.

After many years away, Seth Stacey returns to his home town, the small Appalachian community of Bethel, where the old mine is to re-open, thus providing the sleepy locals with jobs, wages and purpose. Though his lover Crystal, the local nurse, is vehemently opposed to it, he goes to work for John Lunt, the mine manager. Then a local recluse, who apparently caused the mine to close originally by blowing up the face, comes out of self-induced hiding and tries to close the mine down again. This time he is run over by a truck. His wife Rebecca is the only one who seems to know what is happening and what is yet to come and she predicts that the mine shaft will open up Hell itself. Predictably nobody believes her, until things really get weird - first the water turns bloody and polluted; then the mine reports high levels of drunkenness, drug taking and absenteeism among its workers; people are going mad or hallucinating; cats are going berserk; anything man-made seems to be rotting; and snakes and thorns start appearing everywhere. And a young cosmologist appears on the scene, researching cosmic disturbance which seems to centre on the mine. Seth and Crystal, with their families and acquaintances seem to be the only ones able to do anything about it.

This is a weird novel to describe - either Jere Cunningham got very confused himself whilst writing this book, or he's just very good at conveying the sense of confusion that his characters rightly feel. In the end, this confusion rubs off on the reader so much that he gets confused working out which is the real reason behind it. Are you with me so far? That said, it seems to work here, at least to a certain extent, and it possibly helps the storyline. Just concentrate on the book if you're going to read it, because if you get distracted more than a couple of times, you're going to get pretty lost. Cunningham also seems to have a bee in his bonnet about mines. Apart from setting his eruption of Hell inside one, he drops large hints about the evils of mines and mine companies throughout the book, from good guys being members of the Black Lung Association to Bud Budreaux, Seth's shift superintendent, abusing his young daughter. The final touch is when we find out that Seth's brother Ward manages to survive Viet Nam but gets himself killed by a falling prop in a non-union mine, and his wife and kids get no compensation or any insurance payment. Cunningham's as pro-union as he is anti-mine companies and even to someone who doesn't know enough about the subject to have an opinion, it gets on your nerves after a while. I don't know - maybe it's me that has a bee in my bonnet because I've always been fascinated by how modern day writers portray the mediaeval theme of literal hellfire and damnation, and nobody's satisfied me yet. Don't search too hard for this, but pay attention to it if you find it!


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