Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Underground by June Hutton





First Line: A mud sky churns over a mud field broken by coils of barbed wire, a wheel severed from a cart, a tangle of brown limbs.

Underground by June Hutton is a compelling novel about one man’s journey to rediscover and redefine himself after a set of devastating experiences in World War I.

Al Fraser volunteered for war. He finds himself in a trench on the front line of a battle in Somme. Before long he is struck down by an explosion that buries him alive in the mud and muck. He manages to climb out and survives, shell-shocked and riddled with shrapnel. When physically able, he is returned home to British Columbia a lost soul, broken and desperate to overcome the horrors in his mind. Somehow, he must create a new life for himself.

Life is hard and his family poor. He finds work as a painter of ceilings for the homes of the affluent. But luck runs out when is engulfed by the desperation of the Great Depression and is forced to live as a hobo. He finds himself in a bit of trouble with the law and travels to northern Canada where he finds home and love for a while. But something inside of him demands that he fight again in order to fully heal, and Al soon volunteers to fight again in the Spanish Civil War.

The prose is intuitive, discerning, and often gut-wrenching. The story has a very realistic and eerie feel to it because it is based on June Hutton’s own grandfather who actually suffered the protaganist’s fate in the battle at Somme, and to some extent, thereafter. It is a compelling tale of one man’s journey of self-discovery through pain, love, war, and hardship. And for a debut novel, it’s incredibly engrossing.