cover image Nine Below Zero

Nine Below Zero

Kevin Canty. Nan A. Talese, $23.95 (384pp) ISBN 978-0-385-49160-0

Having charted the dangerous waters of teenage love in his first novel, Into the Great Wide Open, Canty navigates the more treacherous rivers of midlife romance in this story of an unlikely and destructive coupling. Separated from his heroin-addicted wife, as well as from his adolescent daughter, Marvin Deernose (who is half Indian) has returned to Rivulet, Mont., where he lived as a child. Although life isn't perfect in Montana, Marvin hasn't yet made a mess of his own when, one frigid pre-dawn, he comes upon former U.S. Senator Henry Neihart in his overturned car. Still conscious, the senator extracts a promise that Marvin knows will bring him nothing but trouble. When Marie falls in love with the senator's granddaughter, Justine Gallego, still inconsolable over the death of her son four years earlier, their affair removes them from those who need their attention and drives both toward danger. In Marvin, Canty has created an engaging character whose missteps are only too forgivable. But it's far more difficult to forgive Justine's self-destructiveness, despite her son's death and her self-awareness. Canty's prose soars in the small moments, as when Justine remembers how her son's life filled her own or when Marvin recalls hunting with his father. Yet, while there are these moments of incandescent writing, and certain minor characters spring alive through adroit dialogue, the ending may leave the reader underwhelmed, as though, after all the sturm und drang, there's little consequence in what the characters have endured. Author tour. (Jan.)