cover image The Ice at the Bottom of the World

The Ice at the Bottom of the World

Mark Richard. Knopf Publishing Group, $16.95 (144pp) ISBN 978-0-394-56485-2

In lush language and varied voice, Richard gives life to a small world in these 10 stories filled with humor, heartbreak, love and its loss. His people are beyond the fringe of ordinary society, disenfranchised in their souls if not the reality of their Southern, down-and-out lives. A young boy in ``This Is Us, Excellent'' offhandedly reveals the abuse he, his brother and mother take from his father, and then finds revenge--perhaps in fantasy, perhaps really--at an abandoned amusement park. Two young men who work for an illiterate farmer dispose of a bloated, floating corpse of a horse in ``Happiness of the Garden Variety.'' Love illuminates ``Her Favorite Story,'' about a reclusive river dweller who will turn to the company of others after a time spent alone grieving for his dead lover. Love lost sends a fat beach-motel owner swimming beyond the breakers to the Gulf Stream in ``Genius,'' and love of an unnamed kind motivates a mud-eating cave dweller to sing bird calls at the burial of an old lady in ``Feast of the Earth, Ransom of the Clay.'' Startling images, unfettered language, broad comedy and respect for the essential humanity of his out-of-the-mainstream characters mark this debut collection. Readers will long for more. (Apr.)