Hollow Ground

by Stephen Marion

It's always a pleasure to find an author coming out of the gate for
the first time who is so good that hours after laying their book
down (if you can lay it down) their prose resonates and echoes in
your mind for days afterward. Kathy Hepinstall's THE HOUSE OF
GENTLE MEN was like that; I highlighted passages on almost every
page from that book. So, too, does HOLLOW GROUND by Stephen Marion
continue to haunt, to stir within the memory, long after the book
is closed and the lights go out.

HOLLOW GROUND is set in Zinctown, Tennessee in the 1970s, though
there is a timelessness about it that makes it seem as if it could
be happening today. Gary Solomon returns to Zinctown after 14
years, with the baggage he left behind waiting for him. There is
his father, whom he could never please; his brother, long dead,
buried in a grave site known only to his father; and a son, Taft,
whom he has never known. There is also the little matter of Taft's
mother, Brenda, who is torn between the love for Gary that never
really died and the pain wrought from his abrupt desertion that has
not left her.

Taft, meanwhile, is knocking at the threshold of adolescence, and
is under a swirl of influences. There is Tanya, the worldly
neighbor girl whose spiritual, if not physical, corruption of Taft
appears to be inevitable; Moody Myers, his grandfather, the town
historian, savior, and, ultimately and unintentionally, it's
destroyer; and Tony, his uncle, a charismatic charmer whose wild
streak leads to his ultimate downfall; and his father, suddenly
appearing after being little more than a rumor all of his life, who
wants to fulfill his parental obligation but does not appear to
quite know how.

The story of these people is told against the backdrop of a strike
at the zinc mines, the town's primary industry, as sinkholes
suddenly but not exactly unexpectedly begin to appear in the areas
surrounding the town, portending the beginning of the end. While
this is occurring, Taft is subject to the dual temptations of the
spirit; Uncle Tony is drawing him into his wild sphere, while Tanya
is using her smoldering feminine wiles to draw him into a plot to
murder her mother. Marion is at his best when etching and shading
the colors of Tanya's character. She at first appears to be merely
a child with a schoolgirl crush on Taft, but Marion, without
rushing or hurrying the proceedings, skillfully presents a picture
of a willful and manipulative individual who will do anything to
get what she wants. Her actions, and Taft's reactions to them, will
resonate as terrible and true with readers. Marion's ability to
write with continuing explosions of greatness and frequent flashes
of brilliance make the experience of reading this account a
memorable one.

HOLLOW GROUND is both a literary snapshot and a novel. Don't expect
a neat and easy resolution to any issue. It is all the more
realistic for it. Rarely does life provide any true closure other
than the grave. What Marion does here, and does with much aplomb,
is create characters that the reader will care and wonder about.
HOLLOW GROUND will leave readers wishing to hear more about the
people within, yet satisfied with what they know.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 22, 2011

Hollow Ground
by Stephen Marion

  • Publication Date: May 15, 2002
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books
  • ISBN-10: 1565123239
  • ISBN-13: 9781565123236