Bad Ground, by W. Dale Cramer (Bethany House Publishers, 2004)
Bad Ground follows 17-year-old Jeremy Prine into the hard-rock mining world of his estranged Uncle Aiden. Jeremy feels trapped underground, but it’s the only place his uncle finds freedom. Jeremy’s mother’s dying request was that he find – and stay with – Aiden, now known as Snake. Each has something the other needs, she said, but what can an overprotected teenager and a battle-scarred miner share?
This is one of those rare novels that has not only a captivating story but unique characters, lush descriptions, insights into God and man, and prose to please a lyricist’s soul. Dale Cramer’s writing is fresh and poetic. He’s a keen observer of people, nature, and the rhythms of time and of the heart.
He renders a world in harsh relief, where there’s no room for stereotypes or illusion. If a miner slips up, he’s maimed or dead. This is a natural place to find the “where’s God when it hurts” question, and Cramer’s characters meet it head on and from a number of angles, in a frank and open manner. Jeremy’s favourite tee shirt sums it up in Latin, but he needs to have it translated: “Deus Aderit” – “God is Present”
The book contains some deep thoughts on faith, but given by such real people out of the crucibles of their experience that the other characters, and I as a reader, listened and nodded and thought. It’s a serious coming of age and reconciliation story, veined with surprising flashes of laughter and a hint of romance.
The level of excellence of Dale Cramer’s writing makes this book worthy of study as contemporary literature, without the hopelessness and despair I remember from the selections inflicted by my high school English teachers.
Bad Ground won the 2005 Christy Award for General Fiction. Prior to that, it received starred reviews from both Publisher’s Weekly and Booklist, as well as from the Christian CBA Marketplace, and was on Publisher’s Weekly’s list of the best books of 2004. We don’t see very many good Christian novels finding acclaim the mainstream market as well, and it was great to see this one smash a few barriers.
This is a book for men and women, Christian and non, who love a good story well told.
Bad Ground is W. Dale Cramer’s second novel. His first was Sutter’s Cross, and he has since released Levi’s Will and Summer of Light. More information is available from his web site.