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 Fiction Review   



Bad Ground
By W. Dale Cramer
Bethany House, 2004
Softcover, $12.99 (382 pages)
ISBN: 0-7642-2784-X

Bad Ground is very good writing in search of its story. Luckily, though late in the game, it finds one and comes to a satisfying if somewhat rushed resolution.  

Filled with memorable characters and memorable images, the novel sets out to be the story of Jeremy, a teenage boy sent by a dying mother to live with a guilt-ridden uncle who blames himself for the death of the boy’s father years earlier in an industrial accident. But Jeremy, though likable, is too good to be an engaging protagonist, even in Christian fiction, which is what Bad Ground is labeled. A goody two-shoes is ultimately kind of dull for fiction, which thrives on spice, not sugar, and on moral ambivalence, not moral certainty. A character like Jeremy can be a good catalyst, however, and toward the end of Bad Ground, the author seems to realize this; suddenly the novel becomes the uncle’s story, not Jeremy’s. Good! Almost too late, but not quite, Bad Ground becomes character-driven instead of plot-driven, which is what it wanted to be all along.  

The reader won’t much mind this misdirection because the uncle, named Aiden, AKA Snake, is worthy of his own story. Badly disfigured in the aforementioned accident (thus the repulsive nickname), he has withdrawn from life into a solitary existence that is a prison of his own making. Jeremy’s unannounced arrival on the uncle’s doorstep begins a process that eventually brings redemption and a new life to the uncle, a nicely drawn character.  

Readers may find Bad Ground somewhat fatiguing. Its many scenes in an industrial setting, mining in a gigantic tunnel for a water treatment plant in south Atlanta, can make you feel after reading a few chapters that you’ve pulled an eight-hour shift on a construction crew. The leisure-time scenes suffer a bit, too, from the absence of fully realized female characters, and some of the scenes, though entertaining, appear to be the author’s marking time while he figures out whose story Bad Ground is. No matter. In spite of its flaws, Bad Ground is a likable novel and is very good writing. Cramer’s simple, muscular prose and spare poetical images reflect an artist in full control of his medium except for the occasional and jarring grammatical lapse, misplaced modifiers.  

Bad Ground is Cramer’s second novel. His first was Sutter’s Cross. Cramer lives in north Georgia with his wife and two children.


Robert Lamb
Southern Scribe Reviews


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