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Strip Cuts (2000)
Odd, isn't it, that the miserable and wasted coal fields should enjoy such a grip on at least our literary imaginations? From D. H. Lawrence to Richard Llewellyn to The Deer Hunter to Homer Hickam, writers have celebrated escaping from mining country, but they've mostly (Lawrence being the exception who proves the rule) looked back with some fondness. David Drayer's first novel is told in much the fashion of Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio, as a set of interconnected but not necessarily continuous stories. Here they are unified in that they trace the progress of Seth Hardy, thirteen when we meet him, a man when he leaves town at the end of the book. The town is Cherry Run, Pennsylvania. The strip cuts of the title are the remnants of the region's mining history.
Seth is a likable enough protagonist, undergoing the familiar torments of an awkward boy, with an unfortunate nickname, amongst high school bullies. His particular nemesis is the loathsome Claude Coarsen. In a scene that provides a visceral thrill to anyone who's ever been bullied and that offers a kind of insight into how kids might end up shooting up their schools, Seth draws a bead on Coarsen when they are both out hunting deer. But in this case, Seth doesn't shoot. Equally compelling is a scene between Seth and the pretty young teacher who is one of his biggest supporters. She ponders what would be so wrong about reaching out to this unhappy young man, yet has the good sense to control herself. And in many ways it is Seth's father, Earl, who resides at the core of the book, a decent though reserved man who is capable of being just as strict with his son's high school principal as he is with the boy and who proves a soft touch for a couple who are down on their luck.
This is an impressive debut, perhaps most impressive for Mr. Drayer's allegiance to his own material. He apparently resisted editors' attempts to strip out secondary characters and he wisely avoided what must be a powerful temptation for any writer today, eschewing the annoyingly popular memoir form and sticking with a novel. Mr. Drayer has said that he wants to return to these characters because he's interested to see what will happen to them. You'll be curious too.
-PROFILE : Pa. native draws on his childhood to pen book about coal-mine town (HELEN GEORGE, May 30, 2000, Pocono Record)