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"Nine Below Zero"

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In Kevin Canty's second novel, Nine Below Zero (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday; $24), aimless, depressed Justine is barely getting over a nervous breakdown precipitated by the death of her young son when she meets aimless, depressed Marvin, who is barely getting over his drug addiction. By chance, Marvin saves Justine's grandfather's life, giving her the excuse she's been waiting for to flee her marriage in Oregon and set up camp at her ailing grandfather's house in Montana, where she wallows in grief and adultery. The characters plod through their lives, often communicating in clichés when they are able to communicate at all: The line "That's not what I meant" runs through the text like a refrain. But Canty's a good enough storyteller to make us care about these disenchanted, apathetic people and their clumsy attempts to connect and make sense of their muddled recollections of their past selves.


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