Coarse Characters, Smooth Style in "Bad Ground"

Randall Murphree

Title:  "Bad Ground"
Author:  Dale Cramer
Publisher:  Bethany House Publishers

"Bad Ground" is called by some a coming-of-age novel, and the phrase aptly describes the journey of 17-year-old protagonist Jeremy Prine. But this masterful novel adds layers and twists and surprises that carry it far beyond that simple classification.

Most notable is that, while Jeremy struggles through adolescence, his Uncle Aiden, a hard-drinking Georgia coal miner, embarks on a challenging journey of his own. On their parallel paths, the unlikely pair grapple with how to trust each other and open themselves up a little more to the possibilities of life.

Dale Cramer's characters may be as coarse as a canvas, but his style is smooth as silk. His timeless spiritual themes run deep and clear, yet they are subtle, thus all the more potent. He preaches no sermons, just paints portraits of men encountering life's vicissitudes.

The second novel by Cramer, "Bad Ground" is nominated for a Christy Award for excellence in Christian fiction. "Many readers may be surprised to discover that some of today's strong novelists are producing Christian fiction," said Donna Kehoe, executive director of the Christy Awards. "The awards bring well-deserved attention to these outstanding writers." Winners will be announced in July.

Cramer, a former Georgia construction electrician, uses his experience working in the mines and the severe burn injuries he received there to give authenticity to the unique setting for "Bad Ground." He believes Christian fiction has great potential for impact on our culture, but he thinks maybe we need not to move forward so much as to go back a century or two.

"Tolstoy, Hugo, Dickens and lots of others wrote brilliant, classic novels from a Christian worldview without crossing any of the lines that would exclude them from today's Christian market," said Cramer in an exclusive interview. "Why can't we?"

"Bad Ground" features strong men with great strengths and great faults, men who consider themselves a "band of brothers." At the outset, Jeremy has not seen Uncle Aiden in ten years, but goes in search of him because of his dying mother's letter telling Jeremy, "I want you to go find your Uncle Aiden, and when you find him, stay with him. He'll try to run you off, but don't you let him. ... You have something I couldn't give him, and he has something I couldn't give you. I won't tell you what it is. ..."

So a few days after his mother's death, Jeremy sets out hitchhiking from the hills of East Tennessee to find his uncle south of Atlanta. Almost before he realizes what's happening, even before the two meet, Jeremy has mentioned Uncle Aiden's name and landed a job at the mine.

On the work site, Aiden is known as Snake, a bitter, scar-faced supervisor who would rather forget his past and his family. Jeremy's eventful adventure in these opening chapters is a story in itself, but the journey has only begun.

Cramer's background undoubtedly adds depth to his realistic, flawed characters, but his rough-and-tough miners are created with lucid language that is at once edgy and eloquent. The writer's work has been hailed as superior even by secular reviewers. Publisher's Weekly wrote, "With its notes of hope, humor and redemption, this delightful book exemplifies what good Christian fiction should aspire to."

"Bad Ground"'s creative word pictures will satisfy the working-man's taste as well as the critic's, e.g.: "A man working outside walked slowly, drank often and carried five pounds of sweat in his clothes from nine in the morning until dusk, when it dried to little white maps of salt."

That God often hides life's greatest gifts in the darkest places is a truth that resonates with all who have weathered life's storms, then been warmed by the sun of a new day. In "Bad Ground," Dale Cramer reiterates this principle with a moving story that both engages the mind and challenges the spirit.

© 2005 AgapePress.  All rights reserved.  Used with permission.