November 9, 2009
Money in the Ground
Suspenseful Novel offers Fresh Perspective on Mining Controversy
Brian Cabell’s “Money in the Ground” is an intriguing story about a proposed mine in present day Upper Michigan and the controversy that erupts in the community as a result.
The effective opening scene sets the tone when a house is burned down, the third in the neighborhood of the small fictional town of Peebles, Michigan. The homeowners are insistent that Maxo Mining is responsible for the fire because it wants to keep them quiet for being opponents of the proposed iron mine.
The majority of the local residents are in favor of the mine as a good source of jobs in their economically depressed region. However, many people fear Maxo Mining is not giving them the full details about the mine, and they do not want to see pollution, the destruction of the region’s natural beauty, or a disruption to the river that flows through their properties.
Patricia Connauer, the local representative for Maxo Mining, soon becomes embroiled in the controversy as she denies allegations against Maxo Mining, tries to promote the mine to the community’s prominent members, and deals with the local news station to make sure her company is represented accurately. Patricia finds herself in an interesting situation because she is a former Yooper (U.P. resident) who left Upper Michigan at age sixteen because of a secret in her past. She finds she prefers the finer things Chicago has to offer over life in the U.P., yet she cannot deny that some of the people are intriguing, including the local News Director.
When the home of one of the mine’s leading opponents burns down with an elderly man inside, followed shortly after by another of the mine’s opponents mysteriously falling off a cliff, Patricia begins to have her own doubts about her company’s position. Is Maxo’s upper management being truthful to Patricia in stating that these are coincidences in which they have no involvement?
Alex Stark, the News Director at the local Channel Eight, also begins to question the viability of the mine as evidence surfaces that it is not in the best interests of the community. Alex finds himself butting heads with the station’s general manager, Harvey Miller, who seems less concerned about reporting the news than getting Maxo Mining to advertise with the station so corporate will quit breathing down his neck about declining sales. Harvey may not even be above taking a bribe to keep controversial information about the mine off the air.
Alex soon finds himself at the risk of losing his job in his desire to report the truth. Will his conscience overcome his need to support himself, as well as his growing attraction to Patricia Connauer? His decisions result in an explosive and satisfying conclusion to a controversial subject.
Besides resonating with the characters and being glued to the suspenseful plot, readers will enjoy the descriptions of Upper Michigan, the towns, restaurants, hotels and bars. While Cabell uses fictional names for all the places he mentions, those familiar with the area will have fun guessing which actual places inspired the fictional ones. Cabell provides a realistic depiction of life in Upper Michigan without relying on stereotypes or humorously exaggerated characters to attract his readers. He is spot-on in his depictions of life in Upper Michigan, both its economic difficulties as well the scenic beauty and sense of community that make people stay. The characters’ varying viewpoints about the U.P. make them multi-dimensional and the novel dramatically rich.
Despite all the concern about jobs that the iron mine stirs up, Alex Stark sums up life in the U.P. best at the end of the novel:
It’s funny, here in the U.P., we constantly talk about not having any jobs, but you can always find something. It doesn’t take much to live here. That’s part of the charm. We don’t ask for much and we don’t get it. Don’t need it. Life is good. Look at this.” He gestured to the sky and the beach below. “You’re not gonna find this in Chicago. I mean, where in Chicago can you cross the street from your house….and go to the beach with your dog? You can’t do it! So you tell me who’s got it all figured out?
While the U.P. does need jobs, Cabell makes clear we do not have to focus in a narrow-minded way on one solution such as mining. The U.P. is filled with creative people and entrepreneurs who have found a way to make a living. Mines or no mines, that trend will continue. Money in the ground might be why people first came to the U.P., but it’s not the reason they stay. Money in the Ground is a bold imagining of a fictional mining controversy that reminds us other possibilities exist for the U.P.’s livelihood beyond conceding to environmental threats. I hope this author keeps writing.
For more information about Brian Cabell and “Money in the Ground,” visit www.briancabell.com
— Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D., and author of “The Marquette Trilogy”
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