Picks and Pans Review: Last Man Out

updated 05/26/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/26/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

By Melissa Fay Greene

Residents of Springhill, N.S., expected a "bump" every so often, the distant boom of the local 13,000-ft.-deep coal mine when it shifted. One fine October evening in 1958, a monster bump shook the town and trapped 174 men in the mine. What follows is a nail-biting account of how the men struggle to keep hold of their spirits as they starve and wait, sharing dreams of sunlight and family. The fate of the men who did not survive is grotesque almost beyond bearing, but the lacerating effects of momentary fame damage the survivors also. In a series of devastating, finely drawn portraits, Greene, author of the acclaimed social history Praying for Sheetrock, deeply examines the lives of her characters, showing their intimate, playful sides as well as the sturdy reticence of men too strong to admit they may be doomed. (Harcourt, $25)

BOTTOM LINE: A tragic triumph

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