The story takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where the human race lives in subterranean dwellings connected by series of claustrophobic tunnels suggestive of interconnected submarines. The entire massive structure is powered by The Machine, some godlike mechanism developed before any of the current residents were born. No one knows what The Machine is or how it lives, but an intense theology surrounds its very essence.
The main character is Ballard, a manager of a maintenance crew who attends to the Machine. Poor Ballard is married to a woman he constantly demeans and emasculates him as a failure. After years of verbal abuse, he snaps and (accidentally) kills her with a single gunshot. There leads to a major problem: in the world of Marrow’s Pit, weapons are not allowed, and all crime is punishable by being tossed into Marrow’s Pit as sacrifice to The Machine. What is Ballard to do? He can’t go above ground where a monstrous storm rages constantly. He is so indecisive that he leaves his wife’s body in their bedroom. Time goes by, and she starts to, well…decay. The plot is on.
The story is a rather simple one. But the emotional turmoil of Ballard is well-described. His anguish and terror is overwhelming, but then so is the smell. Everything is intense in this novella. The feeling of being trapped in this underground world never leaves the reader. I couldn’t escape a feeling of dread as Ballard descended into madness. Even the smell of oil and the sounds of hissing steam and hydraulics permeated Ballard’s account. The author created an entire environment that took hold and wouldn’t let me go. Overall, this short novella is rich in detail and experience. And, the latter is quite creepy. Highly recommended.