Hunt demands your attention and intellect when you read his work. The Evening Road is wonderful because it makes you squirm with the knowledge that these people lived in your communities, wrestled with these incidents. There are several important things about Laird's work that I want you to know. He takes on writing from a female's point of view and convinces me that he "gets it". That is courageous and fraught with pitfalls. He has written female characters in this book and others with skill, heart, dedication. He has also taken on writing African-American characters with the same respect, dedication and skill. These are courageous acts in our times where any attempt to inhabit and write from the point of view of "the other" is slammed as appropriation. And Laird enlivens these characters with compassion and a sense of the daily, ordinary ways people go about living through their circumstances. I believe that Laird paints us a realistic picture of Indiana folk in the days and in the small towns of Indiana when the last lynching took place. If, like me, you grew up in a small, rural town similar to Marion, Indiana, you will recognize the people populating Hunt's new book The Evening Road.
A very compelling novel of Indiana in the 1930's. The two narrators' voices are distinctly and effectively rustic, but they didn't always seem to me to sound persuasively female. Not surprisingly, Laird Hunt understands the male characters better than he does his female narrators. Nonetheless, the novel very substantially conveys how little resistance to or outrage at the horror that is lynching there is in these characters, and that absence (altered massively at the work's end) is the novel's most chilling effect.
The characters were cliche for what you would expect for this era and part of the country, but not very interesting. I get the language and the narration were written to mimic the lingo of the time and location, but for a girl from Colorado I found it tiring and obnoxious. I would have liked it better if the narration was in normal lingo and just the characters speech written to mimic southern speech. I guess I haven't spent much time around people who talk like that. Still, the story is a great history lesson and very factually well written.
The Evening Road by Laird Hunt is a recommended novel set in Indiana in the 1920's on the day a lynching is to take place.
The news is all over that a lynching is going to take place in Marvel and all the citizens nearby are planning to travel to see it. This is the story of two different women on that day and what happens as they travel to or away from the Marvel. The novel is in two parts, one for Ottie Lee and one for Calla. There is a final chapter from a woman who is called "The Angel Runner."
Ottie Lee Henshaw is traveling with Bud Lancer, her lecherous boss, and Dale, her husband. Along their journey they get a flat tire, stop at a church supper, a dance hall, and a Quaker prayer meeting, pick up lots of alcohol, and commandeer a mule-drawn wagon. Calla Destry, a young black woman who was supposed to meet someone who never showed up is desperate to leave Marvel and find the man who was supposed to meet her, as well as find her .
While the lynching is the main topic/event all the characters are talking about, it is not the subject matter and plays a dark, but peripheral, role in the novel. This is a character driven novel. The main subjects are the two female characters and their self-discovery on this day and during this time in history. They both have secrets they are keeping. Ottie Lee's journey feels disjointed and awkward as the group is constantly pulled off course or interrupted during their trip. Calla's journey is smoother and easier to follow, but almost as meandering. The paths of the two cross several times, in startling ways.
While the quality of the writing is excellent, Laird calls whites "cornsilks" and blacks "cornflowers" which I found very confusing and it made it a struggle to follow dialogue. Having the lynching in Marvel the main event and focus of all the characters, but never really the intended main focus left me feeling disjointed. The circuitous path both characters take on this day is frustrating.
Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of the Hachette Book Group.