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Then Came the Evening - Brian Hart

I've always had a thing for log cabins. They convey solitude; being in the margins. Some of my favourite books have also featured log cabins - Julius Winsome, by Gerard Donovan; Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson; The Solitude of Thomas Cave by Georgina Harding. The book I've just this minute finished reading has a log cabin on its cover. It's ablaze. And so begins the the story of Bandy Dorner, a Vietnam veteran who has a penchant for violence. He reminds me of the character 'Teardrop' in the film Winter's Bone. It's the same landscape - physically and emotionally. These characters are hard-bitten; surviving, but only just. Bandy shoots a cop and ends up in prison for the best part of twenty years. His ex, Iona, left Bandy before to move in with Bill, a kinder man; a butcher. It's with Bill that she brings up Tracy, the son she gives birth to after leaving Bandy. Bandy only learns that he has a son when Iona writes to the prison to tell him, by which time Tracy is 18 years old. Tracy sets out to forge a new relationship with the enigma of his father. He even takes over Bandy's parents old cabin, which had once faced the cabin that Iona and Bandy lived in and which was set alight before Bandy killed the cop. The 18 year old gets a job as a builder, gaining himself surrogate (grand)parents in the form of Wilhelm and Ellen Guntly who knew the Dorners going back years. They serve as a much needed emotional anchor, a familial one also. Bandy is unwell. He is diagnosed with Hepatitis C not long before they release him. He returns to his parents now renovated cabin, where Iona also ends up, running away from sleazy sex with truckers and a crank habit. What plays out is how this trio dance around each other - Iona and Bandy's history overpowering the present - Tracy's wish for a future with his parents together jarring with the present and bringing him up short. Iona and Bandy are damaged people - Bandy remains that way. What happens quietly throughout the story is how Iona gets herself together; she becomes independent and dignified. The author, Brian Hart, has an MFA earned from the University of Texas. His prose has not just been written, but crafted. He has a real talent for imagery, describing, for instance, the dark water of the river against the snow as being like coffee in white porcelain. Like Willy Vlautin, Hart writes of the paradoxical characters who are hardy yet fragile, poetic yet pragmatic, quick on the uptake yet slow to learn; they at least have a home in American fiction, whereas the same cannot be said for their British counterparts. The book is a real gem


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Thomas Valentine and Joan Theresa
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***


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