Skip to main content

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


Popular posts from this blog

Who was Mary Burns?

On 7th January 1863 Mary Burns was found dead from a suspected heart attack. She was 43 years old. Since her death Mary has received barely any attention despite the fact that she spent over twenty years as the common-law wife of Friedrich Engels, one of the world’s most influential thinkers and the co-founder of Marxism.

Born in 1822, Mary was the oldest surviving child of textile dyer and factory operative, Michael Burns, and Mary Conroy, Irish immigrants from Tipperary. Mary’s parents had married at St. Patrick’s in an area known casually as Irish Town, one of few Catholic churches in Manchester at that time. The year of Mary’s birth and her infancy were significant in that Manchester was still dealing with the aftermath of the event that became known as the 1819 Peterloo Massacre, a peaceful protest of the working-classes on the site of St. Peter’s Fields in which several people were killed and hundreds injured. The Massacre occurred when magistrates, alarmed at the size of t…

Booker Shortlist announced

It's been a while... I know. Dog walking on the Downs, a bit of theatre, a bit of baking, a bit of writing etcetera etcetera. I also managed to read two complete books in the past month, which I was so pleased about. I had not read a whole book for about a year. The first was A Lie About My Father by Scottish poet/writer, John Burnside; a very well written memoir about father and son, but like all memoirs, some unreliability I felt. Poignant and tragic in equal measure. Then my husband returned from Cyprus (too hot for me this time of year, I can barely cope with England!) with Sebastian Faulks's Birdsong. He loved it. And then I read it and also loved it. I had originally picked it up several years ago but didn't get beyond Amiens, where the first section is set, but was really glad I did this time around. Another incredibly well written book in the style of a good Victorian! I felt a bit unsure about bits of Elizabeth, in the later section, but I have never learnt so muc…

Days Without End and Mosul's Avengers

So fed up am I of buying books that I don't finish, that I decided I would go to the local library for a copy of Sebastian Barry's latest novel, Days Without End, which has just been awarded the Costa Prize. Unfortunately, I could only borrow it on the proviso that it was return by 1 February. I returned it the day after, without having finished it. I was about three quarters through, and will now have to go out and buy it for the final quarter. I loved Barry's The Secret Scripture, and on every publication of a new work, his star rises. Days Without End follows two boys, one descended from native Americans, and the other having arrived on one of the notorious coffin ships from famine struck Sligo. The tale is brave, funny, touching, but most of all Barry has achieved the perfect pitch. It is quite remarkable.

Another remarkable work comes in the form of reportage in the New Yorker (February 6, 2017) The Avengers of Mosul, by Luke Mogelson 'A Reporter at Large'.

Mo…