Sunday, January 10, 2010

Then Came the Evening by Brian Hart (2009)

My latest read from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program is Brian Hart's debut novel, Then Came the Evening (2009), a tragic story of a family in small-town Idaho.

Then Came the Evening starts off strong, setting into motion the inevitable trajectories of three interesting characters. Bandy is a young man who has just come back from Vietnam and is living in a cabin on his parent's property with his girlfriend Iona. Bandy wakes up one morning to find himself in a crashed car on the ranch, still drunk, with the police and his father waiting for him outside. The cabin that he and Iona shared has burned to the ground, and everyone assumes Iona went with it. Bandy becomes violent and ends up shooting one of the officers and going to jail. Iona didn't die in the fire, though. She was fed up with Bandy's drinking and affairs and left him for another man and moved away. Eighteen years later, still in prison, Bandy gets a brief letter from Iona. She was pregnant when she left him, and his son, Tracy, wants to meet him.

First Tracy, then Iona, then Bandy end up back at Bandy's parents house on the family ranch. Bandy's parents died years ago, and the man Iona left Bandy for has also died. All three of them are raw and flawed and filled with their own resentments and regrets. Is being family enough to bring them redemption?

While the book started out strong (the prison scenes are particularly well written), the last half of the book falls apart a bit with some mis-steps in pacing and some dialogue and action that doesn't seem to fit with the characters as they were revealed to us at the start of the book. I feel like I'm being a little nit-picky with the flaws of Then Came the Evening but that is only because it could have been a great book and it ended up only being good. Hart has a real talent for describing the rural and small-town Idaho landscape, and for crafting his characters -- I really look forward to reading his next book.

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