Saturday, January 21, 2012
The Evening Hour (review)
2/5 stars (review contains some spoilers)
Maybe I shouldn't have tried to read this book. I might be too close to the subject matter. But that's exactly what drew me to The Evening Hour. I keep waiting for that book that gets Appalachia, that understands the complicated relationship we have with coal. My mother works in mine permitting, consulting coal companies, climbing mountains and mapping streams. She's worked directly for coal companies in the past. So I've been raised around the industry and I know more than your average reader.
This book is trying to be gritty and realistic. Only it tries too hard. Appalachia has a whole score of issues. One book cannot possibly tackle it all. But this book tries to bring in homosexuality, coal, the drug epidemic and even snake handling churches (which is one stereotype too many in my opinion).
If the book had been realistic it would've worked much better. But the book seems to be stuck in the past without a real understanding of the modern coal industry. Regardless of how you feel about coal it's highly regulated. Permits are a huge expensive hassle. Coal companies are no longer allowed to do whatever they want.
From everything I know (and consulting with a professional aka my mom) the diaster that is the climax of the book isn't even possible on such a large scale. It's based on what happened in 1972, nearly 40 years ago. To write a book set in modern times but to not acknowledge the way the industry has changed just doesn't make sense to me. According to my expert, sludge ponds are built to maintain a 100 year rain event. Terraces lead up to them and they are surveyed every month. Any movement would be detected. None of this science seemed to be taken into account for this novel.
This book also refuses to acknowledge that most of Appalachians are pro-coal. Here in Kentucky we see tons of "Friends of Coal" and "Coal Keeps the Lights On" signs everywhere. This book completely ignored that. To me that is the most glaring omission. Any character who spoke about coal opposed it, which simply is not true in Appalachia. If you're going to write a realistic contemporary fiction you can't change the whole region to fit your worldview.
Sadly this book just fell short in too many ways for me. It panders to what outsiders thinks of coal and Appalachia. Its preachy and tries to tell people what to think. Rather than delve into the the truly complicated relationship, it just tells people who oppose coal exactly what they want to hear. Never mind that it's inaccurate because nobody except us Appalachians will know the difference and nobody ever pays attention to us anyways.
I'm not stating an opinion on the coal industry with this review. I'm just stating what I see, travelling 22 counties in Eastern Kentucky and living with the industry in my home. This book is too full of stereotypes and too unrealistic for my tastes.
Apparently the author researched this diaster 12 years ago, which was on a much smaller scale than the one in the novel with no fatalities. Martin County Sludge Spill
This is the one in 1972 that most closely sounds like the events of the novel. Buffalo Creek Flood