Sickels, Carter, “The Evening Hour: A Novel”, Bloomsbury USA, 2012.
A Powerful First Novel
Cole Freeman was born and raised in Dove Creek, West Virginia, a town where the wealth is in the coal mines. Now at 27, Cole has avoided working as a miner and becomes a nurse’s aide at a care facility. But Cole, aside from being good with the patients and good looking, is also a drug dealer. He sells the drugs that his patients give to him to the younger generation who use them for other things than preventive medication. When the economy changed, Coe found himself making less money and in fact, the entire town seems to be in financial trouble. The mining company is negotiating to buy the Freeman’s family property and while Coe protests, we know, as he knows, that this is just putting off the inevitable. He has always wanted to leave the land but he feels a sense of obligation. His grandfather held that land and his best friend, Terry has become lost to him—first he got married and now he is involved with drugs.
Cole also has a bit of a secret. He has tried to start-up with two women but prefers spending time with his elderly patients as he tries to ignore the fact that everything around him is falling apart. It takes a disaster for Cole to realize that he can’t solve the world’s problems but he should be ever to solve his own.
I was stunned by the beauty of this novel especially because it is a first book by a new author. He so captures America in the throes of change while giving us a superb cast of characters and lyrical prose. I cannot imagine how difficult it is to write about people whose world has been taken from them yet Sickels does so with style and grace. The characters and the land they live on are both suffering and Sickels captures the heart of America. He writes with great emotion and the characters and the reader come together–-so much so that we do not want the book to end. Heritage Coal Company owns the land and the characters on it and the way that the people react is as varied as the colors in a rainbow.
It is interesting that Cole has no desire to escape his home and his ennui with the place. He feels connected to the land; his mother had long ago escaped the mountains. Cole is a man of thoughts that go unspoken; in fact much of what he thinks is unspoken. He trusts few and he does not believe in himself. Raised by his grandfather, he has been told countless times that he needs to be saved. Salvation comes nowhere near him and even though he understands why others find religion to be appealing and a panacea, he does not have use for it. He feels isolation, confusion and frustration and even though he has lived nearly three decades, he is still growing up.
Appalachia is a place of poor people who live difficult lives and who do not know how to and cannot deal with the mining companies that pay their wages as they ruin their lives. Nevertheless the West Virginians have a sense of pride that keeps them from moving away. This is a quiet novel that moves along almost in silence… until Cole faces a trauma that changes his life forever. From this Cole reacts and begins to come of age. What also makes this an important book is the way it deals with an environmental issue but this is Cole’s story and we see this by the way he acts and thinks and through the diverse cast of characters that are around him.
- Posted in: GLBT Film