Based on actual events, a lynching that served as inspiration for the song Strange Fruit, Laird Hunt is on the blog today with his story, narrated by Vanessa Johansson and Pyeng Threadgill. Please read on for my review of
The Evening Road
August 7, 1930. Marion, Indiana. The effects of Jim Crow felt strongly throughout the United States, and two young men are slated for a lynching. Photographs of the aftermath show celebrations around and under the bodies as they hang: celebrations by white people who, were their color a bit different, would be subject to the same terrors and fears. But, Hunt really isn’t writing a story about the lynching proper, but of the people who turn this into an event, and rush to see. While I had heard wonderful things about this author, this is the first opportunity I’ve had to read / listen to his work, and this seemed like a good opportunity to take a chance.
Told by two persons, one white one black, and examines their journey to Marion, their motivations, secrets and emotions that are experienced along the way. And I’ll be honest, from the start I felt that Hunt took the ‘easy’ way out in his prose: struggling to find more politically correct language to soften the full-on body blows that should have arrived with each epithet, and working to make cornsilk, cornflower, corntassel, etc a gentler and easier to digest phrase than what we ALL know were words, thrown about to divide, defame and demean. In fact, the constant struggle that I felt in an oft-circular prose style that managed to side-step every word that was ‘softened’ was frustrating as I often found myself rewinding to be sure that I understood and recognized the choices. For me, the story would have carried more impact throughout had the prose been less cluttered and clearer emotionally from the outset without them.
Firstly, the story is in Ottie Lee’s point of view. A white woman who works for Bud: a lecherous good ol’ boy who demands his own sort of payments and penance for slights. He’s decided they will take a journey to Marion to see a lynching, and off we go. Along the way, Bud adds Ottie’s husband Dale, and a man named Pops. This is an old-fashioned sort of road trip – stopping along the way to see the sights and experience the world they encounter through car troubles, a fish fry, plenty of drinking, a side trip to a Quaker prayer meeting and, of course, the theft of mule and wagon from a group of black folks. Not only do they share tales of themselves and their adventures, prejudices and personalities, but we learn to see the nuance and questions that some have, the certainty of ohers, and the prejudice of all. Well, some of them, and a moment where all should have been shamed during the prayer vigil: non-denominational, non-discriminatory and ultimately, a visual representation of the silence which meets overt racist behaviors by the majority of those who feel they are ‘not’ effected.
Moving on to the second half of the book, we meet Calla Destry, a bold and often reckless young black woman with a white male lover and an adoptive family who wants to find somewhere safe, away from Marion and the lynchings, away from the threats they face daily. Calla is offhanded about the whole thing, she believes that in some ways they are untouchable, even as circumstances tell different. She heads to the lynching, boldly and unapologetically, but finds that the primed and excited crowd is more than happy to disabuse her of the car, her life and her dignity. She escapes and heads away from the city, in some ways her new encounters reinforce her belief that people are no different after all, and in others, that is challenged. The last chapter is narrated by a new woman, one who seems to be a device for Hunt to give us all a moral lesson on what the story should have brought. It felt as if it was meant to be a conclusion to Calla’s story, which was unfinished and open, and then devolved into lecture.
While I will commend Hunt for the moments that stood out: no great saviors, the actual layered characters that presented very real-feeling people full of contradictions, good and bad, the attempt to bring an event in the past to light, and some of the questions that may arise for readers. I can’t wholly recommend this story because of those same choices: word choices were poor and I felt they diminished the impact. Calla’s story didn’t really present any conclusions, and the moral compass provided by the 3rd voice, Sally, that felt both intangible and extraneous. There is room to wonder about each, think about where they went, but the punch of the story was held back and softened too much.
Naration for this story is provided by Vanessa Johansson and Pyeng Threadgill, and I didn’t find any great missteps or glory moments. While they presented the moments well, and each was clear and distinct, there were emotional moments missing where an acknowledgment or adjustment to tone, pitch or delivery would have added much to the moments. It wasn’t an easy tale to present and the prose, while bordering on the too-flowery edge of poetic was often lovely, the rhythm and meter of the prose seemed to be more important to author and narrators than the actual words used.
Stars: Overall 3 Narration 4 Story 3
Title: The Evening Road
Author: Laird Hunt
Genre: Depression Era, Historic Elements, Historical Fiction, Multi-Cultural, Small Town
Narrator: Pyeng Threadgill, Vanessa Johansson
Published by: Hachette Audio, Little, Brown and Company
Published on: 7 February, 2017
Source: Hachette Audio
Audio Length: 6 Hours: 50 minutes
Get Your Copy: Amazon ♦ Barnes&Noble ♦ iTunes ♦ Kobo ♦ Downpour ♦ IndieBound ♦ Book Depository ♦ Google ♦Audible
Two women, two secrets: one desperate and extraordinary day.
Meet Ottie Lee Henshaw, a startling, challenging beauty in small-town Indiana. Quick of mind, she navigates a stifling marriage, a lecherous boss, and on one day in the summer of 1930, an odyssey across the countryside to witness a dark and fearful event.
Meet Calla Destry, a young black woman desperate to escape the violence of her town, and to find the lover who has promised her a new life.
Every road leads to the bedlam of Marvel, a town where lives will collide and be changed forever. Reminiscent of the works of Louise Erdrich, Edward P. Jones and Marilynne Robinson, The Evening Road is the story of two remarkable women on the move through an America riven by fear and hatred, and eager to flee the secrets they have left behind.
A copy of this title was provided via Hachette Audio for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.