This review was first posted on Goodreads.
Then Came the Evening
St. Martin’s Press, December 2009
ARC from Goodreads‘ First Reads giveaway
Sleep would not come easy this time and he knew it as soon as he blinked and opened his eyes and there was no difference between the two. He began and suffered through an inventory of the reasons why he should leave and why he shouldn’t be allowed to be out at all. He wondered if regret would ever relax its hold on him. It doesn’t have to be that way, he told himself. Sleep and tomorrow you can be a new man, a free man.
Over the course of a single night, Bandy Dorner loses everything: his home, his pregnant wife, and, after gunning down a cop in a drunken rage, his freedom. Twenty years later, Bandy’s given the opportunity to start over from scratch.
I’ve put off writing this review because I’m still not sure what I think of Then Came the Evening. In general, I’d say it’s a good book; on Goodreads I gave it 3 stars, though I lean more towards 3.5. The descriptions of Idaho are well-done, the characters are mostly well-drawn, and the writing style did not fall victim to clichés and clutter, though I did have issues with sentence structure at times. While Then Came the Evening bears some of the hallmarks of a first novel, I also think it reveals genuine potential, and believe (and hope) that Brian Hart has a long and successful writing career ahead of him.
I cannot wholeheartedly recommend Then Came the Evening, however. More than anything, the passivity of the three main characters left me unsatisfied when I finished reading. Iona and Tracy at times show a hint of drive, but Bandy’s almost complete surrender to circumstance nearly overshadows everything. Things just happen to him, and his response speaks of futility more than any other emotion. Sometimes being a victim of circumstance or being swept along by the current of life can make for compelling fiction, but this is not one of those times. I pity Bandy, but I don’t care about him.
I also found Iona’s characterization weak in comparison to those of Bandy and Tracy. I never got a sense for what motivates her to make the choices she does; while I appreciate not being subjected to several hundred pages of navel-gazing, I was left with more questions than answers by the end.
I think the comparisons to Cormac McCarthy I’ve seen on Goodreads and Amazon misrepresent both McCarthy and Hart. While the bleakness of both the narrative and the landscape does bear some resemblance to McCarthy, what distinguishes McCarthy in my mind is his use of the monstrous and the grotesque in his writing. There’s nothing truly grotesque or monstrous about Then Came the Evening; it’s just bleak and empty and stripped almost completely bare of hope. In that respect, comparisons to Annie Proulx might be more appropriate.
Despite my reservations about Then Came the Evening, I believe that Brian Hart shows potential, and look forward to further works from him.