Friday, June 13, 2008

Coal Run, by Tawni O'Dell

(hb; 2004)

From the inside flap:

"Coal Run is a community of ghosts and memories. After a mining explosion took the lives of so many men and transformed their families, the reverberations are still being felt in the generation of survivors thirty years later. Narrator Ivan Zoschenko, the local deputy and erstwhile football legend ('the Great Z'), his pro career sidelined by a knee injury, spends a week seemingly preparing for an old teammate's imminent release from prison. In doing so, Ivan introduces a rich cast of characters -- his unexpectedly wise and comic former beauty queen sister, his former idol Val Claypool, and the young woman whose life he changed forever. And during the course of this week, Ivan confronts his demons and reveals himself to be a man whose conscience is burdened by a long-held and shocking secret that must be reckoned with."


Solid slice-o'-life novel. O'Dell has created some memorable, fully-fleshed characters. Also apparent is O'Dell's ability in showing the minutiae of small-town life, and the variegated attitudes of those residing within its boundaries.

The thematic dovetailing of the ending feels forced, unlike the rest of the novel, which reads like real life -- complicated, contradictory and rough. While consistent with the novel's theme that healing, slow and awkward as it may come, is imminent (if one allows it), the ending feels too perfect. O'Dell would've served her story, and her readers, better if she'd trusted the tone that she'd adopted throughout the rest of the novel, that life is full of loose ends, many of which remain that way.

Worthwhile, despite the above criticism.

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