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A mentally disturbed man’s attempts to help his institutionalized wife, as related by Hunt (The Impossibly, 2001) in a Faulknerian voice that succeeds better than one would have reason to expect.

Although the setting is Indiana, there is more than a whiff of Southern Gothic about this tale, basically a family saga about an unhappy farming clan named Summers. As seen mostly from the perspective (and in the voice) of the simple-minded Noah, the Summers people like your basic cold-blooded, upstanding country folk, neither terribly perverse nor terribly interesting in their own right. Noah’s father was a schoolmaster before he married and settled down to farm life; Noah himself never learned to read and write very well and seems never to have held a job of any kind (although he delivered mail briefly during WWII when postmen were in short supply). Most of his neighbors might look upon Noah as the village idiot, but he is really more in the nature of a seer—quite literally. Noah’s odd, apparently meaningless visions often turn out to be uncanny (he once saw a grandfather clock, for example, hovering over a field in which it lay buried), and the local sheriff made use of his insights more than once. But Noah’s great curse was his inability to help his wife Opal, committed to a mental institution and subjected to the systematic horrors of 1950s-era psychiatry (electrotherapy, etc.). Hunt’s depiction of the inner workings of Noah’s mind (often phrased in extremely long stream-of-consciousness sentences) takes some getting used to, but he becomes a credible and sympathetic character in short order, and his plight—and Opal’s—become equally vivid (and heartbreaking).

At first glance, this seems to be the worst possible knockoff of 20th-Century Lit 101, but Hunt manages to infuse enough life into these old modernist bones that by the end they dance like a Halloween skeleton.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2003
ISBN: 1-56689-144-2
Page count: 200pp
Publisher: Coffee House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 2003

Kirkus Interview
Laird Hunt
February 7, 2017

In Laird Hunt’s new novel The Evening Road, Ottie Lee Henshaw is 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 celebration. Meet Calla Destry, a determined young woman desperate to escape the violence of her town and to find the lover who has promised her a new life. On this day, the countryside of Jim Crow-era Indiana is no place for either. It is a world populated by frenzied demagogues and crazed revelers, by marauding vigilantes and grim fish suppers, by possessed blood hounds and, finally, by the Ku Klux Klan itself. 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. “Hunt brings to mind Flannery O’Connor’s grotesques and Barry Hannah’s bracingly inventive prose and cranks. He is strange, challenging, and a joy to read,” our reviewer writes in a starred review. View video >


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