cover image The Evening Hour

The Evening Hour

A. Carter Sickels. . Bloomsbury, $15 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-1-60819-597-8

Set in modern-day West Virginia coal country, Sickels’s debut revolves around a cast of characters whose world is pulled out from under them. Though protagonist Cole Freeman—a 27-year-old who works as an aide at a nursing home—likes the people he assists, he steals their belongings and deals the prescription drugs he buys from them. From his point of view, he’s not doing anything wrong, simply helping his patients who need money to pay their bills. Meanwhile, a coal mining company engaged in mountaintop removal poisons the landscape in an effort to force people off their land, posing a deadly threat to residents. However, families like Cole’s don’t want to move. In the words of Cole’s dying grandfather, a fire and brimstone preacher and snake handler: “Why would I want to live on land that my people never walked on?” Cole meanders through life, making on-again, off-again friendships, but he vows to change direction as the drug trade turns violent and he faces suspicion. The question becomes: is there a better life out there? Even at his worst, Cole proves well-intentioned and likable, with deep caring for others that proves refreshing, particularly when disaster strikes. Despite moments of heavy-handed foreshadowing and repetitive conversations, the novel is grounded in rich storytelling. (Jan.)