The New York Times
Then Came the Eveningby Brian Hart
Bandy Dorner, home from Vietnam, awakes with his car mired in a canal, his cabin reduced to ashes, and his pregnant wife preparing to leave town with her lover. Within moments, a cop lies bleeding on the road. Nearly two decades later, Bandy is released from prison, and on the family's Idaho ranch, he faces an unexpected reunion. Tracy, his now teenage son, has
Bandy Dorner, home from Vietnam, awakes with his car mired in a canal, his cabin reduced to ashes, and his pregnant wife preparing to leave town with her lover. Within moments, a cop lies bleeding on the road. Nearly two decades later, Bandy is released from prison, and on the family's Idaho ranch, he faces an unexpected reunion. Tracy, his now teenage son, has come to claim the father he's never known. Iona, Bandy's ex-wife, has come on the heels of her son. Haunted and hardened, the three struggle toward a shared future and a sense of family in this beautiful novel of devastating power.
The New York Times
“All the elements are in place for an inspirational, heartland-America redemption story, but Hart taps into his characters' fears with gritty lyricism and noirish repartee that subvert any feel-good temptations.” New York Times Book Review
“Most impressive is Hart's ability to conjure rich and conflicted characters in an uncommon situation; his handling of the material is sublime.” Publishers Weekly (starred)
“The unforgiving rural landscape of Idaho is the perfect backdrop for first-time novelist Hart's poignant story of three misfits. Hart refuses to tie up everything neatly, and that's what makes this novel so appealing. Highly recommended to readers of good literary fiction.” Library Journal
“Like the characters in this quietly exceptional début novel, the author is an Idaho native, and an astute observer of the transitional Western landscape.” New Yorker
“This novel's finely detailed episodes of physical and emotional violence bring to mind the works of Larry Brown, while its lyrical descriptions speak of landscape and rural community life like the books of Robert Morgan. Hart explores, with brutal honesty and a delicate respect for the strength of the individual spirit, the human needs for love, for continuity after death, and for redemption. His depiction of the effects of poverty, violence, and drugs on the human spirit is acute and poignant.” Booklist
“Hart's evocative debut traces the long descent of a tragic Western figure straight out of a Sam Shepard play. Desiccated descriptions of a long-fallow landscape and the author's ability to conjure up the ghosts of a low man's past further enrich this heartbreaking, convincing drama.” Kirkus Reviews
“It's the (broken) family dynamics that eat up the last half of the book (and, presumably, Bandy and Iona's life) that Hart does the most justice, somehow both sensitively and unrepentantly laying them bare.” Time Out Chicago
“Then Came the Evening is one of those novels whose story quietly takes hold of the reader on Page One and never lets go. Using both the stark and dangerous life of prison and Idaho's demanding yet beautiful landscape as backdrop, the author builds a first-rate if complex story around regrets, love and hope.” Denver Post
“The landscape… is the book's best-drawn character: vibrant, described credibly and without melodrama. Hart deftly handles two perilously popular archetypes: ashes-to-ashes and like-father-like-son. These themes build gently to an ending that is well-structured and landscape-centered, bringing full-circle the leitmotif of fire and snow.” Brooklyn Rail
“Compelling, beginning to end. The thoughtful, spare prose punctuated with quiet yet effective sensory detail -- "The cold and the silence were woven together and stretched so tightly that there were creaking sounds in the air, nautical sounds of binding rope" -- creates a moving poignancy. Hart, who's been compared to Cormac McCarthy, has a keen sense of that small, dark margin between the rock and the hard place, and that's where he puts his characters to sort out their lives.” Oregonian
“Hart constructs a taut drama around the attempt of these three wounded characters to build something out of the wreckage of their lives. Hart could hardly have chosen a more unsympathetic trio, characters perpetually down on their luck in part because of misfortunes that they can't control, but mostly because of ill-considered choices that they make. And yet Hart earns the reader's attention to them, if not always sympathy for them, in large part through the beauty and simplicity of his rhythmic prose, his natural dialogue, and his elegant evocations of the landscape and portrayals of how the characters' shifting identities fit into the evolving town. It takes a rare writer to be able to convince a reader to follow a group of bad-news characters to such bleak places, but Brian Hart's prose makes the story enjoyable, even when the events it describes are not. In Then Came The Evening, Hart has achieved a consistency of tone, a concision of description, and an intensity of focus that make for a satisfying drama.” New West
“Say one thing for first-time novelist Brian Hart: He sets himself a challenge right out of the box. The challenge is Vietnam veteran Bandy Dorner, one tormented character in a novel filled with damaged souls trying to live with loss, guilt and bone-deep sorrow. We know that Bandy is doomed from the moment he sets foot on the page, and we know that whatever he suffered in the war, nothing justifies the murderous rage that slaps him in prison as the novel opens. But Hart, fulfilling the promise he showed in 2005 when he won the Keene Prize, the largest student-writing prize in the world, still manages to make us care about Bandy and the others. We hope against hope that they can redeem something from their shattered lives…Hart deftly probes the dynamics of family, asking whether blood ties can overcome disastrous choices, but the novelist resists any easy spiritual rebirth for his characters.” Dallas Morning News
“Tragic and gorgeous… gritty and poignant…In Hart, there is an echo of Cormac McCarthy's resolute yet restrained capacity for tragedy and violence. Yet there's something here that is all Hart, something we should all look forward to seeing again.” Missoula Independent
“The story resonates with power and potential. Idaho can be a stark state, battered by the elements that mark northern climes. In Then Came The Evening, Brian Hart turns this circumstance of geography into a fresh tale of family breakdown and self-examination.” Petoskey News
“Brian Hart's Then Came the Evening shows us the hidden America, a world of remote holdings, long memories, fierce yearnings and violent strivings. He dramatizes this world with an immense care and tenderness. There is a deep feeling in the book for the gnarled landscape itself, its stark beauty, but even greater emotion surrounds the characters that inhabit it. Their efforts to live together and love each other are depicted with a grace and understanding which is rare and memorable.” Colm Tóibín
“Brian Hart has written a remarkable first novel--violent and tender, harsh yet beautiful. Sentence for sentence, no other young writer I know can match him. If Cormac McCarthy had been a carpenter in rural Idaho for nine years, this is the book he would have written. Then Came the Evening will break your heart.” James Magnuson, Director of the Michener Center for Writers and author of Windfall and The Hounds of Winter
“Then Came the Evening is an important book, a novel of raging velocity and blazing empathy, a mature achievement. Brian Hart knows everything about his rural western setting, everything about his short-on-luck characters, and everything about making a reader turn the pages. This is a first novel written with a master's skill.” Stephen Harrigan, author of The Gates of the Alamo and Challenger Park
“Brian Hart's considerable genius is that he sees what the rest of us are unwilling to see and says what we are unable to say. Then Came the Evening is both harrowing and haunting, hypnotic and exhilarating. Hart can flat-out tell a story. He's savvy, insightful, and fearless … What talent, what nerve, what an achingly beautiful and astonishing first novel.” John Dufresne, author of Requiem, Mass: A Novel
“Brian Hart's Then Came the Evening is composed of equal parts science--a scrupulous exactitude for place and the emotions it evokes--and art--the astonishing deftness of its telling. Palpable always, and ultimately poignant, is its reverence for the physical world and its acknowledgment of the violence we do to it, to each other and to ourselves, and its wise and unflinching rendering of that mysterious gulf between who we are and who we wish to be. Here is a novel that will stick with you like a song, and needle you awake in the middle of the night.” Michael Parker, author of If You Want Me to Stay
“Then Came the Evening is an edgy and affecting debut from a writer already bursting with promise and achievement. Brian Hart's narrative voice is as tender as it is unflinching--and his novel of love squandered and oh-so-nearly retrieved is a triumph.” Jim Crace, author of Quarantine, Being Dead, and many more novels
“Hart's clipped prose mirrors the stark Western landscape…A solid, original work that defies convention.” San Francisco Book Review
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THEN CAME THE EVENINGA Novel
By Brian Hart
BloomsburyCopyright © 2010 Brian Hart
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE BURNING SEASON
THE CABIN WAS DARK then a light flickered inside. Flames filled the windows and wormed at the sash; the glass blackened and shattered. Smoke poured out and drifted over the fields, the marshlands, and the creek and formed a dark ribbon at the base of the three hills that separated the Dorner land from the main road. Sometime after midnight the wind picked up and the trees on the mountainsides whispered and bent to it. The smoke was pushed beyond the hills and settled against the walls of the Finnish church and in the small graveyard nearby, but by then the fire was only a flicker, and the cabin was gone.
Bandy Dorner woke to a fogged windshield, cracked and spattered with mud and grass, the watery shadows of two policemen banging on his car hood with their fists. He opened the car door with his shoulder and fell into the canal. The shock of the water stole his breath and when he went to stand the strong current knocked him down. He dug his hands into the mud bank and pulled himself up to flat ground and stood dripping. The fog was nearly as dense outside of the car as it was within and it took him a few seconds to orient himself. The barbed wire from the fence he'd driven through was tangled up in his rearaxle and strung across the field with some of the posts still attached.
"You can't prove a thing," Bandy said. He knew the two policemen and didn't like them. Turner was the tall man's name; Meeks was the shorter.
"I care about proof," Turner said.
Meeks took a toothpick from his breast pocket and slipped it into his mouth. "We got your bed ready in town. It ain't even pissed in. Yet." He smiled and the toothpick pointed skyward.
Bandy slapped the water and mud from his pants. "Go on, leave me alone. I'll fix the damn fence. It's not like I hurt anybody. Yet." He smiled and went toward them and they stepped aside and he walked between, a few inches taller than Turner.
"Go up there and load yourself into the backseat of that car and we'll be fine," Turner called after him. "We ain't wrestling with you again."
Bandy ignored him. Dead grass snared his boots and made him stumble. He didn't feel well. He touched his back pocket to see if his wallet was there and it was. He didn't bother taking it out and looking inside because it was empty. He'd have liked to get home before Iona woke up, but it didn't really matter. He could do as he pleased. They'd argued before he left for the bar. Going home was exactly what he'd been avoiding.
He walked through a dense belt of fog into a lesser pocket and saw his father standing in the ditch bottom with his fists clenched on the top wire of the fence. On the road behind him the haggard ranch truck that Iona usually drove was parked in front of the police car, but she wasn't there. He didn't see her. The gumdrop light turned and sounded out the closeness of the fog. Meeks and Turner followed Bandy at some distance and spoke quietly to one another; what they said he couldn't hear.
It occurred to him that he'd been dreaming of the mill fire before the police woke him. He'd been a boy when it burned and hadn't seen the actual fire, only the aftermath: the slow collapse of the town. In the dream, the fire raged in the mill and the ripe colors of the flames danced in the night and painted the glass surface of the lake. There was the sound of snapping cables and creaking timbers then the tower tilted and fell to the ground with such force that a single wave left the shoreline, only a few inches high, but it lifted the logs in the booming grounds one after the other and ran across the water with the silent determination of a falling star.
The fence wire was loose and the staples half pulled in the crisp and rotting posts. Bandy spread the wires and ducked through but he was too big and a barb tore the back of his shirt and gave him a rosary bead scratch just above his belt. Jack Dorner stayed fixed as a statue and watched him. He looked tired, like he'd been up. Bandy wanted to be easy with the old man but the tension was there always and had been getting worse. He pointed at the ranch truck. "How's Iona supposed to get around if you steal her rig?"
His father drew back a little as if he'd seen something terrible over his son's shoulder. Bandy turned but it was only the policemen and the fog behind him. "What's wrong with you?" he said to his father. "You don't like my shortcut?"
The old man's eyes dulled and he shook his head. Bandy picked up a stick from the ditch and carefully made his way up the steep bank onto the road. Black, gummy hunks of mud fell from his boots with every step. He hopped onto the hood of the cop car and dented it and fuck their car along with them. He crossed his legs and held onto his boot with one hand and rooted the mud out with the stick. His father still hadn't moved.
The cops took turns holding the fence wires for one another like they were cocking a crossbow. Their shoes were slick- soled and it took them several tries to make it from the borrow pit to the road. The old man followed them, mechanically kicking the toes of his boots into the soft earth for leverage. He made it to flat ground and touched his forehead and brushed his hand across his chest then looked at Bandy.
"It's my car and I crashed it," Bandy said to him. "There's no reason for you to be out here. This is a young man's game."
Bandy smiled at that and finished with his boots and threw the stick over the fence into the field. "Nothing for you," he said, blinking. "God, I'm still drunk." He turned and noticed the rip in his shirt and touched it, held up two bloody fingers. "Cut myself. You see that? Sonofabitch." He smeared his blood on the cop car, made an X.
"I sent for these police," his father said.
Bandy looked at the old man, not really believing him. "That's a rotten thing to do. Even to me."
Jack Dorner showed his teeth, not a smile. "You certainly pick your days." He poked a finger into the corner of his eye then held it out and looked at it, at Bandy. "Son, last night, out of all of them, you should've been at home."
"Well, I'm headed there now. That'll have to do."
"It's too late." The old man retrieved his pink, once red, kerchief from his back pocket and wiped his hands then stepped back and waved the cops in. "Go to it," he said.
Meeks stayed where he was while Turner circled around. Bandy scooted off the hood and the blood went to his head, his whole body felt unstable and hollow.
"I'm doing you a favor," his father said. "Someday you'll realize that."
"I don't need your favors."
"You go with these two and you might avoid doing any real harm. To anyone. You're going to need time to think, Bandy-boy."
"Don't call me that. I ain't a boy," he said.
Meeks spit out his toothpick and took a few herky side steps then stopped when Bandy looked at him. Turner was in a wrestling stance, slowly making his way forward. Bandy was ready for it: He wanted a fight.
Jack Dorner shook his head, blinked. "Does it even matter what I call you? You don't ever listen." The old man folded his kerchief and put it in his back pocket. "There was a fire," he said.
"It was the cabin. The cabin burned down while me and your mother were in Boise. We didn't get home till late. We must've drove right by you out here. We didn't see you. It was pretty much over by then anyway. Nobody could've done anything." He slumped his shoulders and made a dismissive gesture with his hand. Bandy suddenly understood what it all meant, his father, the police. He wondered if it was the smoke from the cabin that had gifted him the dream of the mill fire.
"Her rig was there," his father said, thumbing at the pickup behind him. "She might be gone."
A deep, buried fear came up from the ground through Bandy's feet and it was like watching the guts drop out of a strung up animal, standing there realizing that she'd burned and I was in the bar while she burned then sleeping, drunk in the car sleeping while she burned.
"She wasn't with me," Bandy said. "I wasn't with her."
Turner caught him by the wrist and startled him. Bandy snatched his arm free and hooked the cop in the stomach, threw his weight into him, and knocked him to the ground. Meeks came forward and Bandy lunged and struck the smaller man in the jaw and sent him stumbling backward down the embankment into the ditch bottom. Bandy's father was saying something but Bandy wasn't listening. He wanted to kill somebody; the urge filled him and carried him on. He went and stood over Turner and without thinking anything besides don't break your hand, he held him by the back of his collar and punched him over and over in the back of the head until he quit struggling then he grabbed him by the hair and ground his face into the dirt and felt the pop of his nose as it broke from the pressure.
When he'd finished he stood and leaned back and looked into the white of the fog and the low torn clouds like ghosts. The dream of the mill entered his mind: the wave and the smoke.
Meeks made his way back up from the ditch and stood with his pistol drawn and told Bandy to get down on the ground. The old man told him to wait, to just hold on a second. "Put the gun away," he said.
"Look what he did to my partner." Turner wasn't moving. "You be good, you big bastard," Meeks said to Bandy. "Or I'll shoot. I swear I will."
Bandy looked at the pistol and at the cop's eyes and he didn't care. He crossed the distance in three quick steps and palmed the gun and wrenched it away and it went off. Meeks fell to the ground with a hole in his shirt above his liver. Jack Dorner caught his son by the shoulders and tried to pull him away but Bandy turned and pushed the old man in the chest and he fell back and rolled to his side as stiff as a length of kinked wire.
"You want to shoot me too?" he said, righting himself.
"No." Bandy held the familiar weight loosely in his hand. He couldn't meet his father's eyes. He turned to Meeks on the ground and he could see the silver and gold fillings in the man's teeth as he yawned for breath. He had vague thoughts of mercy and compassion, but it was over. He lifted the gun and shot the policeman in the forehead. The man snapped to attention then went limp. The shot roared and faded.
His father hacked out a series of thick, cancerous coughs as he got up from the road. He went toward his son with his arm outstretched for the pistol but Bandy wouldn't give it to him. "I meant to help you. I meant to keep you safe." He turned up his hands then squatted down on his heels and rested his elbows on his knees.
"You did your best." Bandy tipped the gun and studied it, looked at his father. "Is she really gone?"
His father nodded at the road.
Bandy dropped the gun at his feet. There was nothing to be done.
Behind him Turner opened his eyes and wiped the gravel from his mouth. He lifted his head, blood poured from his nose. He got to his knees and brought up his pistol, leveled it and fired. That shot and the next were wild, but the third ripped through Bandy's shoulder as he was reaching for the gun on the road. The bullet buried itself in the meat of his chest and he fell to his knees then slumped facedown in the gravel.
Jack Dorner knelt between the dead policeman and his son. The sun burned through the fog. The new light went down the roadway and on like a cracked door against the pastureland hills. Fool's gold scales glimmered in the wet dirt, sparking like ocean swell. And there was the graveyard in the distance with its lowly stones and across the road the one- room church, freshly painted, as white as the fog had been, whiter: fog manifest.
"Look what you did," the old man said, and at first it seemed that he was talking to the dead man. "Look what you finally did."
Iona told Bill to stop the truck alongside the cold ashes of the cabin instead of parking up near Jack and Maude's. Bill did what she asked. He didn't argue. He was her new man and she was leaving with him. He switched off the engine. She made no move to get out of the truck. Somebody had been after the debris with a tractor; they'd pushed in the edges and burned it all. The soil itself was burnt and looked ruined.
Bandy had hauled the cabin down from the Stibnite mine on a borrowed lowboy soon after he and Iona had met. Their cabin, along with dozens of others, had been sold at auction. The complete apparatus of the company town was taken away on lowboys and flatbed trucks. There were whole neighborhoods in Lake Fork composed of mine cabins, sometimes several cobbled together to make a more substantial home. Miner mansions, they were called. Bandy had settled the cabin within cold-night earshot of his parents' house, fifty yards, a little more maybe. It had all been too close for Iona, every part. She'd remained after he joined the army and went overseas, had fought the urge to leave nearly every night. That she stayed as long as she had now seemed laughable.
The dirt in the driveway was torn up from the tractor tires, the grass rutted, a flowerpot smashed. She imagined that there had been volunteer firefighters and all kinds of strangers there to watch and wonder where she was, if she had burned. She got out of the truck and smelled the dead smoke, acrid, somehow telling of things lost.
"I guess you should've taken your stuff," Bill said. He lifted his bag of tobacco and his papers from his breast pocket and began twisting a cigarette. His deep focus betrayed his simplicity if not his kindness. The metal of the truck door was cold in Iona's hand and she caressed it with her thumb and the coldness faded. It was all very unreal, the whole scene. When buildings burn they really do just go away, she thought. She looked right through where the front door used to be at the fields and the creek and the hills beyond. "I need to at least leave them a note."
"You could send a letter."
"We're already here." She flipped the visor down; a note pad and a pen dropped onto the floor. Bill looked at her and smiled and she thought maybe someday she would love him. He'd said once that he was a fan of adultery as long as he was the one doing the committing. Iona had to remind him that she and Bandy weren't married, not by a church or a judge, only by common law. Bill was no longer her shadow man; he was in the light. Bandy was in the dark. She didn't think Bill would leave her, not now, not after what had happened. She bent at the waist to grab the notebook and felt the sickness come over her again. She'd already thrown up twice at Bill's that morning. She suspected she was pregnant and at some point she'd have to go to the doctor to be sure but now was not the time. She stood up straight and tilted her head back and looked down her nose because that seemed to help. And there was Bandy's car covered in mud parked next to the corral with a tow chain coiled on the hood.
"You gonna be all right?" Bill said. He lit the cigarette with a strike-anywhere off the dash and pitched the match out the window.
Iona nodded. She pushed her hair behind her ears. It was black and shiny and warm to the touch. The note she wrote to Bandy's parents was an apology and nothing more.
Jack and Maude, I'm sorry. Iona
"I'll only be a minute." She walked toward the house with the note in her hand. She was sick with guilt, sick all over.
"I ain't in a hurry," Bill called after her. "Take your time."
The house was newly painted and sturdy looking. The yard was mowed and raked clean except for a chain harrow rusting under the eaves, slowly being swallowed by rye grass. Jack had his tractor lifted onto a pair of homemade jack stands in the driveway. The rear axle was beside it hanging from a cherry picker and safety-blocked with railroad ties. Scattered around there was an open toolbox and a milk stool, Jack's coffee cup and thermos, oil rags, a five-gallon can of oil with a red funnel turned up on it like a dunce cap. Iona knew that Jack needed Bandy's help to fix the tractor and now he wouldn't have it. The curtains on the front windows were drawn, and she was thankful for that.
The mudroom door was propped open with a fist- sized rock shaped like a hog's head that at some point Bandy had scrawled dad on with red keel. Iona went in and quietly opened the screen door and slipped the note under the front door then let the screen door close. She wasn't ready to face Maude, or Jack. Two pairs of muddy boots, one pair larger than the other, sat side by side under the bench in the mudroom. She went back out.
The dog was sleeping beneath the weeping willow in the yard. The tree had grown around a length of barbed wire that had years ago been strung through its crotch. Iona had looked at it before and she went to it now and plucked it. The dog looked up at the sound and she squatted to pet him. His fur was stiff and jagged, stinking of pond scum. She wondered if the wire was still silver and new inside of the tree. The dog took deep, whistling breaths, its eyes opened only a slit, briefly.
The front door then the screen door slammed and she turned and watched Maude Dorner pull on her boots. Bandy's mother fixed her eyes on Iona and stood up easily with a straight back on strong legs and came outside.
Excerpted from THEN CAME THE EVENING by Brian Hart Copyright © 2010 by Brian Hart. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Born in Idaho, Brian Hart spent years working as a janitor, carpenter, welder, commercial fisherman, and framer of elevator shafts before earning his MFA from the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas at Austin. He was the winner of the 2005 Keene Prize, the largest student prize for literature.
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This is another story of a family, but one that has been badly shattered. It begins about 18 years before the b'ulk of the novel. Bandy Dorner's life is out of control. His girlfriend, Iona, has left him and he is lying in his wrecked car off the side of the road. When the police arrive, he fights them and kills one, for no discernible reason. He ends up in prison for the murder, and 18 years later his former girlfriend 'tells him that he has a son, Tracy. She had been living with the man that she left him for, but he has died, and she is living with her sister and drinking too much. Her son leaves her to find his father, visits him in prison and then goes off to live on his own in the house that belonged his father's parents who are also now dead. The books shows how the three of them end up living together in this house and how they try to make something for themselves. It was often hard to like the book, because the characters are mostly unlikable. I wanted Bandy to pay more for what he did and what he continues to do. Iona acts in ways that made me want to scream. Tracy just acts too much like the dumb teenager that he is. The book contains some prison scenes that are disturbingly violent. I worked for many years with prisoners, and these accounts seemed very realistic for the most part
Then Came the Evening is a family drama that takes several dysfunctional characters and attempts to reunite them into a family unit. Bandy is a Vietnam vet newly released from prison with a violent past that includes shooting a police man. Ionna is the wife that left him and ran away with another man while unknowingly pregnant with his son. She's now a drug addict who turns tricks. Tracy is the son Bandy never knew he had who goes to visit him in prison to ask if he can stay in Bandy's old, falling down house. The story takes place in rural Idaho in the rugged American West. This is a violent, rather bleak look at people you're probably glad you don't know. It's surpisingly well writen and the author does a superb job weaving this family's struggles into a story. The author doesn't write with a lot of flowery prose. He has a very bare writing style that somehow fits this story quite well. If you're looking for a story with a happy ending, this isn't going to be it. It's a great read and the author's style kept the pages turning easily for me but I had a really hard time liking any of the characters in the story. I kept hoping they would somehow redeem themselves and it would all have a happy ending and that just didn't happen.