Sunday, September 8, 2013

Book Review: "The Evening Hour" by Carter Sickels

Twenty-seven-year-old Cole Freeman has lived in rural Dove County, West Virginia for his entire life. Raised by his snake-handling pastor grandfather and his doting grandmother, he has never felt completely comfortable, although he lacks the motivation to make changes. Cole works as an aide in a nursing home, and many of the elderly residents take to him for his gentle manner and willingness to indulge them by listening to their stories and not dissuading them when they confuse him for a long-lost relative.

While Cole doesn't mind spending time with the residents, his job has a lucrative side benefit, in that he is able to steal money and other valuables from them, and they're often too unaware to realize it. He also resells the prescription medications that some of his grandmother's friends and other people in the community sell him. He knows what he is doing is wrong, but he feels powerless to stop what he has put into motion.

His grandfather's fire-and-brimstone preaching scarred him in many ways, and coupled with a childhood stutter, Cole has never been able to truly feel good about himself. As a teenager he had a very close relationship with his best friend, Terry Rose, who moved away and got married. But Terry's return to Dove County unsettles Cole in a number of ways, and it affects the relationships he pursues with two different women, each of whom has their own issues to deal with.

Dove County is under siege from the local mining corporation, which has been buying up and destroying all of the available land it can, convincing residents to sell their property and move away. Yet Cole has convinced his grandmother not to sell her land, and he refuses to do so either, despite the opportunities he could pursue with the money. When a tragedy occurs in his hometown, it helps put things into perspective for Cole, and it serves as somewhat of a catalyst for him to begin trying to take control of his own life.

Where do our obligations lie, with ourselves or with those we love? Should we finally put our own happiness above others' wishes if we've spent our whole life doing what is better for others? When you've never believed that you're capable of succeeding, how can you be motivated to try and pursue a life different than the one you have? The Evening Hour strives to answer those questions, although the answers aren't always easy to find.

Carter Sickels is a terrific writer. His use of language and imagery reminds me a little of one of my favorite writers, James Lee Burke. While Cole isn't the most sympathetic character given some of his behaviors, I found myself drawn into his life and wondered what would happen to him and those around him. I was glad that Sickels didn't fall into any real dramatic traps with the plot, which would have derailed the simple beauty of this book.

I enjoyed this book although, like many around him, I wanted Cole to do something more, to try and move out of his comfort zone. This is more a book of reflection than action, but Sickels' storytelling makes it a book worth reading, even if it tended to be a bleak story. I look forward to seeing what's next in Sickels' career.

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