Monday, April 27, 2009

Coal Run by Tawni O’Dell--A Recommendation by Alicia

Tawni O'Dell's astonishing debut novel, Back Roads, received widespread critical acclaim for its visceral portrayal of a family torn apart by violence. In her much anticipated second novel, Coal Run, O'Dell returns to the ravaged mining towns of western Pennsylvania, this time to the homecoming of a former small-town football hero, Ivan Zoschenko.
The Great Ivan Z was a rising star when an accident left his knee shattered and his future uncertain. After decamping to Florida, where he spent sixteen liquor-filled years hiding from his past, Ivan is reluctantly drawn back to his hometown of Coal Run by the news of a former teammate's release from prison.
A once prosperous mining town, Coal Run—like Ivan—is a shadow of its former self and haunted by tragic memories. When Ivan was just six years old, Gertie, the town's largest mine, exploded, burying in its tunnels nearly every man in town, including his own father, grandfather, and uncle. Though Gertie has long since ceased to function, the town is still very much defined by its former presence: each family descends from miners, most of them killed in the blast.
Despite Ivan's bad knee, he is given the job of local deputy, a nod to his former glory. He perfunctorily fulfills his duty, though often making exceptions to the law and sobriety. But in the days leading up to Reese's return from prison, Ivan can no longer repress the secret history of violence and irresponsibility that binds him to Reese—and to Reese's wife, who remains comatose after the beating that led to his incarceration.
When Ivan attends the funeral of Zo, a family friend and elderly town figure, he encounters Val—a scarred Vietnam veteran, former neighbor, and childhood hero of Ivan's—who is making his own belated homecoming. Reflecting on the boy he once was and the man he should have become, Ivan is tortured by memories of his Ukrainian immigrant father, his own youthful arrogance, and the still lingering consequences of his actions.
Ivan realizes that he must first reconcile his past in order to forge a path toward a better future, ultimately struggling with whether a man's worth is intrinsic to his person or is instead the sum of his actions—whether through the acceptance of duty and responsibility, however belatedly, he might atone for his past. Rich in heart and the casual, indiscriminate brutality of both man and land, Coal Run is above all a story of redemption and healing, the acceptance of one's shortcomings, and the infinite hopefulness of a new future.

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