This first novel by Brian Hart offers a glimpse into the complicated lives of his Midwestern characters, their lives defined by struggle, depression, and very little choice. Centering on the disparate lives of Bandy Dorner, his son, Tracy, and his wife, Iona, Then Came the Evening opens with a brutal murder when a local police officer is shot dead and Bandy is held responsible.
A deep-buried fear from the ground rises through his feet, Bandy finds himself incarcerated, locked away for nearly twenty years. Defined by the loss of his marriage, the damage to Iona and Tracy is almost certainly irreparable. Time moves on, and in 1990 Iona works as a part-time checker when she sends a letter to Bandy, who has just been moved to a correctional facility on Idaho. She tells him their son had just celebrated his eighteenth birthday.
Tracy visits Bandy two weeks later, but the meeting is tentative, Tracy telling his father that Iona’s most recent husband, Bill McKinley, is now dead, and they will be returning to the house in Lake Fork, Idaho, that Bill left them. There’s also an offer to fix it up and care for it. Although Bandy’s memories of the place are unforgiving, the house still nestles in rye grass and creeping, ragged bushes.
Standing on Dorner land, Tracy’s life is suddenly full of dark possibility. Together with his neighbor Wilhelm, he tries to remake his life on a land where the wealthy developers are rapidly transforming the landscape. When an accident shatters his ankles one dark and frozen night, Tracy remembers the long and unforgiving memories of his father and his mother, and his stepfather who lived tethered to fear, anchored by it, alone, nearly friendless.
With a two-parted anguish, Hart gravitates between these characters’ hardscrabble lives
- especially Bandy, in prison with an swollen liver, the too deeply warn grooves of the cells, the violence and the brutality, only the well-worn memories of Iona to guide him through the haze of this landscape. Later, when he’s released into the hands of Iona, his heart pounds in his chest.
It all feels like that dream, the naked dream: “sleep and tomorrow you can be a new man, a free man.”
Within this intimate examination of fathers and sons, husbands and wives, Bandy and Tracy are unable to really connect. Tracy thought that he and his father would be friends; if not like a father, Bandy would be like an older brother.
Now his ideas about family suddenly seem very childish. For her part, Iona has given and sold too much of herself.
She imagines herself threadbare and rusted, a life covered in years of abuse. When Bandy becomes increasingly desperate for money, a brutal crime seems to seal his fate, which in turn precipitates a final reckoning.
In this vast land with its endless sky, Hart introduces a series of mismatched characters. Their lives are fully embedded in the landscapes of Idaho and Montana - the unpaved mountain roads, black pine forests, the mountains far and hazy, their sides granite and elephant-hide gray, the evergreens spread thick. Hart posits a cherished understanding between man and nature, his characters both new and old as they
combat the feelings of loss that have escalated throughout their lives.