Then Came the Evening by Brian Hart

Hart’s quietly grand writing makes for a unique voice and a notable debut.

Then Came the Evening

Publisher: Bloomsbury
Length: 262 pages
Author: Brian Hart
Price: $25.00
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2010-01

In his first novel, Then Came The Evening, Brian Hart excels at a familiar kind of guy’s guy writing: short sentences with straightforward descriptions of characters that favor the terse over the verbose. “He hit and nothing made sense and then he came back to himself. He was hurt.” Most of the action takes place in Idaho and Wyoming and the men -- war veterans, farmers, ranchers, construction workers -- all have a stoical air in their interactions. “Bandy didn’t care what it meant and he didn’t feel like talking so he didn’t.” A pretty neat line could be drawn from Ernest Hemingway to Raymond Carver and the Cormac McCarthy of No Country For Old Men with plenty of other authors filled in between.

Within this familiar style of writing, Hart has a firm grasp on pacing, characters, and the telling moment. But he also knows when to break the expectations of his style. Where most proponents of “masculine” minimalism in the vein of Carver eschew big happenings in favor of the subtle reveal, Hart is not afraid of the big set pieces driven by action. His story is about the effects of violence and his quietly grand approach tamps down the extreme effects of rampant minimalism and emotionalism on either end of his writing. Though not without its fault, Hart has a unique and captivating voice and this book is a notable debut.

It opens with a cosmic disaster in a world beset by disasters. It is the early '70s and a dead drunk Vietnam War vet in Idaho named Bandy, thinking that his wife Iona has died when their cabin burns down, shoots and kills two police officers by the side of the road near his family’s farm. The unfolding of this action is shocking in the extremity and speed with which it unravels. “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.” Meanwhile Iona has faked her death and is in the process of running to Wyoming with her boyfriend Bill. She is pregnant with a baby boy from Bandy.

The second chapter jumps forward to 1990. The boy, Tracy, is now eighteen years old and he has left his miserable mother and traveled to Idaho. He meets Bandy for the first time, in prison, and his father gives him permission to set up shelter at the abandoned family farmhouse. That house becomes a major character and Hart makes a strong impression of it when Tracy first arrives. When he goes inside he finds that “the walls were ripped open and the wiring and plumbing had been torn out.” Ultimately “the trespass felt personal, as if they knew he was coming and what his plans were.”

Tracy starts to fix up the house while picking up work with a building contractor. He befriends a tough but kind old neighbor named Wilhelm. Wilhelm is a likeable character, but overly sentimental in his description and the anger he harbors towards Bandy is too neatly forecast. Elsewhere Hart effectively uses the other townspeople’s vivid memories of Bandy and his crime to create a pall over the main characters and their attempts to surmount the past.

In his diligent hard work Tracy tries to avoid the poor rural downward spiral that gripped his parents. Then one night he attempts to overcome his fear of heights by climbing the roof of a house. He falls and shatters his legs. It is a devastating blow to his hopes for a decent life. (Hart keeps the allusions to Icarus and Daedalus in the fall tastefully muted.)

Iona travels back to Idaho to help her son recover, in the process shaking off the life of drugs and casual sex she has been living since Bill died in Wyoming. After Bandy is released from prison, Iona and Tracy let him live in the farmhouse too and a strange, uncertain approximation of the family life they never had takes shape.

The first dialogues between Bandy, Iona, and Tracy are painful dissections of their confusion and anger mingled with their tentative allowances of trust. When Iona first sees Bandy she asks, “Should I be afraid of you?” In their first real conversation Tracy asks, “What was it like in there?” Hart writes, “Bandy wanted to hear him say it. ‘In where?’” Likewise Hart’s narrator captures the individual points of view within a scene -- Tracy’s tough yet boyish naivite, Bandy’s difficulties adjusting back to the world -- without losing the larger scope.

That this tender family cannot last seems obvious, but Hart made me hope for a happy outcome. There is a pleasing dryness to the way he tracks their attempts at rehabilitation: getting jobs, paying bills, making dinner for each other, and Tracy’s literal physical rehabilitation for his legs. But there are ominous signals in the unaddressed tension between Bandy and Iona and the way Tracy has set up a strange boyish existence for himself without same-age friends or a girlfriend.

In this late middle portion the book threatens to settle into a comfortable slump. As they get to know each other, the family members start to speak their mind, and the book’s themes, too literally:

“We’re both ruined. We have been for years, both of us.”

“I remember what we were like when we were happy.”

“I don’t.”

Then the guns go off -- literally and metaphorically -- in mainly unexpected ways, pulling the characters back into their familiar realm of disaster and violence.

The surge in physical conflict, set up during an earlier chapter that tracks Bandy’s last weeks in prison, creates tension without playing off cheap tropes of crime fiction with which the plot deceptively flirts. In resolving this heightened action with the carefully rendered character study used elsewhere, Hart occasionally stumbles with character scenes that ring false or borderline maudlin in their emotions. However, the final moments are enormously effective in driving the main characters to a well-earned if not exactly total moment of acceptance and maturation.


The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.

20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta

19. Antwood: Sponsored Content (Planet Mu)

Sponsored Content is a noisy, chaotic, occasionally beautiful work with a dark sense of humor that's frequently deployed to get Antwood's point across. For instance, throughout the aforementioned "Disable Ad Blocker", which sounds mostly like the creepy side of Tangerine Dream's early '80s experimental output, distorted slogans and recognizable themes worm their way into the mix. "I'm Loving It", we hear at one point, the Sony PlayStation startup music at another. And then there's a ten-second clip of what sounds like someone getting killed in a horror movie. What is there to make of the coexistence of those sorts of samples? Probably nothing explicit, just the uneasiness of benign and instantly-recognizable brand content in the midst of harsh, difficult art. Perhaps quality must to some extent be tied to sponsorship. That Antwood can make this point amidst blasts and washes of experimental electronic mayhem is quite the achievement. - Mike Schiller

18. Bonobo - Migration (Ninja Tune)

Although Bonobo, a.k.a. Simon Green, has been vocal in the past about not making personality driven music, Migration is, in many respects, a classic sounding Bonobo record. Green continues to build sonic collages out of chirping synths, jazz-influenced drums, sweeping strings and light touches of piano but on Migration sounds more confident than ever. He has an ability to tap into the emotions like few others such as on the gorgeous "Break Apart" and the more percussive "Surface". However, Bonobo also works to broaden his sound. The electro-classical instrumental "Second Sun" floats along wistfully, sounding like it could have fit snugly onto a Erased Tapes compilation, while the precise and intricate "Grains" shows the more intimate and reflective side of his work. On the flipside, the higher tempo, beat driven tracks such as "Outlier" and "Kerala" perfectly exhibit his understanding of what works on the dance floor while on "Bambro Koyo Ganda" he even weaves North African rhythms into the fabric. Migration is a multifaceted album full of personality and all the better for it. - Paul Carr

17. Kiasmos - Blurred EP (Erased Tapes)

The Icelandic duo of Olafur Arnalds and Janus Rasmussen, aka Kiasmos, is a perfect example of a pair of artists coming from two very different musical backgrounds, finding an unmistakable common ground to create something genuinely distinctive. Arnalds, more known for his minimal piano and string work, and Rasmussen, approaching from a more electropop direction, have successfully explored the middle ground between their different musical approaches and in doing so crafted affecting minimalist electronic music. Blurred is one of the most emotionally engaging electronic releases of the year. The duo is working from a refined and bright sonic palette as they consummately layer fine, measured sounds together. It is an intricate yet unforced and natural sounding set of songs with every song allowed room to bloom gradually. - Paul Carr

16. Ellen Allien - Nost (BPitch Control)

BPitch boss and longtime lynchpin of the DJ scene in Berlin, Ellen Allien's seven full-length releases show an artist constantly reinventing herself. Case in point, her 2013 offering, LISm, was a largely beat-less ambient work designed to accompany an artsy dance piece, while its follow-up, 2017's Nost, is a hardcore techno journey, spiritually born in the nightclubs and warehouses of the early '90s. It boasts nine straight techno bangers, beautifully minimalist arrangements with haunting vocals snippets and ever propulsive beats, all of which harken back to a hallowed, golden, mostly-imagined age when electronic music was still very much underground, and seemingly anything was possible. - Alan Ranta

It's just past noon on a Tuesday, somewhere in Massachusetts and Eric Earley sounds tired.

Since 2003, Earley's band, Blitzen Trapper, have combined folk, rock and whatever else is lying around to create music that manages to be both enigmatic and accessible. Since their breakthrough album Furr released in 2008 on Sub Pop, the band has achieved critical acclaim and moderate success, but they're still some distance away from enjoying the champagne lifestyle.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.