A work of stark grandeur with powerful emotional links to the under-appreciated masterpieces of John Steinbeck and Clifford Odets, yet with a tender empathy all her own...It's a pleasure to see such a gifted, ambitious writer reinvigorating the tradition of social conscience combined with personal passion that has illuminated some of the finest, most moving works in American literature.
Los Angeles Times
Ivan is the proverbial angry young man, only he's not so young anymore…Ivan's sister, Jolene, who works as a waitress and is raising three children who have three different fathers is that fictional rarity, the believable working-class character…O'Dell has an ear for the telling detail.
O'Dell is an accomplished writer; assured and perceptive, she is especially good with quick dialogue that captures the anger and disappointment these characters carry.
Utterly compelling…O'Dell illuminates timeless issues with keen insight…this is a smart book filled with sympathetic, opinionated characters who may be victims of circumstance but are never victims of ignorance or self-pity.
O'Dell explores the dynamics of a tiny Pennsylvania coal-mining town in her probing, heartbreaking second novel, which centers on the fortunes of former college football hero Ivan Zoschenko. The novel literally opens with a bang in a flashback that recalls the tragic underground explosion that took the life of Zoschenko's father and killed 96 other men from Coal Run. Some 15 years later, just after Zoschenko is drafted by the Chicago Bears, his knee is crushed in an accident in the same mines. His subsequent fall from grace is long and hard; he moves to Florida, hits the bars and works as an exterminator. He returns home only when he hears that Reese Raynor, a former schoolmate who beat his wife, Crystal, into a coma, is being released from prison. Despite his drinking problem, Zoschenko is hired as a deputy by the local sheriff, getting back in touch with his gorgeous sister, a single mom and career waitress; his boyhood hero, now a reclusive Vietnam vet; Reese's troubled twin brother, Jesse; and Crystal, who is still comatose and reminds Zoschenko of a shameful incident in his past. That past is linked to Reese Raynor's, and the novel builds to the inevitable brutal collision of the two men. O'Dell's portrait of Zoschenko is deep and penetrating, but even more moving is her portrayal of the coal-town community. Ravaged by disaster and callous corporate treatment, the citizens of Coal Run still can't imagine any other life. As Zoschenko puts it, "Long before [the mine] became the site of so much death, it had been a source of life for all of us. For me it was the closest thing I had to God." Though it occasionally flirts with sentimentality, this is a fierce, sharply drawn and richly sympathetic tribute to working-class America.
As she did in her acclaimed debut, Back Roads, O'Dell displays a marvelous gift for serving up eccentric, believable characters and vividly captures the bleakness and harshness of coal-mining country…Captivating.
Triumphantly fulfilling the promise of her bestselling debut (Back Roads), O'Dell examines the tangled, enduring bonds of family and community in a Pennsylvania mining town…Once again, O'Dell inhabits a male mind with sensitivity and acuity…[a] searing, tragic vision of working-class people…Powerful and uncompromising, yet radiant with love, this one's pretty close to a masterpiece.
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