Coal Run by Tawni O’Dell
With a first name like Tawni, you know this author’s got to be interesting. O’Dell’s Coal Run and her third novel, Sister Mine, both appeal to me for their evocation of place: the rural and economically struggling areas around the Pennsylvania coal mines. The main character of Coal Run is an ex-star football player who, after suffering injury, has become a local sheriff who succumbs quite often to drinking when he isn’t on the job. His dreams of former glory are much like the town’s memories of its former glory when the coal mines brought prosperity to the region. There’s something about the combination of the beautiful descriptions of the mines, the rambling towns and bars and the people in them and the moving forward of lives even amidst the background of such industrial decay that draws the reader in. Entire family histories have been affected by the mines, with tales of men and the accidents they’ve survived and sometimes survived only at great cost. The coal mine is indeed a silent but awesome force that sits at the center of the plot of the book and at the center of these characters’ lives. The main character’s sister provides counterpoint to our main character’s self-destructive tendencies. And in the end, O’Dell, herself a native of these Pennsylvania coal towns, shows the hope that smolders on in the land even after the mines have been relegated to another time and place.