The Evening Road
by Laird Hunt
Chatto & Windus

Ottie Lee Henshaw is sharpening a pencil imagining she will use it to stab her boss. The daydream of violence is interrupted by Ottie’s co-worker Bud, who announces the imminent lynching of “cornflowers” (an unnecessarily craven euphe­mism for black people) in nearby Marvel: “They’re going to hang them up like chickens. Pluck them first too.” The final part of a loose trilogy, The Evening Road is based on true events: the lynching in Marion, Indiana, that inspired Abel Meeropol to write the song Strange Fruit in 1937. Ottie is the first of two narrators. Abandoned by dysfunc­tional parents, she navigates a treacherous path through poverty, enduring her hapless husband Dale and the lecherous Bud, whose lust for Ottie mixes queasily with his excitement about the lynching. Ottie embodies similar unease, seeing Marvel as a potential turning point. For Hunt’s second narrator, Calla Destry, the lynching is a “death carnival”, a “terrible thing”. Black, poor and abandoned, Calla exists alongside Ottie, but in another universe. “Wrong is the way of the world,” Ottie hears in a dream. The tragedy portrayed in this powerful if flawed novel is how she helped turn such dreams into America’s nightmarish reality.