book cover of Coal Run
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Coal Run

A novel by

A poignant tale of a once-proud Pennsylvania coal town destroyed by a mining disaster, Tawni O'Dell's second novel, Coal Run, follows its wounded inhabitants as they try to come to terms with what is gone and what remains. "The Great Ivan Z"--Ivan Zoschenko--is a mythical football hero who, after being injured on the eve of a promising professional career, heads for Florida (and the bottom of the bottle) for a decade before limping back to Coal Run and getting a job as deputy sheriff. The novel spans a week's time, but recollections and suppositions of the characters add depth; the book's an engrossing adventure in self-redemption and acceptance.

Multiple plot lines abound: Ivan keenly awaits the release from prison of his teammate, Reese Raynor, who beat his wife into a coma and whom Ivan visits regularly in the hospital; Reese's brother and his family struggle with many kids, little money and fewer prospects; Ivan's boyhood hero, Val, a Vietnam veteran who likewise spent years elsewhere, returns with eyes for Ivan's sister, a waitress, former beauty queen, and single mom. And, of course, there's a love interest. Stood up by her date, Ivan contemplates: "What could possibly be more important than sitting across a table from this woman and watching her put things in her mouth? I wonder as I take a seat." Despite somewhat predictable plot elements, O'Dell has the benefit of so many different story lines and characters to choose from that the novel is well-paced and allows her powers of observation to shine. For example, Ivan notes: "I need a drink. I'm not embarrassed or apologetic about the craving. Needing a drink isn't any worse than needing to collect Beanie Babies. I'd rather be a drunk than a moron."

Coal Run is a pitch-perfect story of a town's rediscovery that the best thing about it is its people and their ability to survive and retain a sense of pride, even after its identity and many lives were lost. --Michael Ferch

Genre: Mystery

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