In a town haunted by a deadly mine explosion that took the lives of almost half the male population thirty years earlier, the reverberations are still being felt in the current generation of survivors, among them the narrator Ivan Zoschenko, the local deputy and fallen football legend, “the Great Ivan Z,” whose father died that day. His pro career sidelined by an injury, Ivan now spends his days dispensing his own unique form of occasionally wise, usually comic, almost always dangerous justice and his nights drowning his regrets and guilt in a bottle. His story takes place during a week’s time while Ivan is seemingly preparing for an old teammate’s imminent release from prison. In doing so, he introduces a rich cast of characters – his fiercely independent single-mom sister, the long-absent Vietnam vet he idolized as a child, the town’s no-nonsense pediatrician who brandishes vaccinations on the doorsteps of neglectful parents like a Wild West sheriff, and the old friend and onetime mirror image of himself who now lives the kind of simple life Ivan both admires and pities. During the events of this week, Ivan confronts his demons and reveals himself to be a man whose conscience is burdened by a long-held and shocking secret involving the ruined life of a young girl that must be finally reckoned with.
Driven by the same honesty and compassion for a place and a way of life that made O’Dell’s first novel so unforgettable, Coal Run is an uncompromising and absorbing novel about letting go of the goals of greatness for the ordinary grace of hard work, family ties, and an acceptance of where you come from.