My rating: 5 of 5 stars
In the Evil Day (2015) by Richard Adams Carey stands as a brave testament to the horror witnessed on August 19, 1997 and as a holy monument to those who died far before their time in Colebrook, a sleepy little town in New Hampshire.
Tuesday’s violence which ripped into Colebrook’s few thousand plus citizens came as unexpected and with as much desolation as another Tuesday that would arrive four years later. When Susan Harrigan spoke of the incident on that fated August day, her words seemed to bridge one disaster to another, ‘“Four people out of a town this small?’” she said. “Well, you can just run the numbers. That’s like—what?—five thousand people dying in Manhattan on one day. That’s your impact”’ (p 278).
With great care and with much commemoration, Carey reminds readers of the spiritual stakes at war in the world as he takes his title for the book from Ephesians 6: ‘For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against the spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand’ (p 271).
Sadly the story Carey painstakingly researched for over thirteen years and dedicated to the ‘people of the town of Colebrook’ and to the ‘surrounding North Country’, any flatlander can empathize with the suffering and loss which the author writes with such restrained genius that the reader merely catches a glimpse before the memory of the story ushers it away, and the reader sees some of this in one of the funeral scenes following the tragedy which speak to the love of one community for its beloveds:
‘On Sunday morning, at the Monadnock Congregational Church on Main, there was again an absurd overflow, a thousand inside and three hundred out the front and into the street, where loudspeakers were hung. It had rained Saturday night, but the rain had dwindled to a stop before dawn, and across the river, above and beyond the belfry and steeple, the green whaleback of Monadnock was wreathed in gossamer wisps of fog’ (p 271).
And Carey continues to wind his anodyne and peacemaking enchantments in hopes of helping the reader understand, or to better grasp, the tragedies that befall the kind hearted and gentle meek of the world. One such person is John Harrigan, owner of the News and Sentinel, one of Colebrook’s newspapers and one of the murder scenes which haunts the living in its own way, in its own time. Carey seems to peer in to the lives and souls of those who survived August 19, and speechless we read of mortal truths unfolding from mortal tongues:
‘For now, John was at rest at Bunny’s kitchen table, in the house where Vickie had grown up. Bunny said that he believed—believed all the more so now—that there was something eternal in every human being. He remembered a verse from Romans: “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” But he spoke from the bottom of that chasm into which Job was flung.
‘John’s body and soul were bleeding into each other. He wondered what might have been different. He wondered where you have to go, what number you call, what incantation you chant, to sell your soul for a second chance at life—even if you couldn’t change a thing. Just to be there again. “We get to thinking we’re going to live forever,” he said. “Don’t we?”’ (p 252)
If it appears the story is traveling backwards in time, as though attempting to break the laws of reality for a semblance of healing to beckon us once again forward, then friend you are not mistaken, but the illusion is to show by unshowing what Carey sets in motion and, like the hand of God, allows to unfold into one episode after another until the last bullet has been fired and there’s no going back.
Carey, like a humbled prophet high atop a mountain, haunts the reader with his precision to capture the life-and-death moments collapsing into mistakes and regrets and the final reflections these bring to the brave who’ve chased a killer to become almost killed themselves:
‘He turned his head to the right and was amazed to find that Caulder had vanished. Pfeifer decided he must have passed out and woken up after Caulder’s rescue.
‘He wondered how long ago that was and if Caulder had been alive when they took him. He wondered if death could be something so intangible as this—a mere touch on the shoulder, like the brush of a wing, and then just a sneaky lapse in awareness” (p 221).
The world doesn’t spin backwards, but be patient because Carey holds the camera as he records and the reader watches. Like a Pulitzer-winning photograph which captures more than images and more than words can attest to a single moment in time, Carey challenges the reader to stand and witness the devil incarnate.
‘Karen noted the unruly beard, the blue jeans tucked into his boots, the plaid shirt that was unbuttoned and flapped as he walked, the blue denim shirt he wore beneath it. “He moved gracefully,” she said later. “His face was calm and alert. I thought there might be a trace of a smile on his lips”’ (p 154).
‘The killer stopped, stared at her husband for that awkward, pregnant moment—the minister and the devil, the temporal world like a bone between them…
‘Afterward the pastor was nearly as shaken by that encounter on the steps, by the rank pitilessness of that gaze, as he was by the events across the street. “God help us in these days of carnage,” he would write at the end of his statement to the Colebrook police, “when man kills without conscience”’ (p 156).
But what truly impresses upon the reader’s mind is Carey’s ability to collate dozens of eye-witness accounts into a seamless fictive dream, no…nightmare. A Pulitzer-contender himself, Carey refuses to shy away from the journalistic complications one finds in a kaleidoscope of jumbled human memory, and the words, however, float off the page as honest and true as any one man can bear to write.
‘Susan Zizza knows her Bible well, and she would find later that her own story and those of other witnesses were like gospel accounts—each true enough from its own perspective, each limited by that perspective and the tricks of grief and memory, all essential to the apprehension of an event that changed everything. She would find that portions of her own memory, her own gospel account, had been erased or rewritten as early as the next morning’ (p 150).
In the end of that evil day and time, looming over Colebrook like the great Monadnock itself, Carey recaptures a sense of order and purpose for John, the survivors and the rest, including the reader who takes it upon herself to absorb and comprehend the incomprehensible events of August 19, 1997 as best as one can, and Carey does this best with an artist’s ease to entertain and appease:
‘At last, without a word, he falls into the grass himself, on his back against Pleistocene granite and its patina of soil, spread-eagled. He lies there goggle-eyed. The clouds wheel overhead like out-bellying sails, like billowing curtains drawn in fond blue hope against the moon and the stars and the lineaments of eternity’ (p 309).
In eternity may the victims—Vickie Bunnell, Dennis Joos, Scott Phillips, and Les Lord—rest in absolute peace within the embrace of a gentler God than the One who holds back annihilation for those who failed to love and now await just punishment for crimes they committed in the evil day.
MORE BOOKS BY