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Twilight in Hazard: An Appalachian Reckoning

Review

Twilight in Hazard: An Appalachian Reckoning

Working in Eastern Kentucky as a journalist beginning in 2000, acclaimed writer Alan Maimon found a region clothed in misrepresentation, myth and widespread misery. He set out earnestly to understand and explain the area’s history, how it became what it is today, and what all Americans might learn from his journey of discovery.

Some of the critical issues explored in Maimon’s thoughtful observations include the opioid addiction plague that hit Appalachia unusually hard; the secretive and manipulative powers of coal companies that have for generations scurrilously exploited the region; and the rarely acknowledged divide between often bowdlerized mountain folk (think “The Dukes of Hazzard,” “The Beverly Hillbillies”) and almost everybody else.

"[Maimon's] book, 15 years in the creation, reminds us that we all need to think more about coal and its uses, Eastern Kentucky and its abuses..."

After some years studying and residing in Europe, Maimon moved to the little town of Hazard, Kentucky, as a regional reporter for the Louisville Courier-Journal. He was immediately immersed in the problems that beset the rural, largely isolated area. The OxyContin epidemic was in full sway; encouraged by its manufacturer, regional physicians happily filled legitimate and bogus prescriptions for the painkiller, ignoring the rampant evils that the drug was wreaking. Investigating such rumblings, Maimon was soon invited to meet the local political elites. With many closely guarded secrets to protect, they clearly hoped to pull the new reporter to their side with the sort of tactics that had become typical of the area’s system of governance.

In the five years he spent exploring the Appalachian backroads and interviewing its concerned, often disillusioned denizens, Maimon learned about the dominance that coal operators have always exercised there. In the early 1900s, they basically stole land from naïve locals for perilous but highly profitable deep coal extraction; more recently, they laid the land’s surface bare through the ravages of strip mining. The labor these companies provided was difficult, dangerous and poorly compensated. Many have been killed in mining disasters, and the locals continue to endure water and air pollution from massive sludge spills and other peripheral ills of the industry’s methodologies.

Maimon struggles in his narrative to find the salvageable and the visionary, within what seems a morass of political infighting and high-level manipulations that offer the region’s citizens little real benefit. He sees Hazard and towns like it fading fast, despite the occasional attention from big box stores and national food chains, and without sufficient amelioration from the faith of its bedrock of devout Christian residents. His book, 15 years in the creation, reminds us that we all need to think more about coal and its uses, Eastern Kentucky and its abuses, and the ways that our own priorities and prejudices may have shaped the degradation of this large swath of America’s soil and affected the lives of some of its earliest and hardiest settlers. 

Reviewed by Barbara Bamberger Scott on June 11, 2021

Twilight in Hazard: An Appalachian Reckoning
by Alan Maimon

  • Publication Date: June 8, 2021
  • Genres: Nonfiction, Sociology
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Melville House
  • ISBN-10: 1612198856
  • ISBN-13: 9781612198866