The Evening Road is ostensibly about the events surrounding a lynching in the fictional town of Marvel, Indiana, but it is really the story of two very different women, Ottie Lee Henshaw and Calla Destry, who are changed by the events of the day.
Ottie Lee is at her job in an insurance office when her boss tells her to put her things away, they’re going to a “rope party”. Everyone in the office is aflutter with the excitement. Ottie and her boss pick up her husband and begin a very circuitous trip to Marvel on which they see two dogs wearing neckties, get threatened by a Civil War veteran, and meet many other colorful characters. They also learn more about themselves and each other than any of them expected.
Calla comes home from a picnic only to find that her foster parents and many neighbors have left Marvel. She sets off to find them and finds a good amount of trouble along the way. Calla’s story, much like Ottie’s, is both funny and sad, but also carries with it an overarching sense of fear. As a person of color so near to a lynching, Calla is in danger from the minute she walks out the door. While both women’s stories occur at roughly the same time and even overlap in strange ways, their experiences of the day could not be more different.
Hunt does not use the terms “cornsilk” and “cornflower” as racial epithets. While this could have easily been a hokey literary device, it was instead a way to encourage the reader to slow down and think. By removing known words for race from the vocabulary of the characters, Hunt forces the reader to think about what words we ourselves use that so often reduce someone to one aspect of their personhood. Each time a character refers to someone as a cornsilk or cornflower, the reader is confronted with the assumptions that are being made about that person and why.
The Evening Road is inspired by real events that happened in Marion, Indiana in 1930. A photograph of the Marion lynching was the inspiration for the song “Strange Fruit” written by Abel Meeropol and made famous by Billie Holiday.