Published in 1992 by Southern Methodist University Press, this novel is an historical account from a subjective humanized perspective rather than an objective event analysis. The novel delves in the American history through 1931 mining camp of Kentucky. The social landscape is an intricate intertwining of economic depression (Great Depression) and poverty, which breeds Communism and Unions. Critically acclaimed by Los Angeles Times as a classic in the same vein as Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, the novel’s central conflict is a coal battle in Switch County, Kentucky. In terms of themes, Yount’s body of work is quite similar to that of John Steinbeck, even though Yount is lesser known.
The story follows the protagonist William Music, an outsider, and introduces the working of coal mining through his introduction to this world via Regus Bone who is a guard in Hardcastle Coal Co. And though the pay is good, even irresistible given Music’s broke conditions, it increasingly becomes difficult to follow through the extents his employer would go to stop his employees from unionizing.
But Hardcastle is not only a portrayal of a coal-mining region but rather a lament of the loss of rural farming community with the boom of industrial revolution in early 20th century. It is the brutal loss of the sustenance provided by farming, but egregiously, loss of the land itself – its fertility, its sustaining properties.