Book review of "Goodbye Wives and Daughters," by Susan Kushner Resnick

Sunday, May 9, 2010; B07


By Susan Kushner Resnick

Univ. of Nebraska. 227 pp. $24.95

The coal-mining tragedy depicted in "Goodbye Wifes and Daughters" occurred nearly 70 years ago but is still an eerily familiar storyline in 2010. While mine safety and regulation have vastly improved, recent headlines out of West Virginia make journalist Susan Kushner Resnick's excavation of the 1943 explosion that killed 75 men in Bearcreek, Mont., seem not so distant from present-day disasters.

After conducting interviews with miners' relatives and combing through newspaper stories and government and mine company documents, Resnick reconstructed the events by which a small town was "killed, as surely as if it had been flattened by an earthquake or burned by a wildfire." During World War II, the Smith Mine was Bearcreek's home front, where men passed signs urging them not to miss a shift if they wanted America to win the war. The coal they mined went directly to the Army and Navy. Bearcreek has faded with its post-explosion exodus, and most of its residents appear two-dimensional in a narration that at times bogs down in an excess of foreshadowing. Nonetheless, Resnick does an admirable job of breathing life into the story of a small town's demise and its questioning of whether the disaster could have been avoided: "It was as if they had been waiting sixty-odd years for someone to just ask them what happened," she writes.

-- Lisa Bonos

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