The Harder They Come, T. C. Boyle’s new novel, is his best in years. It opens with a killing and ends with a killing. What is in between these pages will keep you turning them well into the night. After finishing it you’ll understand why Mr.Boyle is one of America’s great writers.
The first killing is one that is not intentional, in fact it’s self-defense. The character of Sten is on a cruise with his wife and they decide to do a daytrip. A gang of thugs holds them up and he takes justice into his own hands by killing one of the members of the gang with his bare hands. When he gets back to the ship, and eventually the U.S., the community and the country hail him as a hero.
Everything seems to be going great for Sten until he finds out that his son Adam is up to no good. He is and always has been trouble for Sten and his wife Carolee but now he is living in the woods, basing his life on the explorer John Colter. He wants to live off the land and be the all-American man. This may sound noble until he meets Sara, a woman who is so anti-government that she would make a right-wing Republican blush.
These acts set the novel up to be a view of America and the loner who is anti everything to do with the law of the land. The family tries to help Adam but it only makes things worse. Sara is no help because she is just in awe of Adam because he is a sexy man with a sexy body. That is good enough for her.
When we get to the last third of the novel it becomes a nightmare for Adam and his family. The town that once looked up to Sten is now against him for what Adam did. It’s the ultimate in turning the tables.
Boyle seems to be asking: Did America create Adam or did his family create him to be the way he is? It’s a question that is timely in today’s America where we have groups of Americans who feel left out of the equation. Leave it to Mr. Boyle to force us to answer the question the next time there is a lone gunman out there doing something horrible. Or will we just say “that’s a pity” and move on to the next thing in life?
Will Mr. Boyle’s book force us to look at the issue of lone gunmen in our country and find a solution to a growing cancer in America’s soul?