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Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Review: The Harder They Come by TC Boyle

Audiobook: This book has to have one of the strangest titles, I kept trying to decide whether it was meant or be scatalogical or eschatalogical.

The first short section tried to define Sten who, while on a cruise ship side trip, kills a Costa Rican hood who was trying to rob him and some other passengers. Skip to back home where his son, Adam, a survivalist (and someone who kept reminding me of Holden Caufield which his strange mixture of bravado and naivete and world view) has hooked up with Sara, a local farrier and anti-government loner who refuses to wear a seatbelt and then disses the cop who stops her with inevitable consequences that fuel her anti-authority impulses. Adam refuses to be called by his given name, instead, trying to channel John Colter, after the real-life Lewis and Clark Guide who was an expert at living in the wilderness. Adam wanders in and out of reality (one might argue that Sara is equally delusional) and eventually commits a crime that makes him wanted by the police (Sara is, too, but for different reasons.)

It’s perhaps ironic (did Boyle intend this?) that Sten, who has survived Vietnam and seen horrible things, is normal, whereas his son, the advantaged one, is completely psychotic. As for Sara’s motivation, I’m not sure just how believable it was. She’s fifteen years Adam’s senior, had been a teacher in his father’s school, and now has adopted a freaky anarchical libertarianism.And then there’s the issue of guilt. What responsibility did Sten have for not dealing with Adam’s mental issues earlier? And what role did Sara play in the devolution into violence? The peripheral characters like Art and the Mexicans seem shapeless.

I hope I don’t sound too sarcastic in spots for the book is quite well written and brilliant at portraying the angst of the 21st century rebellious young. It’s sort of a Catcher in the Rye for the new century. There were a few things that bothered me, and perhaps it’s because I listened to, rather than read, the book: I failed to get a good sense of the geography of the place, the relationships between the several locations, i.e., Sten’s house, the grandmother’s house, and Adam’s “cabin,” and the roads that connect them. I also found switching POV’s a bit confusing as the characters moved around in time. If you are the kind of reader who must like a character to enjoy the book, you will most likely dislike this book. I have no such impediment and in spite of my dislike for all the characters the book certainly held my interest.

Based loosely on the case of Adam Bessler. See
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