The Harder They Come by T.C. Boyle

The Harder They Come by T.C. Boyle

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In this novel by T.C. Boyle, we are presented with a handful of people who fall on a spectrum in regard to their feelings about the United States. They are the hardworking guys who feel that the Mexicans among them are up to no good and are probably drug dealers who should be arrested. They are also people represented by one woman who feels that the US Government has made life too restrictive and that they shouldn’t be required to register their cars, get a driver’s license, and follow other laws which they believe abridge their rights. Then there was one character who has gone renegade and acts as if he still is one of the early American settlers who is battling various Indian tribes and feels that everyone is against him. This character is clearly psychotic and has lost touch with reality. Perhaps this is the point that the author is trying to make about such political views. He seems to be saying that any extreme repudiation of our form of government is “crazy” and unrealistic.

Boyle’s writing style in this book matches his hard-assed defiant view that is presented in it. It sounds like John Wayne at his toughest,  continually talking and narrating a book. It begins to feel unrealistic as nobody we know talks in this tone all the time.

The only other book which I read by this prolific author was Tortilla Curtain. In that book, he conveyed an empathetic, understanding of the undocumented Mexicans who had come across the border into California as well as the other Californians who were trying to respond to them. In this more recent book, it was more difficult to identify with the “oppressed citizens” who felt that their rights were being taken away from them. The writing style mentioned above while intense and engaging made this reader feel that he was up against a dangerous enemy which was an uncomfortable experience. It may be that that was the point of this book.

There is another dynamic here that is really quite powerful and poignant. That is the relationship between Adam, the psychotic young man who runs amuck, and his father Sten who had been a Vietnam marine. Early in the book, we see an incident where Sten and his wife are on a tour in Costa Rica where there are threatened by some thugs with a gun and a knife who want to rob them. Sten grabs one of the would-be attackers from behind and kills him in a chokehold as the others flee. This becomes a salient moment for Sten as he has to deal with the adulation he gets from the public as well his own guilt feelings. This incident also provides the readers with an insight into his mind and the struggle that he has within himself as he sees his own son developed into a dangerous threat to society. The murderous rage behavior that we see periodically in the newspapers (i.e. the suicidal pilot who brought down a plane load of innocent people) is reminiscent of these kind of feelings. How often do we contemplate the dynamics of the family of that man and the struggle that the parents must have in coming to grips with this child’s action. Boyle hits us with such insights as the beat of his writing reverberates in our minds.

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