The men of the American Wild West called it the “shining times,” when the law held no sway over any place beyond the Mississippi. The new novel from T.C. Boyle takes this tradition of renegades and focuses on the violence.
Twenty-five-year-old Adam worships one of these survivalist mountain men, even renaming himself after him: Colter. He’s manic, raging and growing his own stash of opium poppies, and he easily falls in with 40-something Sara, a hardcore member of an extremist anti-government movement. Together they are citizen soldiers, making war (not love) and defiantly, desperately searching for something to burn down—and burn they do. Adam is also the son of ex-Marine Sten, the epitome of claustrophobic rage and frustration, who kills someone with his bare hands while on vacation in Costa Rica.
As these three stubborn minds draw together like fire and kindling, violence becomes more than an inherited trait within one family but rather a syndrome of a nation built on revolution and stoicism, distorted by fear and hysteria. It may be a stroke of genius that the characters themselves are maddening in their own right, leaving readers with a pounding pulse not only from suspense but from infuriation.
The bestselling, unbelievably prolific Boyle has described The Harder They Fall as a counterpoint to his historical novel San Miguel (2012), which unfolded through the perspectives of three women who sought refuge and sanctuary on an island off the coast of California. San Miguel was a departure for Boyle, and now the pendulum swings back to high-adrenaline zaniness and pertinacious, destructive misfits. Individualism remains central, but unlike San Miguel, it’s far from contemplative. It is a juggernaut, twisted to its breaking point.