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The Book of Hard Things: A Novel Hardcover – October 8, 2003

3.3 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Just as a reader would expect from the author of Four Wings and a Prayer (2001), a captivating treatise on monarch butterflies, Halpern evinces a heightened awareness of nature and bracing insights into how place shapes people's psyches in her wryly funny, wholly entrancing, ultimately shattering debut novel about life in a small, poor, inbred logging town. Halpern's hapless but well-meaning 18-year-old hero, Cuzzy, has ended up homeless and unemployed, what with his father in a mental institution, his mother deceased, and his irrepressible girlfriend, Crystal, holed up incommunicado with their baby boy. Never in his wildest dreams could Cuzzy have imagined his involvement with Porsche-driving Tracy, a 43-year-old visitor deeply mourning the death of his best friend, Algie, a brilliant, and gay, ethnomusicologist. Cultured yet naive, Tracy, at the behest of a minister, offers Cuzzy a place to stay on Algie's fabled family estate, a job helping him sort through Algie's intriguing archives, and, therefore, an introduction to the wider world, but the local roughnecks assume it's all about sex, leading to a tragic confrontation. Halpern's gripping tale about life's myriad hardships astutely considers the dangers inherent in any cross-cultural exploration and the sad truth that compassion must be relearned at every step. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved


"Sue Halpern has written wonderful books of nonfiction, but sometimes nonfiction to fiction isn’t a transition that can be made gracefully. Not only is the writing in her first novel unself-conscious—which is what grace amounts to when applied to literature, I think—but the words seem organic to the page. The Book of Hard Things is powerful and sad, and sometimes very funny, and it is the debut of a brilliant new writer of fiction."
--Robb Forman Dew

"A gem of a book, alternately fragile and durable, exposed then secretive, it’s a tale of metamorphosis, erosion, fault-and-fracture lines, lucid crystallization, and all the other forces that form our lives, interior and exterior."
--Rick Bass

"Sue Halpern has an eye that is penetrating without harshness and an ear perfectly attuned to the defenses of the wounded. She finds beneath the most adamant surfaces the hurt places that can heal, and her riveting novel challenges and moves us to see, beyond the particulars of class and worldliness, how loss can yield to caring."
--Rosellen Brown


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1 edition (October 8, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374115591
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374115593
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.8 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,029,796 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have been a fan of Sue Halpern's writing since Migrations to Solitude. I found this books as I searched this site for new works from authors I respect. My introduction to the book was as a reader of the reviews on this site.

I'll admit it, I was confused. How could Sue Halpern write so haphazardly or gratuitously as some reader comments suggest. I usd those reviews as guides through the book and found none of the disappointment one would anticipate after reading such negative stuff.

I'm no critic. I'm a reader, and I am also an Adirondacker of sorts. I think that what might have startled some readers is the gentle and flowing Ms. Halpern is not so gentle in this novel. It does flow well, in my estimation. What is missed is what makes her writing work time and time again, the quality that prevails in all her writing: honest portrayal of subject matter.

If you are looking to be swept away into bucholic bliss in a quaint Adirondack setting, run from this book. If you are looking for a compelling story that is so absolutely true to what life can really be like in a small Adirondack town, buy this book!

Sue caputures what is a particular lonliness and longing that casts its shadow as often as not on the youth of Adriondack towns living far from what most of us understand as community life. The characters, every one of them, are portrayed with honesty and can easily be found in almost any small, remote town. Not fun stuff, but the real McCoy.

She doesn't pretend for a moment to lead anywhere other than the theme of hardness, from the title to the various themes that set each chapter, she leads us to despair and hope and back again to the inevidible hardness that is created by not being able to get away.
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Format: Hardcover
This novel has been sitting on my shelf for several years, one of a quartet of books my daughter read in a January term class at Middlebury College, where Halpern teaches. The setting is a small town in the Adirondacks, where the townies struggle to make a living in the post-logging era while just up the road a new generation of robber barons are erecting enormous lodges in the exclusive woods first settled by the likes of J.P. Morgan and Cornelius Vanderbilt. The main character is Cuzzy Gage, an 18-year-old on a fast track to loserdom whose preacher father was carted off to the insane asylum when he was nine and whose mother died of an aneurysm a few years later. When the story starts, Cuzzy's homeless and unemployed, living in the woods with the help of a high-school honey and estranged from the mother of his infant son, a girl who pores over women's magazines and is ambitious to get out one day. The plot kicks in with the arrival in town of Tracy Edwards, a Manhattan English teacher who dropped out after the death of his best friend, a gay ethnomusicologist who seems to have died of AIDs, and is living in the dead friend's ancestral lodge while cataloguing his papers and writing a narrative of his life. Tracy hires Cuzzy to help him with the papers and in locating the dead man's tree house somewhere in the dense forested acreage of the estate. Ever so slowly, Cuzzy begins to blossom as the numbness of his tragic circumstances begins to wear off and his innate curiosity revives, with tiny tendrils of feeling unfolding and a slender stalk of intelligence growing toward the light. But the changes in Cuzzy inspire fear and rage in some of those he's leaving behind, which culminates in a hideous crime.

Although it has some problems, I quite liked this novel.
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Format: Hardcover
I really, really wanted to like this. I didn't know what to expect, and I was eager for the book to go in many different directions. [Cuzzy, an 18 year old father going nowhere fast, meets a flamboyant, charasmatic educated drifter named Tracy, who sort of gives Cuzzy a job, while residing in his (we are lead to believe) lovers families home. A relationship ensues. To see what kind you'll have to read it] To say the characters were rushed, had no depth, and were frustratingly incoherent with the world around them, is an understatement. There really is no momentum, the plot doesen't go anywhere, and I don't think the author wanted it to go anywhere. The insert flap says the relationship between the two main characters is "the focus of scrutiny and debate". Say what? If the debate were from some ignorant, blue collar, beer guzzling neanderthals, well then it was stereotyping rather than scrutiny. Other than that there is no real conflict. Is there a clear difference?

The author however, really does a fine job keeping you on your toes, just when a reader's initial pre-conceived notions about a situation is about to ensue, she throws you in a complete whirlwind of ignorance, and voila, the not so ordinary, ordinary happens, for lack of a better phrase.

I don't really know how long it took Sue to write this, but clearly the conflicts could have been so much more engaging, and thoughfully written chapters could have ensued if Cuzzy and Tracy were more tangible. I felt betrayed as a reader as I wanted to be in Cuzzy's world so badly from jumpstreet, yet never managed to really sit shotgun, just sort of was window shopping.

I think the gester on Ms.
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