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The Harder They Come: A Novel Hardcover – March 31, 2015

3.9 out of 5 stars 251 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

An Amazon Best Book of April 2015: It is a testament to T.C. Boyle’s worldview and authorial skill to say that, while The Harder They Come is not always a taut narrative, it is a book that embraces the reader and takes him where he’s supposed to go. After opening with a tightly-plotted set piece (in which one of three main characters kills a local bandit after his cruise ship lands in Costa Rica), the novel settles down into a more leisurely pace. We are introduced to Sten, a seventy-year-old former marine (he killed the bandit), who lives in Mendocino County, California with his wife Carolee. He’s not particularly proud of what he did in Costa Rica, even if it garners him a little local acclaim. Sten is more concerned about his twenty-something son, Adam, who calls himself Colter after the real-life, wilderness-inhabiting guide for Lewis and Clark. Adam/Colter, who is living in the woods and descending into some serious mental health issues, has taken up with Sara Jennings, a fortyish woman inclined toward libertarianism. The other thing that Sten is concerned about is a group of local drug mules who are poisoning the forest around his community and generally raising havoc. These concerns conspire to lift the pace of the novel around the midpoint, where violence starts its inevitable creep back into the story. Reading The Harder They Come works on two levels—it’s a fun, thoughtful novel and it’s a darker rumination on the intersection between the myth of the west and the reality of it. This is an enjoyable novel that balances story with big ideas. The more I think about it, the more in awe I am of Boyle’s talent. – Chris Schluep

Review

The Harder They Come has no solutions to the delusions and dysfunctions it portrays. But it taps memorably into something deeply skewed in the American psyche.” (The Oregonian (Portland))

“[T]hrilling… Boyle can paint a scene in vibrant colors…. [with] characters, who, to his credit, occupy a dark space between psychosis and Americana...” (Entertainment Weekly)

“...A full-throated Harley Davidson of a novel... using some of fiction’s least fashionable attributes, social realism, pointed action...to brilliantly dissect America’s love affair with violence…[Boyle’s] prose manages to be both vivid and sharp, patient and pressing.. Boyle’s writing never loses energy or descriptive power.” (Los Angeles Times)

“...Boyle tellingly explores the anger, paranoia, and violence lurking in the shadowlands of the American psyche. A powerful and profoundly unsettling tale.” (Library Journal (starred review))

“This new work of fiction from Boyle presents a fractured threesome: a 70-year-old ex-Marine, his troubled son and the son’s older girlfriend-a right-wing anarchist. A dark novel, The Harder They Come explores violence and the American psyche.” (Houston Chronicle)

“T.C. Boyle again explores his favorite territory, the American psyche, in , a gripping novel about an aging Vietnam vet and his mentally unstable son, out in April.” (Tampa Bay Times)

“When precisely...does T.C. Boyle sleep? In the 35 years since his first book came out, Boyle has published 14 novels and more than 100 stories. The Harder They Come is the usual T.C. Boyle...circus of serious-minded zaniness.” (The Millions)

“Boyle’s...hypnotic narrative probes the complexities of heroism, violence, power, and resistance...Written with both clarity and compassion, each of the novel’s characters inhabits a rich and convincing private world. As they traverse a landscape none of them control, their haunting stories illuminate the violent American battle with otherness.” (Publishers Weekly)

“Boyle has long been one of the most exciting and intelligent storytellers in the United States. His upcoming novel describes a mentally ill young man involved with a group of violent anarchists.” (Washington Post)

“The latest from a prolific and acclaimed novelist, The Harder They Come is a family saga that maps the relationships between the three people at its heart, as their potent mix of violence and paranoia urges them toward tragedy.” (Huffington Post)

“Written with both clarity and compassion, each of the novel’s characters inhabits a rich and convincing private world. As they traverse a landscape none of them control, their haunting stories illuminate the violent American battle with otherness.” (Booklist)

“New York Times-best-selling author T.C. Boyle explores the volatile relationships between an aging veteran, his unstable son, and the son’s much older lover in The Harder They Come.” (Buzzfeed, 27 Of The Most Exciting New Books of 2015)

“A maximalist scribe of gothic melodrama, Boyle takes you on a manhunt through Californian pot groves, grisly Caribbean cruises, and Orwellian animal shelters before landing in horribly familiar territory: a disillusioned psychotic white guy with a gun. Still, plenty of sex, booze, and satire to lighten things up.” (GQ)

Fifteen years ago, Boyle told The Paris Review that he was ‘writing novels of social engagement...These same concerns appear in The Harder They Come... It is not a cheerful book. The best ones never are.” (Newsweek)

“Set in Northern California and rooted in actual events, The Harder They Come is a meditation on violence, specifically in the context of American history and culture. The text examines the connections between three damaged and explosive yet sympathetic people.” (Brooklyn Daily Eagle)

The Harder They Come is the 66-year-old Boyle’s 15th novel, displaying his characteristic energy, smart cultural references and talent for physical description. It’s the emotional element that takes second place here, though, leaving an unfinished feel to the work.” (Cleveland Plain Dealer)

“Boyle is a genius at capturing social microcosms and excavating emotions simmering beneath the surface of contemporary America...A gripping and revelatory tale.” (BBC Between the Lines)

“...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 borderline psychotic.” (BookPage)

“[S]tunning… It’s gripping, funny and melancholy…The Harder They Come is a masterly - and arresting - piece of storytelling, arguably Mr. Boyle’s most powerful, kinetic novel yet.” (Michiko Kakutani, New York Times)

“[A] searing and masterful account of American violence and disaffection.” (San Francisco Chronicle)

“[M]arvelous… thrilling, intense... [T]he story and the characters...are amazing. Early in his career, Boyle could be pointlessly intense... His late style...is something to behold; it has the same verve and pace, but in service now to an adroit realism. ” (USA Today)

“Boyle’s tart and exuberant powers of description, of people and places, and his cheerful black humor are as exhilarating as ever.” (Minneapolis Star Tribune)

The Harder They Come is the 66-year-old Boyle’s 15th novel, and it displays his characteristic energy, smart cultural references and talent for physical description.” (Dallas Morning News)

“Boyle always writes well and has never shied away from challenging issues.” (Houston Chronicle)

“A gripping read and a powerful commentary on American themes of self-reliance and anti-authoritarianism… eerily prescient.” (The Brooklyn Rail)

“In his 15th novel, the author of The Tortilla Curtain and Drop City probes the psyches of three combustible characters... Sparks will fly.” (Newsday)

“Like the best of his work, Boyle’s no-frills narration makes for a fascinating journey up to the final page.” (Paste Magazine)

“T.C. Boyle is a master at exposing the American psyche in his fiction. His new novel The Harder They Come is yet another stunning example, an engaging portrait of family, violence, and anarchy.” (Largehearted Boy)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco; 1st edition (March 31, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062349376
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062349378
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (251 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #262,122 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Michael Jones VINE VOICE on May 9, 2015
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The explorer John Colter, a member of the Lewis and Clark expedition and widely considered the first Mountain Man in America, famously once escaped a murderous mob of Blackfoot Indians through a series of maneuvers which is known now as Colter's Run. This legendary gauntlet, outlined in T.C. Boyle's novel, The Harder They Come, is just one the heroic feats which guide one of its main character, Adam Stensen, through his cracked existence. Adam identifies so much with the mountain man, he christens himself with his champion's surname; Colter: evocative not only of the explorer himself but of guns or horses or of the plow wheel it describes; an instrument used to cut through the earth. It seems the real John Colter lived his life in a far different environment, in a more brutal, less sensitive world; one which celebrated violence and aggression as much as it is misplaced today.

Adam is the son of Sten Stensen, a seventy year old Vietnam vet and retired High School principal. The outset of Boyle's tale finds Sten and his wife, Carolee, vacationing down in Costa Rica where they find themselves on a "nature tour" traveling for too long over rough jungle terrain in a rickety bus full of their fellow slightly hungover tourists. When they finally arrive at their destination, the bemused travelers are set upon by a gang of three local thugs, one of whom brandishes a gun. In the confusion, Sten's military training prevails. Boyle tells us: "What he'd learned as a nineteen-year-old himself, a recruit, green as an apple, wasn't about self defense, it was about killing, and does anybody ever forget that?" Ineluctably, Sten is able to overcome the gun-toter, putting him in a choke hold and keeping him there, perhaps a bit too long, until the boy goes limp in his arms.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Don't like the multiple choice questions that precede writing a review here!

I'm a big fan of Boyle's but was hoping for more from this novel.

The first part, with the scary Costa Rica tourist incident, pulls you right in, and I was hoping we'd stay with this couple as main story.

The inner voice of the deranged son was tiresome. The novel uses many different voices, and the plot keeps stepping a few paces back in time as it switches voices, which I found annoying. So a first person character will be describing an event as if just happening but you just read about already from another character and it seemed to be in the past. Stops the forward movement. Also I didn't believe the character of Sara, the farrier. It takes more than a little tool bag to shoe horses and exotic African ungulates.

And after such an ungrateful review let me add he's still my favorite contemporary author! Worth reading, maybe it's just me.
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Format: Hardcover
Oh my. This novel is flat out wonderful. T.C. Boyle is a great storyteller, and in “The Harder They Come” he is at the top of his form. The novel begins with the experience of Sten Stensen, an articulate retired high school principal who is on a cruise with his wife. Although he is a Vietnam vet, Sten has led a peaceful life since the war---until the moment a group of tourists on a shore excursion is attacked by thugs intent on robbing them.

From this point, the novel shifts among three people: Sten; his mentally ill son Adam, who is obsessed with guns and survivalism; and Adam’s lover, Sara, an anarchist who refuses any interaction with a government she considers to be illegitimate. There is also a fourth character, since Adam calls himself “Colter” and channels the story of this hardened trapper of the Lewis and Clark expedition. The “Colter” character is a brilliant device for getting inside the mentality of the cold, unstable Adam.

The novel is a compelling exposition of free-floating anti-government paranoia, from Sara’s refusal to wear a seatbelt to Adam’s intention (nurtured in adolescence by video games) to do as he pleases, without interference from other people, whom he calls “aliens” and “hostiles.”

Boyle has written a book that does for murderous right wing fantasies what Phillip Roth’s “American Pastoral” did for murderous left wing fantasies. Neither book explains the American penchant for violence in the name of a utopia, but they sure do illuminate it.

M. Feldman
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
“The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has never yet melted.” —D. H. LAWRENCE Studies in Classic American Literature (l. 10)

T. C. Boyle seriously spoiled my reading ratings with three of the most fantastic five-star novels ever written: The Road to Wellville, Riven Rock and Tortilla Curtain. Many other novels, including many of Boyle’s own, have a hard time measuring up.

The Harder They Come: A Novel, a story about whack-jobs and weirdos (does T. C. write about any other?), is certainly one of those. The first two-thirds of the novel seemed to go practically nowhere, leaving the last third to tell the, almost, more than not, interesting parts.

Recommendation: Worth a spot on your ‘to-read’ list, but not too near the top.

“There was no way out and it didn’t really matter. You just had to be as hard as hard and make your own legend and let the chips fall where they may.

. . . and then, abruptly, it stopped. The wheel stopped. And it was never going to start again.” (p. 370)

HarperCollins. Kindle Edition, 384 pages
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