By Chet Yarbrough
The Harder They Come: A Novel
Written by: T. C. Boyle
Narration by: Graham Hamilton
T. C. BOYLE (AMERICAN NOVELIST)
“The Harder They Come” is a novel about another America; not the America of idealized history but the America of three generations coping with loss in the twenty-first century.
T. C. Boyle creates three characters who feel beaten down by American life. Boyle reflects on their disappointments and perceptions of loss. A young man in his twenties loses identity, a fortyish woman loses faith in government, and a seventy year old loses self-confidence.
Boyle’s imagined characters live in America today.
Adam, a 23-year-old changes his name to Colter, the name of a member of the 1804-1806 Lewis and Clark Expedition. Colter explores Yellowstone National Park and the Teton Mountain Range in the 19th century. John Colter is considered by some to be the first American mountain man.
Historically, a mountain man is a hermit-like explorer that exchanges fur for the necessities of life and lives off the land. Adam’s assumption of the Colter name is a trans-formative event for Adam. He uses drugs and alcohol to escape the frustrations of his 21st century life. He uses the Colter identity to give him an anthropomorphic purpose in life. Adam becomes a mountain man.
Sara is a fortyish divorcee who adopts the philosophy of the sovereign citizen movement. She believes the 14th amendment of the constitution proffers absolute freedom to American citizens.
Sara, like Nevada’s Cliven Bundy, believes she is above the law and a federal level of government that interferes with her right to do as she wishes is an infringement on her independent sovereignty.
Though Sara considers herself non-violent, she appreciates actions of domestic terrorists like Timothy McVeigh who murdered 168 men, women, and children in Oklahoma City
on April 19, 1995 .
Sten Stenson is a veteran of the Vietnam War. He is now 70 years old. As an ex-Marine and former high school principal, he is retired. Sten is a big man; over six feet in height.
Sten dislikes getting old but has a brief turn at fame, as a hero, when he kills a robber in Latin America that is threatening fellow tourists. In looking back at his life, he is reminded of American ridicule of Vietnam vets when he returned from war; he becomes unsure of his purpose in life and regrets having killed anyone either in Vietnam or the recent event in Latin America.
Sten realizes every human being has a father and mother. He questions the usefulness and value of his life.
Boyle brings these three characters together. Adam is the son of Sten. Sara becomes Adam’s lover. The extreme behaviors of Adam and Sara are compatible on some level, but Adam’s violence and drug habit compel Adam to completely break from society. Sten loves his son but they have become completely estranged and evidence mounts to show Adam has become a lost boy.
The denouement of the story reveals a great deal about another America; i.e. “another America” that is a consequence of a capitalist culture that breeds psychotic murderers, deluded fringe groups, and psychologically broken seniors.