Book review: ‘The Harder They Come’

The Harder They Come
The Harder They Come T.C. Boyle

T.C. Boyle’s new book is about serious subjects: a tourist killing a robber, a mentally ill young man with an assault rifle, a radical movement that does not recognize the legitimacy of laws or those who enforce them.

But Boyle delivers it all so engagingly that it does not seem like a “serious” book. It’s a fine one, though.

The poisoning of forests by large-scale marijuana growers, the conduct of the press, relationships between parents and children, mental illness, aging are among the topics Boyle delves into in his eminently readable “The Harder They Come.”

“Sten” Stenson, a retired high school principal, his schizophrenic son and his son’s anti-government girlfriend are the main protagonists. Stenson is dragged along by his wife on a Caribbean cruise with the desire to “put your troubles behind you and come home refreshed.” After Stenson kills a robber with his bare hands, he returns home to find himself hounded by the press.

Boyle describes Stenson watching himself on TV after a reporting team goes to his house to interview him.

“When it aired that night on the six o’clock news, he saw himself loom up on the screen like something out of one of the Japanese horror flicks he’d loved as a boy – Rodan, maybe, or Godzilla – his eyes blunted, his face scaled and gray and his big fists clenched on the arms of the chair as if he was afraid of falling out of it.”

The book is replete with such vivid imagery. It also includes a parallel tale about the exploits of 19th century mountain man John Colter.

Beyond the page-turning dramatic events, readers might be sympathetic to what the characters feel, even if they don’t agree with their conduct, because there’s some of that fragility and turmoil in all of us.


The Harder They Come

T.C. Boyle

Ecco, 400 pages

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