Thursday, August 7, 2014

Review: "Hard Rain Falling" by Don Carpenter

It is a sad fact of literature that some books, no matter how good they are, seem to be forgotten through the constant erosion of time. While most of us who read are inundated with praise for such popular but oversaturated books like The Catcher in the Rye and On the Road, great books like John Fante’s ask the Dust and Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road seem to be swept under the carpet of America’s collective unconscious, until they are adapted into a movie. Among that long list of unfortunate forgotten works, it would be wise to save a large amount of space for Don Carpenter’s Hard Rain Falling, easily one of the singular masterpieces of the 1960’s. It is easy to see the influence that this book as had on countless other writer. In the works of authors like Richard Price, Dennis Lehane and George Pelecanos (who wrote the introduction for the NYRB edition), you can see the kinds of themes they deal with here in this novel: low people living low lives trying to hold onto grace, the threat of violence, emotional and physical, hiding around every corner and people, who, sadly know no other kind of way to survive except through brutality and deception. Carpenter brings a unique poetry to their inner thoughts and lives, making these monsters and madmen three dimensional, with true feelings and honest dreams in a world that is hell-bent on destroying them. It is both a pleasure and a pain to watch what happens in this novel. It focuses on two very different people who somehow come together through a need to survive each of their own personal hells: we first learn about Jack Deavitt, whose conception is almost as sad as his eventual life. He is the product of two lost people, an underage runaway and a violent biker who both die before he ever has any memories of them. He floats through Portland as a juvenile delinquent, frequenting pool halls and scaring off any adversary with his huge size and brutal demeanor. In the late 1940’s, he comes across a black kid named Billy Lancing, who is a demon when it comes to any kind of billiard game. Their friendship is brief, and filled with distrust, but they meet once again in San Quentin prison, and must forge an aberrant bond in order to survive there ordeal in prison, which comes to a violent end. I will try to describe what happens after the prison section without spoilers, but it might be hard, because that is where the true heart of this book lies. It is filled with scenes so potent and painful it hurts to read them. It contains great moments of deception and loneliness for a person who seems to be cursed with the ability to inflict pain on others. And Carpenter is excellent at making you care for him. The book is filled with hard fatalistic passages that come off as painfully true and breath of much needed fresh air, even though the book is almost fifty years old. It is not always a fun read, but I feel it is an important one that deserves some attention.

Rating: 5/5

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