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E.L. Doctorow’s premiere novel in 1960 gives a tantalizing introduction to the diverse, powerful historical fiction of the brilliant career that followed. It is narrated by a man named Blue, the informal mayor of Hard Times—a desolate dot of a settlement on the bleak plains of Dakota territory.
Right from the start, the town is singlehandedly destroyed overnight by a “bad man” who brings a brutal penchant for murder, rape and arson to his solitary task of burning the whole settlement to the ground. His dark shadow hangs over the rest of the story, which drives people together to rebuild Hard Times, fueled by the pocket money of the miners who work the gold mines nearby and seek rowdy mayhem on Saturday nights.
Do not look for an uplifting story here. Hard Times is a gritty place, without a tree for hundreds of miles, populated by a gallery of flawed misfits. The town is doomed, like so many forgotten settlements of its time, tied to the fortunes of the mines, or a road, or the whims of the railroad bosses. Blue believes it can be resurrected, and he is either a heroic optimist or a pitiful fool. At each sign of hope he leads a new attempt and is defeated, musing at the end, “Why does there have to be promise before destruction?”
In this slogging struggle between good and evil, it seems that evil can’t be beaten by any normal mortal means. If you shoot the bad man, the evil remains.
It’s a beautifully written book, but the real tour de force of this production is the narrator, John Rubinstein. His voicing of Blue is a rich western drawl, but he also plays a range of characters convincingly, including the Russian saloonkeeper, a boy of twelve, an immigrant Swede, and a woman with an Irish brogue. It’s a gripping story, well told, and time well spent.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
This is Doctorow’s first book written in 1960. I understand a movie was made from the book staring Henry Fonda. The book’s genre is classified as a serious western.
“Welcome to Hard Times” is about average people who fail to organize and stand as one against evil and never recover from the devastating results of their failure to act. The story also has many subplots for a book that is only 224 pages or 6 hours audio.
Doctorow has the traditional characters of a typical western, a bullying evil villain, the noble prostitute and the unwilling hero. But the author provides the reader with a big twist in that the hero fails to act. I was reminded of one of my favorite movies “High Noon” but in Doctorow’s story there is no Gary Cooper or John Wayne to do the job.
The book provides an important lesson. The book is well written and moves at a fast pace. It is easy to read for a story with such an important topic. John Rubinstein narrated the story.
3 of 6 people found this review helpful
This was an author recommended by a friend. It isn't the sort of book that I would normally listen to. I almost gave up at the beginning because of the violence, but I persevered and was drawn in by the story and the reading.
It is a tale that will stay with me and I will select other titles by this author and recommend the audio to my friends.