When the latest Spotlight Series Tour, featuring New York Review Books Classics was announced, I looked through the publisher's catalog to see if any book jumped out at me. I love the idea being the Spotlight Series Tours, which is to draw attention to small press publishers and their books. They often don't have the money or the resources to advertise the way bigger publishers do, and so their books go unnoticed.
I was drawn to consider Hard Rain Falling, Don Carpenter's first novel, for two reasons: the title and the fact that author George Pelecanos went so far to say the novel "might be the most unheralded important American novel of the 1960's." And, after reading the description of the novel, my interest in it was more than a little piqued.
From the Publisher:
Don Carpenter’s Hard Rain Falling is a tough-as-nails account of being down and out, but never down for good—a Dostoyevskian tale of crime, punishment, and the pursuit of an ever-elusive redemption. The novel follows the adventures of Jack Levitt, an orphaned teenager living off his wits in the fleabag hotels and seedy pool halls of Portland, Oregon. Jack befriends Billy Lancing, a young black runaway and pool hustler extraordinaire. A heist gone wrong gets Jack sent to reform school, from which he emerges embittered by abuse and solitary confinement. In the meantime Billy has joined the middle class—married, fathered a son, acquired a business and a mistress. But neither Jack nor Billy can escape their troubled pasts, and they will meet again in San Quentin before their strange double drama comes to a violent and revelatory end.Hard Rain Falling reminds me of American Rust by Philipp Meyer in some ways. The overall mood of the book is dark and, well, sad. Too, there is that immoral ambiguity which runs through it. There is a hopelessness there but also a sense of hope. The characters always seemed to be seeking redemption or a better life only to be dragged down by circumstance or their own choices. The major and minor characters in the novel all felt trapped and longed to be free.
Jack was not a character I liked all that much, I confess. I felt sorry for him, but I had a difficult time relating to him. He was tough and angry, a product of his environment and the lack of love he received as a child, having grown up in an orphanage. He was quick to temper and egocentric. Not really surprising given his young age throughout most of the book. He does grow as a person over the course of the book, looking inward and trying to find the meaning in life--in his life. From Carpenter's words, the sense of longing and frustration Jack often felt was palpable.
Billy Lancing, on the other hand, was a different story. I liked him from the start. He was sharp and honest. He had an uphill road to travel most of his life, facing prejudice and being out on his own. His story, especially, was heartbreaking, seeing him succeed only to land in prison.
Then there was Sally, a woman full of ambition and life, who began spiraling downward at breakneck speed. It was hard to watch that happen.
I was swept up in the story immediately, caught up in the story of Jack's parents, but the story began to wan for me in part three. While Jack was struggling with big questions, I grew a little weary of his inner monologues and longed to get back to the "action" of the novel.
Don Carpenter's novel takes the reader into the pool halls of Portland, Oregon to the streets of California and into the jail and prison system. He paints a harsh reality of life and society, both human nature and systematic. I can see why Hard Rain Falling is thought to be a novel of its time, capturing the feel of the 1960's so well. While some of the ideas and language used is clearly dated, the novel is still just as relevant today.
Hard Rain Falling by Don Carpenter
Fiction; 308 pgs
To see what other New York Review Books Classics bloggers are reading for this Spotlight Series, check out the Spotlight Series blog.
Book Source: I bought the book myself for the tour.
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