By September 12, 2010 5 Comments Read More →

Hard Rain Falling

images1I discovered this treasure of a reprint (New York Review of Books) in one of the best ways possible–serendipity in the stacks. I had seen Hard Rain Falling by Don Carpenter on display months before at the Elliott Bay Book Company in their Northwest section, and when I came across it this time decided to give it a whirl.

Don Carpenter’s 1966 debut, Hard Rain Falling, begins in Eastern Oregon in the 1930s with a 16-year-old girl who fled Portland with a cowboy who gets her pregnant. She gives the baby away, and years later kills herself after the child’s father dies from being kicked by a horse.

We meet their child, Jack Levitt, in 1947 on the streets of Portland. Jack, 17, has run away from the orphanage and can most often be found with a gang of boys in pool halls or at brothels. In one pool hall Jack meets a young black pool shark, Billy Lancing, who years later will be his cellmate at San Quentin.

Hard Rain Falling is a brutal book, but it is also philosophical, and it takes a good hard look into lives that are not often celebrated in literature and in doing so has more to say about society and human existence than most high-minded literary novels out there.

Jack is a real character–flawed, violent–but some of this is simply a fact of his existence and the crime of his birth:

As for the true crimes of his life, the crime of being born without parents, the crime of being physically strong and quick, the crime of not having a puritan conscience, the crime of existing in a society in which he and everybody else permitted crime without rising up in outrage: well, he was perfectly guilty here, too, as was everybody else. …The trick was to keep from being “punished” for his “crimes.”

George Pelecanos, in his introduction, is quick to point out that Hard Rain Falling is not a crime novel although “it does concern itself peripherally with criminals and their milieu.” He goes on to say that it tells “a ripping good story,” is a novel of ideas in the tradition of Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

I have been bowled over by this book precisely because I did not expect it; it’s not “my kind of book,” really. But the story Carpenter tells, the dignity and truth he brings to his characters, the vividness of the Northwest settings, and the unexpected twists of fate and redemption left me reading hungrily and reeling as I finished.

Hard Rain Falling is the true definition of a book that makes you think and see things differently. All I can say is WOW.



About the Author:

Misha Stone is a readers' advisory librarian with The Seattle Public Library. Follow her on Twitter at @ahsimlibrarian.

5 Comments on "Hard Rain Falling"

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  1.' laura says:

    Because Anne Lamott always talks about him so fondly, I read the one Don Carpenter book we had in my old library (A Couple of Comedians) and absolutely loved it — it’s a less serious story than this one, but also bowled me over for just the kinds of reasons you mentioned. I’ll have to Hard Rain Falling out.

  2.' Enrique says:

    Nice review! I agree completely. Hard Rain Falling is easily in my top five reads of 2010. I just happened to see it at Barnes and Noble one day and thought, hmmmm, Don Carpenter, never heard of him, but if NYRB is re-issuing it, it must be great. And it was. I wrote a review of it too earlier this year (linked below) and I’m so happy to see someone else promote what has to be one of the best unknown first novels of the 20th Century.

  3. misha says:

    Enrique–Thank you so much for your comment and for sharing your review. You said it so well:
    “It whacked me devastatingly, though gorgeously, upside the head.” Me, too!

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