Hard Rain Falling: One Intense Discussion

Last week my book group met to discuss Don Carpenter’s Hard Rain Falling. I was a little nervous as this was a book I requested for purchase to the Book Group Collection. It is not your typical book group book either, so I was not sure what my group would think.

A week prior I sent out some reviews and blog posts about the book. One reader started our discussion with a question that one blog posed: Is Hard Rain Falling a depressing book? We went around the room examining this question in relation to our reading experiences. For a couple, it was, while most found it both bleak and hopeful. One reader said they started it thinking “what was Misha thinking?”—the subject matter, about two young hoods in the 1940s, seemed so masculine, but she found herself appreciating its Sartre-eque, existential malaise. She said: “I know we’re not supposed to say this at the beginning of discussion, but I loved it—wow!”

Another reader said the book is about love—the varieties of love, how someone learns to love by being loved, what becomes of a person in the absence of love. Jack ‘s relationship with his San Quentin prison bunkmate, Billy, is the basis for Jack’s first understanding of love; this love story is the most surprising and central of the book overall and of Jack’s transformation over time.

We also talked about the theme of gambling and the role luck, good and bad, played in Jack’s life.

The writing style was cause for much praise as well. My favorite comment was that Carpenter’s prose was so spare and packed that the reader called it an “Atkin’s diet book”– it’s no cookies, all protein! She also praised the depth of feeling and philosophy that the writing explores. She called Carpenter the antidote to overly “lyrical” writing.

I know that it is a selfish impulse on the part of a facilitator to want your group to love a book as you do, but I can’t deny that it was gratifying and validating to hear praise heaped on such a deserving book.

I asked the group what they would take away from the novel. One reader said it made her realize her blessings in life. And then she quoted from Carpenter himself who said that he found his work optimistic “in that people, during the period I’m writing about them, are experiencing intense emotion. It is my belief that this is all there is to it. There is nothing beyond it.”

Hard Rain Falling is a book that explores and elicits intense emotion. Take a chance on Carpenter’s lost classic; make it a book group mainstay. It seriously deserves it.

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About the Author:

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

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