Hard Rain Falling, Paperback Book
4 out of 5 (6 ratings)

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Review by
3

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.

Review by
4

Since George Pelecanos went to the trouble to write a review/introduction to this book, which is just as good as the book itself, who am I to try and do better? I'll let Pelecanos do the talking, shall I? Let me just say that the sequence of the protagonist's time in solitary confinement is so brilliant it alone is worth the price of the book. Over to you, Mr. Pelecanos: "A couple of years ago the memoirist and fiction writer Chris Offutt urged me to read Don Carpenter’s Hard Rain Falling, first published in 1966. As promised, it was the kind of infrequent reading experience that can only be described as a revelation. Inexplicably long out of print, its republication by New York Review Books is cause for celebration.While many debut novels boil and sometimes overboil with a voice edging towards manifesto, few hit their mark with such assuredness, maturity, and authority as Hard Rain Falling. It is not, as it has been often described, a crime novel, though it does concern itself peripherally with criminals and their milieu. I hesitate to call it either a literary or genre work because I’m not sure Mr. Carpenter would have cared about the distinction. By his own admission he aimed to write cleanly, with his intended audience the general public rather than the gatekeepers of academia. Hard Rain Falling is populist fiction at its best. It is not just a good novel. It might be the most unheralded important American novel of the 1960s.The book begins with a prologue set in eastern Oregon in 1923. A young cowboy named Harmon Wilder meets a sixteen-year old runaway named Annemarie Levitt and impregnates her. She goes away to a home for unwed mothers and returns to Iona alone. Harmon Wilder becomes a hardworking employee of a ranch and a drunk with looks damaged by alcohol and the sun. Annemarie goes to live with the Indians. Harmon is killed at twenty-six when a horse kicks him in the head. Not long after, Annemarie ends her life with a 10-gauge shotgun. Carpenter finishes the prologue in typically terse style: “She was twenty-four at the time. The Indians buried her.”We first meet Jack Levitt, the abandoned son of Annemarie, in 1947. Having escaped from his orphanage, he now runs with a group of hard teenagers who hang on the corner of Broadway and Yamhill in Portland, Oregon. Jack is large, strong, and good with his hands. He can fight but has no other discernable talent. He’s at the age when the brains of certain boys are disproportionately wired for impulsive behavior over conscience or reason. His needs are elemental: He knew what he wanted. He wanted some money. He wanted a piece of ass. He wanted a big dinner, with all the trimmings. He wanted a bottle of whiskey.Jack’s not a sociopath. He’s a young man who’s never been socialized or loved.In Portland, Jack befriends Denny Mallon, a loose, larcenous boy, and Billy Lancing, a spectacularly talented, genial young pool player who has drifted to town on the hustle. “The color of his skin was a malarial yellow, and it was obvious from that and from his kinky reddish-brown hair that he was a Negro.” The issue of Lancing’s race will reappear throughout the novel, and Carpenter handles it with honesty. Also, Carpenter’s descriptions of pool halls and the intricacies of various billiard games are top shelf, as are his tours of the rooming houses, diners, and boxing arenas of the Pacific Northwest. Fans of Nelson Algren, Walter Tevis’s The Hustler, and W.C. Heinz’s The Professional will find much to admire in this book.After an incident involving a break-in, Jack is sent to reform school in Woodburn. His stay includes months in solitary, detailed in a frightening, bravura piece of writing by Mr. Carpenter. Jack’s next stop is a stint in the state mental institution in Salem. He is released, boxes semi-professionally, does jail time in Peckham County, Idaho for “rolling a drunk,” and gets work in eastern Oregon, “bucking logs for a wildcat outfit.” Drifting down to San Francisco, he meets up with Denny Mallon, now in his mid-twenties and a full-blown alcoholic, in a pool room. They go to Denny’s room in a flophouse overlooking Turk Street, and hook up with two brittle young women, Mona and Sue. Jack has his way with both of them. The sex is loveless, mechanical, and artfully described by Carpenter. Here Jack begins to feel the first touch of self-awareness and realize his true nature: You know enough to know how you feel is senseless, but you don’t know enough to know why. Sitting in another lousy hotel room waiting for a couple of girls you’ve never seen before to do a bunch of things you’ve done so many times it makes your skin crawl just o think about it. Things. To do. That you dreamed about when you couldn’t have them. When there was only one thing, really, that made you feel good, and now you’ve done that so many times it’s like masturbating. Except you never really made it, did you. Never really killed anybody. That’s what you always wanted to do, smash the brains out of somebody’s head; break him apart until nothing is left but you. But you never made it.Jack’s realization is not enough to save him. He hits bottom with Denny Mallon, with Mona, with himself. He goes on a long drinking binge and considers taking his own life: For a moment he felt a drifting nausea as his mind helplessly moved towards the idea of suicide. He steadied himself and faced it, as he had known all the time he must: I am going to die. Why not now? He felt cold and sick. Well, why not? What the fuck have I got to live for? The whiskey bottle was in his hand, and he lifted it, holding it up before his eyes. Do I want some of this? Do I want another drink? Suddenly it was very important to know. If he did not want a drink, he did not want anything. If he did not want anything, he might as well die. Because he was already dead. “Bullshit,” he said aloud. “Bullshit. I’m just in a bad mood.” He tilted the bottle to his mouth and drank, his eyes closed.Jack stumbles once again, as he knew he would. Trusting the wrong people, not yet fully understanding the mechanics of a system that has kept him incarcerated his whole life, he’s sentenced to adult time at San Quentin in Chino. There he meets up again with Billy Lancing, in for “bopping” a check. They become cellmates and confidantes. And, in what must have been a shocking plot development at the time of the book’s release, they become lovers. Carpenter’s handling of masculinity issues and homosexuality at San Quentin, where “the prison seemed alive with affairs,” is matter-of-fact, non-exploitive, and frequently moving. One day while Jack was walking past the salad table with a stack of hot clipper racks, he happened to glance over in time to see one man slip a plastic ring on the finger of another man. Both were ordinary-looking men, one a burglar and the other a thief, but the expressions on their faces were ones Jack could never remember having seen on a man: one of them shy and coy, an outrageous burlesque of maiden modesty; the other simpering with equally feminine aggressiveness.Billy confesses that he has fallen in love with Jack, and asks Jack for reciprocal words. Jack can’t bring himself to say them or give his friend one kiss. What happens next will chill the reader to the bone and impact Jack so spiritually that it puts him on a new road.The next section of the novel takes place from 1956 to 1960 and details Jack’s improbable but wholly believable transformation. Because Carpenter is a realist, he knows that the damage done to Jack at his very core can never truly be healed. So we leave Jack Levitt broken but not defeated, drinking a wealthy man’s fine whiskey. It is an oddly optimistic ending, a gift from a writer who saw the beauty in the here and now. Jack has the day and a future. It is all any of us can hope for.Hard Rain Falling tells a ripping good story, but it is above all else a novel of ideas. It falls squarely in the tradition of Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Norman Mailer’s An American Dream, books that prefigured the counterculture movement in their challenge to conformity and the system. As in all good literature, it attempts to answer the question of why we’re here and does so in a provocative way. It’s the kind of novel that can and should be read many times over. It sent me back to my desk, jacked up on ambition.Writers write for various reasons: money, fame, pleasure, posterity. Don Carpenter did not receive international acclaim or a great deal of wealth in his lifetime. Maybe he wanted it; it’s not for me to say. I like to think that he was in the posterity camp. Certainly his work bears that out.“I’m an atheist,” said Carpenter, in a 1975 interview. “I don’t see any moral superstructure to the universe at all. I consider my work optimistic in that the 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 this.”And yet, he found a piece of immortality with this book."

Review by
5

The main character, Jack Leavitt, deserves no sympathy. True, he was born into a terrible situation, orphaned by his mother who abandoned him to the state in secret just to keep his father from ever finding him. He grows up under very bad circumstances; faces young adulthood without anyone to help him steer a path through the mean streets of Portland and Seattle where the early sections of the novel take place. That he ends up in prison, even in a high security prison like San Quentin, is not a surprise. He never had a chance.But he still deserves no sympathy. Racist, sexist, able to take the bad hand life has dealt him and turn it into something much worse again and again knowing full well that the choices he makes the wrong ones, Jack is unlikely to be the sort of character many readers willingly identify with.Yet, his story moved me. Jack's failed attempts at redemption and his final acknowledgement of his own failings in life, and in love, didn't bring tears to my eyes, but they've left a strong impression all the same. I wish Jack could have come to a better end, even as I understand exactly why this was never possible.Don Carpenter paints a picture of the American under-class that we ought to see more often. At present, close to 2% of Americans are either in prison, on parole or on probation, yet we rarely see them as characters in serious fiction. Crime fiction, yes, but not in literature. Except in the case of cross-over works like Hard Rain Falling, a mix of crime and literary fiction, Great Expectations if Magwitch had stolen Pip away and raised him himself. That Hard Rain Falling was published in 1966 puts it squarely in the Ken Kesey school of literature, social outcasts trying to make their way in the word. The world of Hard Rain Falling is one of pool halls, wild parties, reform school and prison. But even in this hard edged world, Mr. Carpenter's hero manages to find love, though he cannot call it by its name until far too late.But he never really does find redemption. The closest he comes is a sort of acceptance, a willingness to face his life on its terms. That this small bit of cold comfort in his hard-scrabble life make Jack Leavitt's story a moving one is a testament to Mr. Carpenter's skill as a novelist. I never heard of him before NYRB Books sent Hard Rain Falling my way, but I'll be on the look out for more.

Review by
4

Reminded me of Kerouac meets Holden Caulfield meets Edward Bunker (Mr. Blue). Terriffic book. Teriffic writer. Kind of depressing. Kind or like Charles Bukowski.

Review by
3

Hard crisp writing. A good look into how dead end people have to live their lives.

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