Hard Times is the name of a town in the barren hills of the Dakota Territory. To this town there comes one day one of the reckless sociopaths who...more
Hard Times is the name of a town in the barren hills of the Dakota Territory. To this town there comes one day one of the reckless sociopaths who wander the West to kill and rape and pillage. By the time he is through and has ridden off, Hard Times is a smoking ruin. The de facto mayor, Blue, takes in two survivors of the carnage–a boy, Jimmy, and a prostitute, Molly, who has suffered unspeakably–and makes them his provisional family. Blue begins to rebuild Hard Times, welcoming new settlers, while Molly waits with vengeance in her heart for the return of the outlaw. Here is E. L. Doctorow’s debut novel, a searing allegory of frontier life that sets the stage for his subsequent classics.“A forceful, credible story of cowardice and evil.”–The Washington Post“We are caught up with these people as real human beings.”–Chicago Sun-Times“Dramatic and exciting.”–The New York Times“Terse and powerful.”–Newsweek“A taut, bloodthirsty read.”–The Times Literary Supplement“A superb piece of fiction.”–The New Republic less
I must admit I was a little surprised by this offering from E.L. The majority of his books always end with some sort of optimistic note but this one was 100% downer. I was waiting for some glimmer but nothing. A quick read but good.
The Western has traditionally been the genre of manly men. E.L. Doctorow puts a spin on things and gives us the coward's eye view in "Welcome to Hard Times." The Bad Man from Bodie is not very welcome in Hard Times, a flyspeck town in the Dakota Territory. He's so mean, he'd shoot a man before he ever had the chance to fall asleep and start snoring. The terrified townspeople run to their sort-of...more
The Western has traditionally been the genre of manly men. E.L. Doctorow puts a spin on things and gives us the coward's eye view in "Welcome to Hard Times." The Bad Man from Bodie is not very welcome in Hard Times, a flyspeck town in the Dakota Territory. He's so mean, he'd shoot a man before he ever had the chance to fall asleep and start snoring. The terrified townspeople run to their sort-of mayor, Blue, asking him to do something to run the Bad Man out of their town. Blue figures attempting that would be a sure way to get killed, so his advice is to lay low until the Bad Man slakes his thirst for carnage. After the Bad Man rapes all the cattle and stampedes the whores, he burns the town to the ground. The only people who elect to stay in the smoldering ashes are Blue; a vengeful prostitute named Molly, brutalized and scarred by the Bad Man; a boy named Jimmy, orphaned in the same rampage; and John Bear, an Indian who lived on the fringes of the town when it existed and who remains there now that it doesn't. Molly and Jimmy stay with Blue, as if to provide a constant, glaring reminder of his cowardice -- a makeshift family founded on hate.
Inevitably, entrepreneurial settlers come across the scorched patch, and Hard Times begins to stir and show signs of life, rebuilding on the two cornerstones of every solid society: whores and whiskey. There's also water, a stage line, and a nearby mine to supply steady customers looking for a release on the weekend. After a bitterly harsh winter that almost kills Jimmy, spring follows (it often does), bringing more growth, more people, more development and even government recognition. The town throws huge parties, complete with banjos and mouth organs, and Blue resumes his sort-of-mayorly duties.
As you might expect of a Western that's about running away in the hopes of never having to fight another day, "Welcome to Hard Times" is not very exciting, but it's not altogether uninteresting. Doctorow is more concerned with the roots of community, how it evolves into civilization and how it eventually declines and falls. Some people don't need a Bad Man to usher them toward destruction. "Our end was in our beginning," Blue sez. There's nothing wrong with an intellectual Western packing pearl-handled metaphors instead of six-shooters. But me? Call me shallow, but I woulda preferred a couple more gunfights.
Incidentally, in the movie version of "Welcome to Hard Times" (which seriously pusses out on the ending), Aldo Ray plays the Bad Man from Bodie. I can't help but wonder whether he was the inspiration for Mongo in "Blazing Saddles." I see a strong resemblance. hide