Monday, January 25, 2010

4. Hard Rain Falling by Don Carpenter

Hard Rain Falling is Don Carpenter's first novel, which has been brought out of relative obscurity in a New York Review of Books reprint with a forward by George Pellecanos. I got it for xmas. I'd never heard of the author before, but after completing his first novel, I think an argument could be made that he is an important American writer. He wrote steadily in his life until shooting himself at the age of 65 in the '90s. He had several debilitating illnesses, though I have yet to see confirmed that that was the reason for the suicide. His books were published but not super successful and he made most of his living writing for Hollywood.

Hard Rain Falling is the story of a man's life, starting with a brief recounting of how he was born and orphaned in the '30s. The rest of the book follows his wildlife from the streets of Portland, Oregon to his time in reform schools and prisons and to a sort of rehabilitation and attempt at comprehending a normal life in San Francisco. At several points, you think it is going to be a certain type of narrative (a crime story, a prison story and so on), but after a while you realize that it really is just about this one guy's life.

I'd like to provide a thematic summary here, but it is kind of difficult as there isn't really one. It's what made me enjoy the book. A lot goes on and the main character is intriguing, intelligent and very challenged by his own background. There are many different themes that come up along the way: maturity, isolation, love, the changing times (the book ends in the early '60s). None of them dominate. Each section of the book is a look at this man as he is in that stage of his life. I guess you could say there is a consistent theme of Jack Levitt trying to figure out who he is and how he should respond to life.

And it is quite a life. Jack's philosophical musings and his struggles are compelling, but the real pleasure for me were Carpenter's descriptions of the petty criminals of Portland's pool halls, of the prisons and their tenants, of San Francisco's night life in the '50s. I can see why George Pellecanos loves this book so much (though did he have to give away over half the narrative in the intro, which I wisely did not read until the end?). I've read a lot of crime fiction, but you don't often get to see it at the quotidian level with such richness and subtlety. He really gets into the world of gambling in pool halls in particular and it's pretty cool stuff.

Great book. I'm glad I read it. It moved me at the end.


Lantzvillager said...

Very cool sounding. I've never heard of this guy before.

When was this book published?

WalkerP said...

Good question, as I had the same one as I was reading it. 1964.