The Harder They Come
By T.C. Boyle
Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins publishers, 2015. 384 pgs. Fiction
Boyle’s latest novel begins quietly enough with an aging couple -- Sten and Carolee Stensen -- on a cruise to Central America. While on an inland expedition, things change suddenly when Sten and his cruise-mates are robbed by three armed men. In a sudden snap of violence, Sten kills one gunman and sends the other thieves running. When Sten returns to his home in California he is hailed as a hero by everyone except his son, Adam. Adam is a psychologically unstable 25 year old who spends his time growing his own Opium Poppies in the California forests with his new girlfriend -- a paranoid anti-government activist named Sara. The narration focuses on these three characters in turn as Sten fights in futile to contain his son and the chaos that is never far behind him.
This was the first novel by T.C. Boyle that I've read, and when I finally set it down I was intrigued and unsettled. Boyle creates characters who are both disturbing and mesmerizing as they dig at the idea of an inherent violent tendency in the American psyche. However, because the characters were unsympathetic, I found the story less captivating than I expected it to be. Readers should be ready for strong language when choosing this novel.