Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Read: "Hard Rain Falling" by Don Carpenter

Read: Hard Rain Falling by Don Carpenter, 1964, (pre-ISBN).

Not sure what to think about this one. I was expecting a crime novel and the was frustrated during the first quarter of the novel when nothing much happened. This is more of a journey of Jack Levitt from 17 years-old until he is 26 years-old and his changing life philosophy and outlook on society and life. It was mostly depressing with Levitt struggling through life. I reserved this after a glowing comment from Piccirilli.

Novel of Jack Levitt, an unloved orphan growing up in Portland, OR in the 1950s and 1960s. Levitt runs away from the orphanage when he is about 15 and lives on the streets and flophouses of Portland. Levitt is a mean looking kid with a big head and burly build. His main concern is having money to survive. He gets busted by cops, goes to jail until he hits 18 and then travels the Western US doing different jobs and making a living as a boxer.

After a few years Levitt lands in San Francisco and runs into an old pal from Portland. The pal is a crook and the two pal around with a couple women. Levitt and pal have a vicious fight after pal attacks Levitt. Levitt wins but a short time later is busted for kidnapping and rape. It turns out the two gals were only 15 years-old and blame it all on Levitt to get out of trouble. Levitt spends time in a County jail and then is sent to San Quentin.

In San Quentin Levitt meets up and cells with another old pal, Billy, from Portland. The two guys get closer and end up having a homosexual relationship. Levitt has never experienced love and is afraid of the emotion and admitting it to a dude - especially since Levitt isn't gay. Billy ends up dying on the yard in defense of Levitt.

Levitt gets out, gets a bakery job and meets a wealthy club hopper, Sally. Sally and Levitt get married and have a stormy marriage. Sally is not happy as a housewife but has no job skills. She ends up alternately hitting the town every night for a while and then staying at home with their son, Billy. Levitt finally kicks her out when she leaves Billy by himself so she can go drinking.

Levitt gives up Billy when faced with the fact that no court will give custody to a ex-con when his ex-wife is going to be married to a rich dude. Rich Dude, Sally, and Billy move to France.

There is a hopeful note in the end where Sally has taken up with her first husband, a famous actor, and Rich Dude wants to have Billy grow up in the U.S. and know his real father.

EDIT: Piccirilli's comment brings to mind that yeah, the narration is pretty meaty. You get to know a great deal about both Levitt and Billy. Both of them were essentially unwanted as kids. Billy was a runaway and by time he makes his way back to Seattle he finds his whole family gone with no trace to follow. That the two dudes are able to team up in prison and then begin a loving relationship is a major step forward in Levitt's life. It's also a big step in Billy's maturation, even though he was already married, has children, and had business success.

I ended feeling a good deal of compassion for Levitt in the end. He goes from a teen with an urge to fight, steal, and kill into a self-educated and more composed guy.


Tom Piccirilli said...

I think it's a brilliant examination of how a street kid with nothing but hate in his heart is slowly transformed through crime, prison, and friendship into a different kind of person. Not necessarily a noble one, but someone with a soul. Carpenter's narrative is muscular as hell and really pulls the reader in (at least it did me).

Gerard Saylor said...

Thanks for the clarification. The transformation was interesting. In the beginning his anger just makes him want to kill someone, anyone, for the experience.