The Harder They Come: A Novel
By T. Coraghessan Boyle
The new T. Coraghessan Boyle novel, The Harder They Come (Ecco, 2015, 9780062349378) is a story set mostly in contemporary Northern California and involves the relationships between characters whose lives have evolved into extremist positions which they feel are patriotic and heroic and in keeping with America’s individualistic traditions. Boyle mixes these people into a society thrown on the defensive by drug cartels, robbers, and aggressive law enforcement agencies, and their own mental health and drug problems.
Boyle begins the novel in Central America with a retired high school principal and Vietnam Marine combat veteran Sten Stensen and his wife on a tourist cruise. The tourists are robbed at one point and Stenson thwarts the robbery by killing one of the thieves with his bare hands in a sort of a combat flashback mode and becomes a minor hero and celebrity. He returns to his home in Fort Bragg, CA with his wife and soon his schizophrenic son Adam, who calls himself Colter after a legendary mountain man named John Colter, takes up with Sara, an older woman who is a social extremist. They both live outside social parameters with an intense dislike of government and law enforcement. Adam becomes increasingly deranged and kills two people, "aliens" he calls them, and then leads police on the most intensive manhunt in California history.
Boyle’s characters are sharply drawn and very believable. Their survivalist social viewpoints create a natural tension with those in power. The fact that such people do exist in fringe America adds a dimension of reality that we have seen before on television news or read of in newspapers or the Internet. If Boyle is stating that America is unraveling as his characters have unraveled then this novel is a dark look at contemporary society. In spite of that possibility, Boyle has created a taut and suspenseful tale that becomes an addictive page turner. And for those who enjoy a research challenge, the book jacket claims that The Harder They Come is based on a true story.
To wit, I did some digging on this and found this quotation from Boyle in a "Live Talks" Los Angeles interview with writer Susan Orleans on April 14, 2015:
The Harder They Come was inspired by two stories reported in the news, which provided the germ of the idea of examining the anti-authoritarianism and violence that are integral to our character (as indicated in the epigraph from D.H. Lawrence’s Studies in Classic American Literature: "The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has not yet melted.") The first was the report of an elderly man attacked in Central America while on a tour with a busload of his coevals; the second was the case of a schizophrenic young man (a shooter) whose delusions caused him to murder two strangers and take to the wilderness around Fort Bragg, California, resulting in the biggest manhunt in California history. The research and writing, in toto, took just over a year and a half, and involved tramping the dense forests of the northern coast, in a location that reprises the setting of my second novel, Budding Prospects, which took place just up the road in Willits. While the earlier novel was comedic, taking an ironic (and zany) view of Lawrence’s proposition, The Harder They Come takes a darker, Faulknerian view.--Bill
May 18, 2015
Bernie and Chet Mysteries
By Spencer Quinn
I can’t think of a better beach read for an animal lover than a Bernie and Chet mystery. Have you ever found yourself narrating your dog’s thoughts or wondering what was going on in there? Spencer Quinn’s mystery series, told from a dog’s point of view, is the closest thing to what might actually be going on in a dog’s head.
Chet, or Chet the Jet if you’re feeling fancy, flunked out of K-9 school on the last day. Was there a cat involved? Hard to say. But Bernie Little took Chet home with him and they started the Little Detective Agency. Ever since, they’ve been taking down perps and sending them to wear orange jumpsuits and break rocks in the sun. Chet speaks using the phrases he learns from Bernie, although there are a few he can’t seem to get his head around, like “wild goose chase”…a goose has yet to turn up for Chet to chase, but he hasn’t given up hope.
Quinn’s books are mystery stories but they aren’t cozies, as Chet doesn’t narrate while remaining apart from the action and danger of chasing criminals. He experiences pain and fear and rises above it. Dog on It is the first in the series and a good place to start!
May 12, 2015
The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma
By Bessel van der Kolk, M.D.
For anyone interested in the subject of trauma and how it impacts all body systems, this is one of those books worth purchasing, to highlight, ponder and study. Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, world-renowned psychiatrist and pioneer in studying the effects of psychological and physiological stress and PTSD, does a wonderful job of conveying a ton of clinical information in context and language that laymen can easily understand. Replete with case histories, personal anecdotes and well-developed reference lists, Dr. van der Kolk makes an inspiring case for the viability of healing by presenting a whole new paradigm of looking at trauma.
As the medical director and founder of the Trauma Center in Brookline, MA, the experiences of victims of childhood sexual abuse, war veterans suffering from PTSD, and survivors of accidents and natural disasters, are his main focus. This book first introduces and defines stress and trauma and then delineates its effects on the brain, mind and body. Particular attention is paid to the psyches of children, as studies show developing brains and bodies are susceptible to trauma in a different way than those of adults. The section entitled “Paths to Recovery” discusses therapeutic benefits of using language, theater, yoga, and EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) to reclaim overall health.
Despite the seriousness of the subject, this book offers substantial hope on topics that have historically been in short supply of hope, and Dr. van der Kolk writes with compassion, curiosity and tremendous respect for his patients. Consider checking it out.
May 4, 2015
The Invaders: How Humans and Their Dogs Drove Neanderthals to Extinction
By Pat Shipman
The Invaders: How Humans and Their Dogs Drove Neanderthals to Extinction
By Pat Shipman
The common name for Neanderthals is exactly that, neanderthals, from the Latin Homo sapiens neanderthalensis, but is sometimes spelled and pronounced neandertals. Neanderthals have gotten a bad rap over the years and have been portrayed as both brutes and also as a stupid species. However, recent evidence has proven that the Neanderthals were just as intelligent, sensitive, and cultured as homo sapiens. The question has lingered about their extinction and different theories have been proposed. Pat Shipman's new book proposes a new theory which she believes was a catalyst in their demise.
Neanderthals had flourished for 2000,000 - 300,000 years in Eurasia. About 40,000 years ago, Neanderthals became extinct. That is about the same time that humans, an “invasive species” according to Shipman, came into contact with Neanderthals. This contact set in motion a "classic trophic cascade caused by the appearance of an apex predator" – homo sapiens. Shipman’s basic premise is that intraguild competition between the two species resulted in a diminution of Neanderthal populations and a rise in modern human populations followed by a corresponding rise in modern humans geographic range and a shrinkage of Neanderthal geographic range. She also postulates the theory that apex predators often lower the reproductive rate of their prey. Shipman, to her credit, explores major theories that have some validity such as major climactic changes, and violence between the two species or subspecies, depending on what genetic theory you believe in. Shipman’s rather revolutionary theory is that the decimation of Neanderthals coincided with the domestication of dogs which were eventually used by modern humans to hunt and that this advantage coupled with other factors led to the extinction of the Neanderthals.
Shipman’s book is interesting if you can understand her scientific arguments and have an interest in anthropology. This is not a “popular” treatment of the Neanderthals but neither is it a scientific treatise. The book will reward the reader with insight into standard and emerging theories on this question about the extinction of what some scientists refer to as our “cousins”. For a very interesting article about Shipman’s book subtitle and her response to the article go to http://www.npr.org/blogs/13.7/2015/03/26/395488202/what-drove-neanderthals-to-extinction-maybe-us and remember that these theories are all evolving.