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Acclaimed New York Times bestselling author T.C. Boyle makes his Ecco debut with a powerful, gripping novel that explores the roots of violence and anti-authoritarianism inherent in the American character.
Set in contemporary Northern California, The Harder They Come explores the volatile connections between three damaged people—an aging ex-Marine and Vietnam veteran, his psychologically unstable son, and the son's paranoid, much older lover—as they careen towards an explosive confrontation.
On a vacation cruise to Central America with his wife, seventy-year-old Sten Stensen unflinchingly kills a gun-wielding robber menacing a busload of senior tourists. The reluctant hero is relieved to return home to Fort Bragg, California, after the ordeal—only to find that his delusional son, Adam, has spiraled out of control.
Adam has become involved with Sara Hovarty Jennings, a hardened member of the Sovereign Citizens’ Movement, right-wing anarchists who refuse to acknowledge the laws and regulations of the state, considering them to be false and non-applicable. Adam’s senior by some fifteen years, Sara becomes his protector and inamorata. As Adam's mental state fractures, he becomes increasingly schizophrenic—a breakdown that leads him to shoot two people in separate instances. On the run, he takes to the woods, spurring the biggest manhunt in California history.
As he explores a father’s legacy of violence and his powerlessness in relating to his equally violent son, T. C. Boyle offers unparalleled psychological insights into the American psyche. Inspired by a true story, The Harder They Come is a devastating and indelible novel from a modern master.
Boyle's (San Miguel) hypnotic narrative probes the complexities of heroism, violence, power, and resistance. At its heart are ex-Marine and retired school principal "Sten" Stensen and his schizophrenic son, Adam, who arms himself against shadowy "hostiles" and identifies with heroic 19th-century wilderness guide John Colter. On vacation in Costa Rica, Sten kills a gunman attempting to rob his tour group. Back home in Mendocino, Calif., he becomes an instant celebrity for his act of vigilante justice, and he is drawn into a citizen brigade whose mission is to protect nearby forests from the South American drug cartels that despoil the land. Meanwhile, Adam forms a tenuous, lust-fueled bond with anti-government activist Sara Jennings. Driven further into delusion by her brushes with the law and his physical confrontation with his father, Adam flees for his secret camp in the woods; when one of the citizen patrollers challenges him, Adam shoots that man, and soon another. As the manhunt intensifies, Sten realizes his son's involvement and his own inability to change his son's fate. Written with both clarity and compassion, each of the novel's characters inhabits a rich and convincing private world. As they traverse a landscape none of them control, their haunting stories illuminate the violent American battle with otherness.