In T.C. Boyle's Newest, a Chilling Meditation on Gun Violence

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T.C. Boyle has always taken on the big, meaty topics of American literature with gusto: race, class, gender, individualism vs. community, violence, patriarchy, oppression. If it bleeds, he covers it. His latest novel The Harder They Come returns to the rugged Northern California landscape of Budding Prospects, Boyle's 1984 novel about marijuana culture on the Lost Coast. Since then, the acclaimed novelist has written more than 20 novels and short story collections. According to the reviews, the New York Times among them, his latest novel is one of the best of the bunch.

Set in and around Fort Bragg, the novel addresses themes of delusion, violence, and over-the-top American individualism through the narratives of three interlocking characters. Sven Stenson, a Vietnam veteran given reluctant hero status by his community for killing a robber on a tour bus in Costa Rica; Adam Stenson, Sven's schizophrenic and delusional son who ends up killing at least two people during fits of violence; and Sara Jennings, a right-wing activist and member of the fringe group Sovereign Citizens' Movement who becomes Adam's mentor and romantic partner.

On his website, Boyle writes that The Harder They Come is a meditation on gun violence, and that it was inspired by a D.H. Lawrence quote: "The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic and a killer. It has never melted." A slew of killings by disaffected white males -- the Santa Barbara massacre in spring 2014 among them -- led Boyle to think hard on why the mentally unstable in our society have access to lethal weapons.

"The Harder They Come is an attempt to enter the mind of one such shooter," writes Boyle. "As well as that of his father and lover, to imagine just how he might see the world, our world, in which we all, increasingly, seem to be targets."

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