|Author Don Carpenter|
"Hard Rain Falling" has the distinctive 1960s feel. It is very existentialist, very ... "The Stranger," although I must admit I've never read "The Stranger." But it has a kind of "street cred" in the dialogs and scenes. Besides the existentialist question, why don't I just kill myself now, the novel has an American theme, freedom. Kudos to Carpenter in vivid depiction of prisons, some of which is a little difficult to read.
I do not think the difference is that Americans in general has more freedom than other people, but rather Americans are more preoccupied by the abstract concept of freedom, thus creating a perception that they are somehow more "free" than others. It's a trick on the mind (or, as Varys puts it, "a shadow on the wall"). You are as free as you think you are, not as you really are.
Although the novel centers around a big, blond, young, muscular white man, a perfectly representative specimen of the society in the ironic position of being marginalized, it is Carpenter's portrayal of a mixed-raced black man and a woman that stands out. (Gosh, can I write shorter sentences to save my life?! Yuck.) OK, let's try again. The novel is largely told from the viewpoint of Jack, an angry white man who is young and marginalized by society. It is more impressive, however, that Carpenter pulled off the viewpoints of "the other," i.e., a black man and a woman.
The psychology of Billy Lancing, a light-skinned young black man with talent and ambition, is perhaps the key accomplishment of the novel. No wonder George Pelecanos is fascinated. The delicate dance Billy does in pool halls to avoid being kicked out and to win the white men's money ... ah, so good, so good! I know nothing about pool and I am captivated. Carpenter nails the extreme sensitivity and minute mental adjustments one makes when one is acutely conscious of not belonging, not fitting in. The parts about Billy, although far smaller in size than parts about Jack, almost eclipses the latter.
The viewpoint of Jack's unwilling housewife is not as pure or as intense as Billy's. It is nevertheless painfully realistic and largely (but not completely) sympathetic. Nice try.
Unfortunately, the homosexual angle is a failure, it seems to me. Perhaps my judgment is too harsh in the context of the time and norm of the time. The love affair between Jack and Billy in San Quentin is the most underwritten part with a rather cliched dramatic ending. This is the only part of the novel that has "I heard it from some guy" written all over it.
When you lose you lose forever. When you win, it lasts only a second or two. That is life.