Monday, November 22, 2004

Welcome to Hard Times

Revisionist westerns hold great appeal to me and E.L. Doctorow's first novel was no exception. The Bad Man from Brodie begins his spree of senseless violence in the first paragraph and the townspeople in the small Dakota Territory settlement are powerless to stop him. After the town is burned to the ground a handful--the wounded, the cowardly, the orphaned and the Indian outcast--remain to suffer through the coming winter and then, unexpectedly begin to make the phoenix of the town, Hard Times, a prosperous place despite the palpable threat of the Bad Man's return and the town's eventual failure.

"I told Molly we'd be ready for the Bad Man but we can never be ready. Nothing is ever buried, the earth rolls in its tracks, it never goes anywhere, it never changes, only the hope changes like morning and night, only the expectations rise and set."

And:

"Really how life gets on is a secret, you only know your memory, and it makes its own time. The real time leads you along and you never know when it happens, the best that can be is come and gone."

I kept thinking of the HBO series "Deadwood" while reading Welcome to Hard Times. Evil occurs in "Deadwood" because the characters believe the ends justify the means. Doctorow's evil is termed "a force of nature" and its causes are left unexplored.

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