A Review Of Welcome To Hard Times By E.L. Doctorow
By Mark Gelbart
Oct. 2, 2005
E.L. Doctorow's latest novel, The March, about General Sherman's march through Georgia has been getting a considerable amount of publicity. I have always been fascinated with this decisive campaign and enjoyed Lidell Hart's biography of Sherman which primarily focused on Sherman's daring invasion and dismantling of the Confederate bread basket. So because of the subject matter, I was interested in reading The March, but then I heard more about the author and decided it would be beneficial to my own writing to read some of his earlier work. E.L. Doctorow is known for writing some of the best prose of any living novelist, and I'm hoping that after I read a few of his novels, the quality will influence my work.
I chose to read Ragtime (also an excellent movie), and Welcome to Hard Times--a work Norman Mailer called "the best western ever written." After that kind of endorsement I had to read Welcome to Hard Times first to see how it compared to Lonesome Dove and Little Big Man--the two best westerns I've ever read.
I wasn't disappointed. The very beginning of the novel brings dramatic change to the small mining town of Hard Times. The Bad Man from Bodie--a metaphor for death, destruction, and the devil--sweeps in and single handedly tortures and rapes the town whores, kills several people, and burns the whole town down. And he rides away with a stolen horse. After they bury the victims, most of the survivors want to leave, but the narrator, Blue, wants to stay. The following dialogue is a classical bit of wry wit:
"No sense to that," Ezra said, "unless you're fixin' to stay." "I am." I had hoped he was too. He looked at me: "Town's gone, Blue." "Now I don't know," I said. "We got a cemetary. That's the beginnings of a town anyway."
Blue than gives his reasons for staying and reading this caliber of writing is just pure pleasure.
And I said:" Ezra, all my life I...