I often wonder, as I’m sure other writers do, how many amazing books have been long forgotten. Or, more likely, never even published. Isn’t that every writer’s deepest fear? Her work devolving into obscurity, oblivion, or never known by anyone at all. I was so very glad, then, to discover Hard Rain Falling, by Don Carpenter. Originally published in 1966, it sold poorly and soon fell out of print. Nearly vanished, almost lost to the ages. And then it was reprinted in 2009. I recently read the story and was blown away. Read this book, I tell you. It’s a classic. It should appear on every best-of list out there.
Hard Rain Falling isn’t beautifully written. Its characterizations aren’t endlessly subtle. Carpenter doesn’t always follow the show-don’t-tell rule. But something about the story is infinitely compelling. It follows the life of a young man born around 1929, abandoned at birth by his mother to a state home, who struggles through incarceration before the age of eighteen, and then finds himself living on city streets, struggling to survive. It is stunning and immediate and seems as if it could take place right now. Meaning, as with all good literature, the story tells universal truths, explores universal experiences, apart from any particular time or place.
It’s funny that On the Road, by Jack Kerouac, is considered a classic, a truly iconic work, while Hard Rain Falling is, despite the reprint, relatively unknown. Hard Rain Falling is the better book. On the Road deals mostly with characters who, though not wealthy, have the luxury to explore life as they choose, making the decision to be itinerant wanderers. In Hard Rain Falling, however, whose characters are of a similar age during the same time period as in Kerouac’s story, life doesn’t allow many choices. Living day to day is difficult, draining, the brief sparks of light and hope quickly crushed beneath reality. Everything is immediate. The next meal, the next drink, the next place to sleep. Life isn’t a broader vision, a hope for the future. Life is struggling to witness one more sunrise. On the Road certainly is a fine book, but I suspect that Hard Rain Falling speaks more to the collective truth of those people and of that time, as well as of others. For that reason it doesn’t seem at all dated, unlike the other.
For the sheer pleasure of the book itself, and for the satisfaction of reviving a nearly lost story, read Hard Rain Falling. And send out a little prayer for all other real writers, that their stories, too, won’t face oblivion.