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Welcome to Hard Times: A Novel

3.79  ·  Rating details ·  1,283 Ratings  ·  131 Reviews
Hard Times is the name of a town in the barren hills of the Dakota Territory. To this town there comes one day one of the reckless sociopaths who wander the West to kill and rape and pillage. By the time he is through and has ridden off, Hard Times is a smoking ruin. The de facto mayor, Blue, takes in two survivors of the carnage–a boy, Jimmy, and a prostitute, Molly, who ...more
Paperback, 224 pages
Published September 11th 2007 by Random House Trade Paperbacks (first published 1960)
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Jeffrey Keeten
Oct 14, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: the-old-west
“One day you stepped in snow, the next in mud, water soaked in your boots and froze them at night, it was the next worst thing to pure blizzardry, it was weather that wouldn't let you settle.”

I read several Doctorows back in the late 1980s and never really clicked with him. His writing was fine; it just didn't blow my skirt up. For years though I have thought about picking up a copy of his first book Welcome to Hard Times. I usually like first books and I'm always intrigued with westerns that h
...more
Diane Barnes
Jan 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"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 it's tracks, it never goes anywhere, it never changes, only the hope changes like morning and night, only the expectations rise and set. Why does there have to be promise before destruction?"

The Bad Man from Bodie is the villain in this book, but in reality he is just an embodiment for the evil that lies in men's hearts, for human nature gone terribly wrong. And the good people eith
...more
LeAnne
Feb 04, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: buddy-reads
Maybe like the miners who fed this old western town's economy, I needed to dig deeper. There is surely some profound philosophy in here showing us that there is nothing to fear but fear itself or that we are powerless to prevent evil from desolating the world around us.

But I stroll on the sunnier side of the street.

For me, this was an entirely plot driven novel, despite the dark message it carried. Joseph Conrad did a better job with Heart of Darkness in conveying that kind of idea. Lonesome Do
...more
Laura
Jan 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
GR friend Diane's quote when first starting this book, "The action starts on page 1 and never lets up." The first chapter reads a little like a comedy but that is short lived beginning with chapter 2. If you like fast-paced and action filled this would be a great book to take on. If you are looking for a happy book, keep in mind the title of this novel. Doctorow lays it all out for the reader to experience. This is a book Donald Ray Pollock revealed has influenced/shaped his work as a writer.
Tfitoby
Aug 12, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I wanted a western in a noir style and I got it in spades.

Doctorow achieved in 155 pages what others spend 600 attempting; he has written a piece of literature in a popular style as an allegory for human nature whilst at the same time analysing what happened in Europe and specifically Germany in the 1930s, all the while making it an entertaining read. And this was his first novel!

Whilst this new title evokes a certain mood before you've even turned a page I think the original title of The Bad Ma
...more
Kirk Smith
Well shoot, parties over and it just had to end. I really enjoyed the simple writing style, it suited the locale and the situation. Dang, reading a good western puts a smile on my face, it has to be kind of quirky like this, I'm not a fan of the true westerns (Louis L'Amour, Zane Grey, etc). I think Hard Times compares well with The Sisters Brothers, and The Good Lord Bird as being fun offbeat westerns, the type I'm fond of.
Tina
Jan 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This short first novel by E. L. Doctorow takes place in a Dakota mining town called Hard Times. It is a fit name for a place in the middle of nowhere with harsh weather, hard relationships, bad men and lawlessness. One of the most interesting westerns I have ever read because of its' plot. Hard Times is filled with desperation and hopelessness. Sounds like a cookie-cutter western? It's not, but to say more would give it all away.

My rating: 5 stars. This book is classic worthy.
Ned Mozier
Feb 05, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a neat little fable of original sin in the wilderness of territory that was to become South Dakota. Blue, the de facto mayor and conscience of the “town”, meets his nemesis in the form of a human malevolent wrecking crew. The “man” (satan, really) is unleashed on the dry plains and lays to ruin the best efforts of man. This is an origin story of father, mother and child struggle against the mighty force, one with a seething vengeance, one with angry devotion and mixed loved, and the pro ...more
Margaret
Apr 10, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: men-authors
kicks cormac mccarthy's ass
Judy
Doctorow's first novel is a literary western. That's right. It was shelved in Westerns at my library. In truth, it is a philosophical though action packed story set in Dakota Territory during the wild, lawless days when the West was being settled.

The writing is taut and just about perfect. You can see, hear, almost smell the town of Hard Times and the characters leap to life. The "Bad Man from Bodie" rides into town, rapes the whores, then burns down the entire town.

Blue is the default philosoph
...more
LaViejaPiragua
BIENVENIDOS AL OESTE DE VERDAD

Las novelas son los mejores vehículos para trasladarse por el espacio y el tiempo o, en palabras de Baudelaire, para "viajar sin vapor y sin vela". Lo que pasa es que no todas las expediciones son igual de valiosas, sólo algunas son capaces de conducirnos con la máxima eficacia a otras épocas y paisajes. Son esas las que de verdad consiguen sacarnos del sillón de orejas, del vagón del metro o de la cama para hacernos vivir vidas improbables (casi siempre imposibles)
...more
Craig Childs
I once believed Larry McMurtry was the first author to write a true anti-Western, a demystification of the American West myth, but it turns out that honor should go to E.L. Doctorow who penned this hard little classic a good twenty-six years before anyone had ever heard of Lonesome Dove.

Welcome to Hard Times is the bleak, almost nihilistic tale of Mayor Will Blue, an aging coward living on the western frontier in the Dakota flatlands. Blue watches his friends murdered and his town burned to the
...more
Shaun
Feb 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Coming across as a mixture of Blood Meridian and Mccabe and Mrs. Miller, this revisionist western examines and undermines the myths of the American west while emphasizing the role violence played in carving out civilization. In a strange way, I was also reminded of J.M. Coetzee's Waiting for the Barbarians; the method of narration was quite similar. Mayor Blue's record-keeping is very reminiscent of the Magistrate's journal-keeping. In both cases, there is a town on a frontier fearing the invasi ...more
Andy Weston
Oct 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Doctorow's story set in the wild Dakota hills is of the American west is not one that tells of heroes and acts of bravery, but rather the reverse. Blue has the de-facto title of Mayor is a small rural town when one day it is shaken by the visit of man intent of evil. With buildings burnt and many of its inhabitants killed, Blue takes on the rebuilding, along with the other survivors, the key characters in the book.

"I picture some reader, a gentleman in a stuffed chair with a rug under him and a
...more
Xio
Aug 14, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Nothing is ever buried, the earth rolls over in its tracks, it never goes anywhere, it never changes, only the hope changes like morning and night, only the expectations rise and set. Why does there have to be a promise before destruction?"

This simple novel, set in the Dakota flats well before statehood, is written simply and directly and somehow contains a few sharp insights and phrases to be found echoing through all of Tragedy. To be sure, these thoughts are not original. There is no origina
...more
Cynthia
Nov 07, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love Westerns and Doctorow, as expected, turns out a great one especially considering this was his first published book. Blue, a hyper responsible, self appointed mayor devotes himself to keeping town records. People naturally turn to him when a mean gunslinger hits town. He fails them, horrible things happen, lots of scared people scatter and desert the town of Hard Times. Blue takes the few remaining people under his wing including the badly burned and terrorized lady of the night and an orp ...more
Behzad Sadeghi
I don't know what I feel. This book was too touching to be appealing. It touched me where it hurt. It touched some of my deepest, wildest fears. It was too terrible to be a favorite. Yet it definitely was a powerful novel. It was almost like the devil himself had bestowed his powers upon this novel. Unsettling is the best adjective I can summon for describing it. And it was just too much for a first novel.
Pamela
Mar 08, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
OK - we read this a book club selection.

I have mixed feelings about it - it is well written: I think the choice and use of language is very good.
it is - evocative? atmospheric? - the author does a good job of evoking a mood.
characters - reasonably well done - it is written from the POV of one of the characters so we only see what he thinks about other people's acts and attitudes and we have no real information about what THEY might think of him, or anything else.

That said: I really didn't like i
...more
Solistas
Oct 16, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Μια πόλη κοντά στα ορυχεία της Ντακότα καταστρέφεται απο έναν βίαιο άντρα (Bad man from Bode) που δεν εκφέρει λέξη παρά μόνο σκοτώνει κ τρομοκρατεί τους κατοίκους της. Ο αφηγητής με το όνομα Blue, που όλοι τον αποκαλούν δήμαρχο, θα αποφασίσει πεισματικά να χτίσει την πόλη απο την αρχή και να την ονομάσει Hard Times.

Το ντεμπούτο του Doctorow ειναι ενα αντί-γουέστερν γραμμένο σε μια εποχή που το είδος γνώριζε την εμπορική του κορυφή. Εδώ το American Dream ειναι ακόμα πιο σκληρό αφού ειναι τελείως
...more
Adrian Stumpp
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jonathan Briggs
Apr 18, 2012 rated it liked it
The Western has traditionally been the genre of manly men. E.L. Doctorow puts a spin on things and gives us the coward's eye view in "Welcome to Hard Times." The Bad Man from Bodie is not very welcome in Hard Times, a flyspeck town in the Dakota Territory. He's so mean, he'd shoot a man before he ever had the chance to fall asleep and start snoring. The terrified townspeople run to their sort-of mayor, Blue, asking him to do something to run the Bad Man out of their town. Blue figures attempting ...more
Steve
Sep 02, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A tragic scenario though philosophically realistic as an allegory on what a community back then got, and any will again, when there's no organized society/community or, as Thomas Paine would put it, with out the necessary evil of government based on the common good.

Libertarian anarchism brought to life in frontier times (some time in the 19th century, it seems). And it's also where America is headed if we don't reverse course on the extremist Dominionism and Tea Party based exploitation of the 9
...more
Paul Lorentz
One of my favorites, this is maybe the fifth or sixth time I've read it, the first since visiting South Dakota a few years ago. Opening with the sudden and senseless, horrifically violent destruction of a barely-hanging-on town in the Dakota Territories, it is a recounting of events as recorded in three ledgers by the town's "Mayor", a glorified bookkeeper named Blue. By dumb luck, willfully blind optimism, and a persuasive way with words, Blue and the remaining survivors (a brutally victimized ...more
Jean Poulos
This is Doctorow’s first book written in 1960. I understand a movie was made from the book staring Henry Fonda. The book’s genre is classified as a serious western.

“Welcome to Hard Times” is about average people who fail to organize and stand as one against evil and never recover from the devastating results of their failure to act. The story also has many subplots for a book that is only 224 pages or 6 hours audio.

Doctorow has the traditional characters of a typical western, a bullying evil vi
...more
Stephen Gallup
Jul 14, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I happened upon this novel in a Florida bookstore while on vacation in 1978. The back cover warned that, once I started reading it I wouldn't be able to stop. "Ha! We'll see about that!" I said to myself and proceeded to scan the first page. "I can put this down," I told myself proudly, and I walked out of the store.

Then I spent the rest of that vacation worrying about it! As soon as I got home, I found another copy and added it to my permanent collection. I also made a point of reading all Doct
...more
Mary
Apr 20, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm not sure if I liked this book or not, but maybe that's not a bad thing. It opened my eyes to what the early American West was truly like while destroying any naive Cowboys vs. Indians/Little House on the Prairie notions I had in my head. For that, I really have to praise this book. This book also provided a fascinating glimpse into fear and cowardice and revenge, how they permeate our lives and can destroy us in ways that "Bad Men from Bodie" cannot. I appreciated the narrator's cowardly per ...more
Shawn
Aug 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I never read a western quite like this. Well read and disturbing it is quite the book. It is too simple to call the hero in "Welcome to Hard Times" a coward. At times he seems like a principled pacifist, but his ideals and actions do no one he knows any good. I liked the way Doctorow explored what happens when the helpless are prayed upon by pure irrational evil. It is not a pretty sight. Although I read the story in one weekend I would not call it a quick light read. The author's most famous bo ...more
Antha
Jan 30, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I just read this book at the end of last year and was blown away. I just gave it to a friend. Love the spare writing style for emotional impact.
David
Oct 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is well put together and fun to read, but the tension suffers since everything is unavoidable. As for the lesson, it’s not as if there is somewhere to go where the machine of the world doesn’t grind everything up too. Still fun despite that, but those aspects tarnished things a tad.
Donna
Aug 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A western so bleak that at times it's reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy's work. I think this is one of of Doctorow's most successful works; his stark but beautiful prose is particularly effective in this story of a doomed town and its stubborn survivors.
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E. L. DOCTOROW’S works of fiction include Homer & Langley,The March, Billy Bathgate, Ragtime, the Book of Daniel, City of God, Welcome to Hard Times, Loon Lake, World’s Fair, The Waterworks, and All the Time in the World. Among his honors are the National Book Award, three National Book Critics Circle Awards, two PEN Faulkner Awards, The Edith Wharton Citation for Fiction, and the presidential ...more
More about E.L. Doctorow...
“one day you stepped in snow, the next in mud, water soaked in your boots and froze them at night, it was the next worst thing to pure blizzardry, it was weather that wouldn't let you settle.” 2 likes
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