In 1930s East Texas, fourteen-year-old Amelia Laxault's father insists she marry Arnold Critchin, a local boy who assaulted her on their first date. When Arnold's alcohol-fueled brutality devastates their family, his ineptitude with crops destroys their farm, and his poorly run moonshine business lands him in prison, Amelia struggles to feed her four children as the Depression worsens and a secret from her past looms large.
Three hundred miles away, Lucious Tremaine tangles with a white police officer. Fleeing to Houston, a second altercation leaves him with a gunshot wound. Desperate and weak, he makes his way into the backwoods.
As Lucious encounters increasing obstacles and Amelia's challenges escalate with Arnold's return from prison-and a visit from her first love, who is now the local sheriff- an explosion looms. Will Lucious make it to Houston? Can Amelia save her children from both starvation and Arnold's increasing, vengeful violence? As the odds stack up and the food runs out, Amelia must summon all her courage, strength, and ingenuity to attempt to save her family.
Les Edgerton at his best. Hard Times lives up to its title. The story is painted in the black and white palette customary of Cormac McCarthy, country characters on the edge of society, of their clans, living on the bits of grace afforded them by a merciless world. The landscape is East Texas hardscrabble, a hard land of rough men where women are tried by fire to test their will to live.
Fourteen-year-old Amelia Laxault has the misfortune of living during the depression with a father who sees her as little more than a burden to be sloughed off to the nearest boy that suited his own tastes, a farmer's son, and ne'er-do-well, Arnold Critchin. Clan plays role in his decision. She has another suitor, one Billy Kliber, but he's different. In the encounters Billy and Amelia have in the rice fields she tends, he treats her as if he'd found a rare jewel. But when her father spots the two one day talking by the rice paddies, he scares him off, threatening death if he returns. As her mother puts it succinctly to her later in an attempt to mollify her wounded daughter, "Child, the Klibers aren't like us. Mr. Kliber is some kind of artist...He don't farm or nothing..." The Kliber and Laxault land may lay contiguous to each other, but the divisions of clan and kind are deeper borders, one's that cannot be breached in the middling mind of her father.
Walking her home one night from a dance, Arnold sexually accosts her in the dirt road, before seeing her to her door, where her father waits up for her. The encounter was brutal, but she dare not say a word to her father. Soon thereafter, the two are married. Amelia and Arnold set up housekeeping in the back forty of his father's land. Secluded from any society, with few comforts of home even for the times, Amelia has four children. And Arnold is as Arnold does. Her life is one long moment to endure.
There's no deep revelation of history or myth, but rather of Amelia's resilience. A well-drawn character who lives in a crucible of pain, and manages to draw from a deep well of perseverance and determination to survive. I recommend reading it to the end, because Billy Kliber, the artist's son, is now the sheriff of this dust-blown county, and he paints a pretty picture at the end.
With all the genre and sub genre titles about this book being 'Noir' or 'Country noir' or 'Depression era' the one thing that stands out for me is the sheer greatness of the story. It reads as good noir in terms of its paired back writing to such an extent at times it reminded me of the joy of reading through a Richard Stark 'Parker' novel at its best.
LES EDGERTON has his own voice though. It is a great read, would make a great movie (If Stephen King wrote this it would have sold millions) and for me sees an Author getting better and better.
Tough lives out of small cultures that cripples a lot more people than we can calculate and yet the spirit of resilience, kindness and that moment when we can all reclaim our lives no matter what age makes this book essential.
My friend, Les Edgerton, asked me to preview his latest novel before it’s December release. I’ve been rather a fangirl for years. His craft manual Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One & Never Lets Them Go was a seminal part of my writer’s education, and I loved his novels The Bitch; The Genuine, Imitation, Plastic Kidnapping; and Bomb; as well as his riotous memoir, Adrenaline Junkie. So, yes, sir! Happy to accept.
Hard Times is the story of Amelia Laxault Critchin, whose third grade triumph in a math competition leads inexorably to a spiraling descent into a life of misery and abuse. I’m not exaggerating when I say this story is dark. It is unremittingly, powerfully bleak, yet throughout Amelia does not wallow. No whining here. She is a woman who retains glimmers of hope and strength that I know I could not manage under similar circumstances. Faced with terrible options, her fierce independence causes her to make decisions that, while honorable and authentic, nevertheless have dire consequences. Despite her extreme competence, the piling-on of crises eventually leaves her literally trapped.
I won’t say more than that about the plot, except to say that the ending is satisfying, rising from Amelia’s own agency. I’ve not read a story with a more admirable female hero.
Readers who admired the tough heroine in Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens will find much to like in Hard Times, though Edgerton eschews the rhapsodic and, at times, tedious descriptions of Owens’ work. His prose is swift, tight storytelling full of energy, and the sometimes absurd humor Edgerton is known for. I’m a slow reader and I breezed through this in record time, and loved every bit of it. Highly recommended.
Robin Deffendall Adult Services Librarian and Coordinator, Write On,Right Now Cumberland County Public Library & Information Center Fayetteville, NC
Les Edgerton’s Hard Times wins the award for Understated Title of the Year. He introduces us to Amelia, a young girl allowed a taste of triumph before forces beyond her control compel her into a grim life of struggle and disappointment. The author’s distanced prose creates an air of folklore establishing a belief within the reader that this is a common American tragedy. It has taken place before. It’s taking place right now. And it will take place in the future. As the story moves into the realm of thriller, the prose picks up the pace and carries us through a whirlwind of action that feels as though it will never let up. The story’s antagonist provides sturdy opposition to those united to defend the doomed Amelia. The author presents the most horrid moments in Amelia’s life with unnerving objectivity, making the proceedings all the more realistic and all the more heartbreaking. It’s often hyperbole to suggest it will be impossible to put a book down, but I think readers will indeed find that task difficult in this instance as they quietly hope Amelia experiences at least a sliver of sunlight before the final sentence of her story is told.
Les Edgerton is a wonderful writer who brings the reader right into the hardscrabble life of a family eeking out an existence in rural east Texas. Hard Times tells the story of a young woman, who, like her mother before, is controlled by her father , who actively prevents her from achieving any dream, whether it be getting an education or being with the boy she loves. He is soon replaced by a husband of the same ilk. Despite the depressing setting, the use of language and the deceptively simple prose drew me in and it was a quick read. The main character's story intersects with that of another character with his own struggles and the way they are able to help one another was well done. Les is an author unafraid to take his characters down dark roads, but always with a glimmer of light in the distance, if only they can get there. Read it to be immersed in another world and to enjoy the wonderful prose.
HARD TIMES is a deeply engrossing novel. Edgerton uses a sparse voice to drive this gritty story through a variety of tense, emotional scenes. I cared about the characters who all felt and sounded real--particularly the protagonist Amelia, who endures no shortage of trauma but keeps her wits and dignity.
The chapters are for the most part brief and full of power. They read like captions of photos--quick glimpses into the characters' dramatic lives. They land like a series of punches, and they'll leave the reader reeling.
I've read a few of Edgerton's books and this one is my favorite of the bunch. It's uncompromising and powerful, crafted by a master storyteller at the top of his game.
With Hard Times, Les Edgerton has accomplished what few writers can: He's created a time and a place, depression era Texas, and populated it with characters so real they explode off the page. In this heart-wrenching gem of a book, Edgerton once again proves his masterful touch creating characters on the margins of society, often forgotten, almost always dismissed. Hard Times has the heart and soul of a novel you'll want to read more than once.
A lurid, literary tone poem conveyed free of dialogue yet eloquently expressed, vividly vivisecting sultry slices of morally impoverished life in a rural hellhole with stark, sharp, simple strokes of storytelling skill. These characters—whether victims or violators-- breathe their burdens right down our necks, sending chills of familiar despair down our spines, since the pitfalls of the human condition are not confined to any particular region or race. Les Edgerton hasn’t just read about Hard Times. He’s lived them to the fullest, and he brings this raw, real life experience to bear with universally relatable flair.”
I've known Les Edgerton for a few years, and I've read enough of his work to know and respect it. Consequently, when I was offered a review copy of HARD TIMES, I was excited for the opportunity. It was a wise choice on my part.
The book falls under the heading of rural noir. Think Erskine Caldwell meeting Cormac McCarthy while Joe R. Lansdale pours drinks. James Ellroy describes noir as a story where the protagonist is [in horrible trouble] on page one, and it gets worse from there. Edgerton seems to have taken this to heart. The book's protagonist, Amelia Laxault, begins the book as a bright young girl, but she is in a time and place (East Texas in the segregation era) unsuited for bright young girls. She is forced to leave school to help on the family's hardscrabble farm, and is forced into a marriage with the brutal no-account Arnold Critchin. He savages her on a regular basis, taking advantage of the fact that the local mores trap her in her situation.
Meanwhile, the local sheriff, Billy Kidler, nurses his own love for Amanda, but is similarly unable to take her from her increasingly desperate situation. Bad relentlessly goes to worse, and the reader is left to wonder which of several horrible fates will claim Amanda at last. Meanwhile, a black man named Lucious Tremaine, on the run from the law, finds his way into the area. Eventually, the situation explodes.
The novel is brief and taut, with relentless pacing and scenes of intense violence that are not for the faint of heart. The characters are engaging, and Edgerton maintains the reader's interest in their fates. Thrills abound.
HARD TIMES is one of the first releases from Bronzeville Books. While these are challenging times for new publishers, Bronzeville is off to a fine start with this author and this book. Recommended.
This is the story of a dream, young love, children growing into adults, a bad man, a not so bad man, and a love that never died. It is a story of dogs you never want and children you mustn’t lose. Edgerton has written a simple and direct story that takes you back to a time that once existed and probably still does. A hardscrabble community found in those backwater shallows of America where life is cheap, a dog is prized more than a man, and guilt and justice come too easy.
I thoroughly enjoyed this story, even though there were chapters that shook me; such is the writing of Edgerton. He draws you in; you can taste the salt on your upper lip, you the hear the buzzing of the flies and the dogs, but most of all you feel the desperation of souls fighting to survive. And all are waiting for the return of the rain.
It is lyrical. Not in a sentimental and romantic way, hardly. It is accomplished with language and names: Amelia, Lucious (a slight twist to the name Lucius – almost sounded like luscious), Mandy, Billy, Arnold – names that evoke a period and a region and then draw you in. There are no Heathers and Trevors in this story.
The writing style is modern, one that takes a few chapters to get comfortable with. But the narrator, a reliable truthteller, sees all and tells all. And then there are the dogs and Arnold Critchin - some people just need kill’n.
I was PRIVILEGED to read an advance copy of HARD TIMES.
Once I opened the book, Les did what few modern writers do for me: He dropped me into a different time and place, set the hooks and yanked me into his character's story.
As an editor and author, it’s always been difficult to fall into the fictive dream. What a pleasant distraction Les provided! While reading, I forgot about 2020 for a while and poured myself into the next sentence, next page—every chance I could.
Another point, Les drives his heroine with the force of timely authenticity, stubbornness and a mix of resignation perseverance and pride, the likes of which we don’t see in the real world today. He also pits her against multiple foes, including setting.
Throughout the easy-to-read tale, Les proves his mastery of craft by eliminating wasteful writing by expertly sewing dialog into narration, no quote-marks needed. Few writers today can hit such a groove.
Finally, as a master teacher of Creative Writing, Les follows his own rules with regard to character, story and pacing. (See "HOOKED").
Overall, credibility and grit abound in this work. The story and characters live on in my mind, two months after I set down the book.
Give HARD TIMES a read. Lose yourself in the hardcore grit of fictive dream, one that makes 2020 seem tame.
This novel is an extension of a short story that I had read previously. The heart of the story remains unchanged. It concerns a woman living with her four children in a backwoods shack, trapped in a bad marriage by isolation and abject poverty. The backstory tells us everything we need to understand her predicament. The trap is sprung by a father with unshakeable convictions and an unopposable will who forces her to marry her abuser, coupled with those ancient cultural mores. Her husband, a failed farmer, treats her and the children worse than his prized dogs. The dogs get fed before his family, and what little money he manages to scrape together he spends on drink. And when an opportunity for release presents itself, she turns it down, trapped by the imperatives of her ancient culture: once you’ve made your bed you must lie on it.
The novel stirred distant echoes of Steinbeck, every bit as haunting as The Grapes of Wrath, but presented in a truly modern style. The total absence of quotation marks seemed appropriate, the omniscient point of view probably the best and only way this tale could have been told. Les Edgerton at his searing best.
Wow! Usually noir is set in urban areas....not here. Like Cormac McCarthy, Edgerton takes us to a dirt poor rural setting (here, Texas, during what appear to be the dust bowl years.
Evil stalks the land--women are property, and have no need for an education. Spousal rape is unknown, and everyone is as poor as can be.
Channeling Cujo, Andrew Vachss, and above all Cormac McCarthy, a woman is trapped in her one room cabin with her 5 children, no food left, surrounded by ravenous dogs. Her husband goes off to find "work," but ends up drinking, then in jail. As they slowly run out of food....Nope, no spoilers here.
I will just say that Edgerton is a master not just of narrative, but of language and character building. We care about this woman. We despise her husband. We like the cold blooded murderer.....and the Sheriff. But above all, we understand each of them.
Cannot recommend this one too highly. I know it is early in the year, but Hard Times definitely makes the short list for the best book I will read this year.
It is to the credit of the author as a storyteller that I ignored glaring grammatical errors (in the narrative, not in the dialogue) and the lack of quotation marks to push through this book. (I question the proofreading of this book, too, since I came upon a spelling error - but, then, spelling errors in books these days are more prevalent than they used to be!)
Typically I abandon books with gory violence, particularly those involving animals and/or children. But, since the book is so short, I persevered to the end of the book. It is on this basis (my perseverance) that I rated this book 4 stars.
4.5: crudele come la terra ruvida e ostile in cui è ambientato, quel Texas orientale di cui Lansdale è il principale cantore, ma di cui Edgerton dimostra di saper raccontare senza giri di parole e orpelli inutili. È soprattutto la storia di donne forti, il cui spirito è indomabile anche quando pare essere stato sottomesso, come fuoco coperto che continua a bruciare e pronto a esplodere. La scrittura di Edgerton è affilata come un rasoio, magari a volte sfilacciata e non sempre a fuoco, ma di una potenza pazzesca. È duro da mandar giù per la violenza narrata, ma fatevi un favore: leggetelo
Thumping good read, page turner. Story of the abject poverty and cruelty in the life of Amelia, married to a drunken loser, Arnold, who values his dogs more than his children, Billy the sheriff, childhood beau of Amelia, and Lucius, the black fugitive who appears to save the day more or less. I really liked this book although I wish it hadn't been so sparsely written. I hope to see another with more story development. I can't stop thinking about what might happen next to these charcters.
Les Edgerton's Hard Times drew me in right away to a world that is totally foreign to me, but somehow familiar. That speaks to Edgerton's incredible talent as a story teller. This novel of chapters that stand on their own as short stories reminded me immediately of Tim O'Briens's The Things They Carried, and it is just as masterfully written. One of the best novels of the year in my view.
Hard Times can take its place alongside any opus. This rural noir tale of beleaguered wife and mother Amelia Critchin captures a delicate innocence and twists it into a darkness that sharpens the edges of credibility. Les Edgerton paints a pastel Monet on page one and adds brushstrokes until a deep, rich Heironymous Bosch appears.
Davvero coinvolgente...in certi punti ho provato una sofferenza quasi fisica per quanto capitava ad Amelia ed alla sua famiglia...e non sono riuscita a staccarmi finché l'ho completato in un pomeriggio...
Unfortunately, this one just wasn't for me. The characters were kind of one sided in my eyes and the story just felt like it was missing emotion. I ended up giving up with this one less than half way in.
Les Edgerton’s Hard Times is a fantastic read. It takes place in Texas in the 1930s, during the Great Depression. It is primarily the story of Amelia Laxault, a bright farmgirl who, at the age of fourteen, is forced to marry Arnold Critchin, a violent drunk. Hard Times also tells the tale of Lucious Tremaine, an escaped convict just trying to survive. Both stories are gripping and involving tales of endurance with a strong sense of time, place, and authenticity. Hard Times is a powerful, moving and unflinching look at the lives of ordinary people pushed to the edge of a precipice, and is very highly recommended.