Welcome to Hard Times, E L Doctorow, Simon and Schuster, 1960, 209 pp
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 philosophizing mayor. In penance for failing to defend his town from the Bad Man because he was not willing to kill the guy, he attempts to rebuild the town and to create a family by taking in Molly, one of the raped whores, as well as the young son of his best friend who died in the fire. Molly reminded me of Kathy from Steinbeck's East of Eden.
But evil has visited the town once and Doctorow creates some serious foreboding and foreshadowing. You know it's coming back. Quite a page-turner for such a philosophical book because the symbolism is embedded in the drama.
(Welcome to Hard Times is available in paperback and eBook by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)