The Bully of Order

The Bully of Order

by Brian Hart


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Set in a logging town on the lawless Pacific coast of Washington State at the turn of the twentieth century, a spellbinding novel of fate and redemption—told with a muscular lyricism and filled with a cast of characters Shakespearean in scope—in which the lives of an ill-fated family are at the mercy of violent social and historical forces that tear them apart.

Keen to make his fortune, Jacob Ellstrom, armed with his medical kit and new wife, Nell, lands in The Harbor—a mud-filled, raucous coastal town teeming with rough trade pioneers, sawmill laborers, sailors, and prostitutes. But Jacob is not a doctor, and a botched delivery exposes his ruse, driving him onto the streets in a plunge towards alcoholism. Alone, Nell scrambles to keep herself and their young son, Duncan, safe in this dangerous world. When a tentative reunion between the couple—in the company of Duncan and Jacob’s malicious brother, Matius—results in tragedy, Jacob must flee town to elude being charged with murder.

Years later, the wild and reckless Duncan seems to be yet another of The Harbor’s hoodlums. His only salvation is his overwhelming love for Teresa Boyerton, the daughter of the town’s largest mill owner. But disaster will befall the lovers with heartbreaking consequences.

And across town, Bellhouse, a union boss and criminal rabble-rouser, sits at the helm of The Harbor’s seedy underbelly, perpetuating a cycle of greed and violence. His thug Tartan directs his pack of thieves, pimps, and murderers, and conceals an incendiary secret involving Duncan’s mother. As time passes, a string of calamitous events sends these characters hurtling towards each other in an epic collision that will shake the town to its core.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780062297754
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/22/2015
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 400
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

A native of Idaho, Brian Hart won the Keene Prize for Literature from the University of Texas at Austin and received an MFA from the Michener Center for Writers there. He is the author of the novel Then Came the Evening. He lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife and young daughter.


A Conversation with Brian Hart, Author of The Bully of Order

THE BULLY OF ORDER is set in a town called "The Harbor" on the Pacific coast of Washington State at the turn of the Twentieth Century. How did you go about recreating this time and place so vividly? Do you have a personal connection with the area?

When I first got going on the book I rode my motorcycle from Idaho to the coast a few times and camped out, stumbled around the woods, went to a couple of museums. Any excuse to get on the bike, great riding in the northwest and aside from the rain, which is in fact not as bad as Bully makes it seem, camping is fine too. The history is deep out there but it's kind of hit economically. Trees grow too slowly to fit into our timeline, without management at least. I've always liked the area though, I lived in Portland for five years and me and my buddy would take moto trips north sometimes, and as my research expanded for the book, I liked it even more. A phenomenal amount of lumber was taken out of Gray's Harbor and for a while there, around 1900, it was about as tough a place as existed in the US or anywhere.

The prose style of THE BULLY OF ORDER is so original and distinctive. How did you come to it? Is it unique to this novel?

My first book was barebones, during the editing process I was kind of wracked up emotionally and I'd fallen a bit out of love with the book and—I regret this now—I cut too deeply. The essence of what I was trying to do was damaged. I didn't want to have that happen again. I wanted the language to be verdant and layered, much like the world I was describing, book as ecosystem if you will.

Can you explain the significance of the novel's title to the story and the characters?

I cannibalized the title from a poem I wrote about a job I had framing some apartments in Bozeman, Montana during the winter of 2001. In the world of the poem I use the phrase, the bully of order, to describe the ligaments and tendons controlling the muscles in my arms and back. Now, in one of the earlier sections of the book Jacob describes the Harbor in human terms. "I see a passable mind," he says, "but cruel; a functional form, but twisted and ugly." So what controls the Harbor, what forces, economic and otherwise, hold it together and drive it along? If Bellhouse is pulling one way, then Boyerton is most likely pushing the other. In this scenario the muscles of the town would be the men working in the mills, in the woods, and shipyards. Maybe greed is the bully of order, maybe righteousness. In any case, I like the music of the words and the way it looks on the book jacket.

There are so many rich characters in the novel—Jacob the phony doctor, his put-upon wife Nell, their troubled son Duncan, the hermit Kozmin, and the town thug Tartan, just to name a few—and the reader gets to enter the points of view of many of them. At what point in the writing process did you realize you'd have to tell the story through various points of view? Did you enjoy writing from one character's perspective more than the others?

I've written every section of the book from different points of view. I do that sometimes, try all the angles I can to get in. For this book, the most life came from alternating between first and third. When Bellhouse was in the room I really got a kick out of him, but the book wasn't his. Sometimes it was tough to keep it that way.

How does the environment of the Harbor shape the characters of the men and women in THE BULLY OF ORDER?

Like I said before, I wanted the full weight of the environment to bear on every aspect of the book, from the language to the characters, even the structure.

Why are there so few women characters in this novel? How important are Nell and Teresa?

It wasn't a conscious choice but I would guess that the demographics of the time were about the same, 5:1. Remember, the Harbor was a boomtown, compare it to North Dakota or even Texas today with the frack boom; man camps, crime, toil, huge profits, ignored environmental impact; it's an old story. That said, Nell and Teresa are the fulcrum points for Jacob and Duncan's lives. I'd argue that Nell is the most important and possibly the most conflicted character in the book.

Why do you write?

Probably the same reason salmon swim upstream.THE BULLY OF ORDER is your second novel. How was the experience of writing this one different from your first, Then Came the Evening? What was your biggest challenge in writing THE BULLY OF ORDER?

I wrote the bulk of my first book while I was at the Michener Center, free of any major commitments other than writing, a dream life, right? But for Bully I moved back to Idaho and got a job working as a carpenter framing custom homes fifty to sixty hours a week. For years I got up at 4:30 or 5:00, six days a week, and eventually the book turned into something. During this time I also met and married my wife, and our daughter was born in 2012. To your question, time was (and is) the biggest challenge, but I've discovered that it's always there as long as I can make myself get out of bed early enough.

When you're not writing, what are you doing?

I spend most of my off time with my family going to parks, taking trips, remodeling whatever house we might be living in. My daughter's two and it seems like if I blink I miss something. I like motorcycles, hunting, fishing, the usual Idaho stuff. I read a lot.

Who are some of your literary influences?

In no particular order: Faulkner, Portis, Vonnegut, Nabokov, Tolstoy, Ellison, Hemingway, Laxness, Ford, Ondaatje.

Who have you discovered lately?

Smith Henderson just came out with a ripping debut, Fourth of July Creek. Everyone should read it, now.

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The Bully of Order: A Novel 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
nfmgirl More than 1 year ago
This book follows the lives of the Ellstrom family in a logging town on the rough and tumble Olympic Peninsula in Washington State during the late 1800s (it starts around 1886 and runs until about 1902). Starting with "Doctor" Jacob Ellstrom and his wife Nell and their toddler Duncan, just before Jacob is exposed as a fraud. Once exposed, he abandons his family and things just go downhill from there. The story later picks up when Duncan is older and has grown into a troubled young man, not having anyone to properly guide him, and he finds himself in quite a bit of trouble. There are a lot of characters to keep track of, and I actually wound up being okay with that (sometimes I can find myself lost). The problem I had was the rambling though processes of most of the characters. I felt like I was dealing with a room full of ADD riddled characters, with their thoughts always straying this way and that. I felt like yelling, "Please, just focus!" It really made it hard for me to maintain my own focus at times. The author is actually a very good writer, but as with Cormac McCarthy, I find his writing somewhat stilted and scattered, and it really took some getting used to. I wound up having a lot of respect for the author's talent, even while I found myself sometimes skimming over paragraphs of text that were too laborious for me to read. My final word: This is really a story about failure. Everyone fails everyone else, and themselves most of all. Some eventually realize their failures, and some just don’t care.This story is not for the faint of heart, as it is very crass and abrasive, and many will find the language and certain situations offensive, but it is also a fairly realistic portrayal of life in the newly settled northwest. The story is not sensitive and sentimental. It is gritty and unromantic and provocative. Interesting characters abound. The writing sometimes made me work a little harder than I like (I generally prefer literary fiction that is a rambling stroll through a flowery meadow rather than a taxing and arduous climb through mud and muck), but this story is well done. This author knows what he's doing, and he has crafted an interesting story with colorful characters to make all of the hard work worthwhile.
MorrisMorgan More than 1 year ago
Awkwardly Written This review is of a complimentary copy provided by Harper through the Goodreads First Reads program in exchange for an honest review. “The Bully Order” by Brian Hart is an unapologetic novel set on the coast of Washington State in the early 19oo’s.  It is gritty and doesn’t shy away from just how brutal and miserable things were during that time in that area. I really wanted to like this novel.  The history is sound and a refreshing take on an era that is all too often romanticized.  A few of the characters were engaging and made me want to know more about them.  Unfortunately, those were the only redeeming qualities I found. The beginning of the book is slow and filled with words that make it seem as though the writer went crazy with a thesaurus.  It really bogs the flow down and makes it near impossible to get sucked into what may otherwise be a good story.  The flips between points of view were enough to make me seasick.  I stuck with it in the vain hope that it would get better, but the flaws pulled me too far out to ever really settle into the story.