Welcome to Hard Times

Welcome to Hard Times

by E. L. Doctorow


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Here is E. L. Doctorow’s debut novel, a searing allegory of frontier life that sets the stage for his subsequent classics.

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 has suffered unspeakably–and makes them his provisional family. Blue begins to rebuild Hard Times, welcoming new settlers, while Molly waits with vengeance in her heart for the return of the outlaw.

Praise for Welcome to Hard Times

“A forceful, credible story of cowardice and evil.”—The Washington Post

“We are caught up with these people as real human beings.”—Chicago Sun-Times

“Dramatic and exciting.”The New York Times

“Terse and powerful.”Newsweek

“A taut, bloodthirsty read.”—The Times Literary Supplement

“A superb piece of fiction.”The New Republic

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780394498331
Publisher: Random House, Incorporated
Publication date: 06/01/1975
Pages: 224

About the Author

E. L. Doctorow’s works of fiction include Welcome to Hard Times, The Book of Daniel, Ragtime, Loon Lake, World’s Fair, Billy Bathgate, The Waterworks, City of God, The March, Homer & Langley, and Andrew’s Brain. Among his honors are the National Book Award, three National Book Critics Circle awards, two PEN/Faulkner awards, and the presidentially conferred National Humanities Medal. In 2009 he was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize, honoring a writer’s lifetime achievement in fiction, and in 2012 he won the PEN/ Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction, given to an author whose “scale of achievement over a sustained career places him in the highest rank of American literature.” In 2013 the American Academy of Arts and Letters awarded him the Gold Medal for Fiction. In 2014 he was honored with the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction.


Sag Harbor, New York, and New York, New York

Date of Birth:

January 6, 1931

Place of Birth:

New York, New York


A.B., Kenyon College, 1952; postgraduate study, Columbia University, 1952-53

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Excerpted from "Welcome to Hard Times"
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Copyright © 2007 E.L. Doctorow.
Excerpted by permission of Random House Publishing Group.
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Welcome to Hard Times 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
We'll written story of the boom / bust towns in the old west Well drawn characters with an unexpected ending
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is Doctorow's first novel, and after reading it, you see from the very beginning he was a great writer. It's an ambitious treatment of evil, cowardice, love and family, wrapped up in an great western tale (of the spaghetti type). The Bad Man destroys the town and everyone in it in the first few pages. After that the human spirit thrives (sort of) as a few attempt to rebuild the town and their lives. And look for redemption.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I'm not partial to westerns, this is the first I've read, by force because it was a school assignment. To my suprise, the book was actually quite good and griped my attention enough for me to finish it 3 days.If you've never read a western, this may be a good book for you to try.
CBJames on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A western without a hero.In High Noon Gary Cooper stands alone against a gang of outlaws, the town sheriff acting the classic role of hero. This is what audiences expect of westerns, especially westerns starring the likes of Gary Cooper.But what if the small western town, alone on the prairie, has no hero to defend it? What if the bad man rides into a town with no one brave enough or able enough to stop him having his way? What damage could he do?Welcome to Hard Times by E.L. Doctorow opens with the arrival of a Bad Man from Bodie, a loner who single-handedly destroys the small town of Hard Times, burning down two buildings, killing half its citizens. When the men of the town realize they are no match for the bad man, they hide out on the prairie waiting for him to leave. Afterwards, the survivors try to rebuild. The narrator, Will Blue, takes in a now orphaned 10-year-old boy, Jimmy Fee. Together they nurse Molly, a prostitute and the sole survivor of the local saloon, back to health. Will becomes the de facto town mayor in his attempt to bring Hard Times back from oblivion. The nearby mine is still active, workers still come into town on Saturday nights looking for fun. Soon a new saloon opens, a shopkeeper arrives, a banner is hung across main street in the hopes that the state governor will build a road through town up to the mine. Things are looking good."Welcome to Hard Times."But Molly holds a grudge. She blames Will for failing to stand up to the Bad Man from Bodie. Though he presents himself to the world as her husband, though he probably does love her and he wants to be a father to Jimmy Fee, she cannot hide her venom. He knows that she hates him in spite of everything, that she's waiting for the bad man to return so she can take her revenge, that she has convinced Jimmy Fee he should do the same.Welcome to Hard Times is a meditation on evil, cowardice and revenge, all themes common to westerns, common to literature in general. This is Mr. Doctorow's first novel. It's scope is narrower in space and time than his later novels; the cast of characters is small, but the town of Hard Times and its handful of citizens provide room enough to keep the reader enthralled. They are a classic western cast: a reluctant hero, a former saloon-girl, an orphaned boy looking for a father figure. Mr. Doctorow takes this cast and subverts them: the hero is racked with guilt and cowardice, the saloon-girl has a heart of stone, the boy turns against the father figure. However, this subversion serves to make them all much more human than the classic tropes they are based on. They are more like us than we want to admit.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
davidabrams on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A cowboy with no name rides into town. He enters the saloon; the swinging doors bang in his wake. He orders a drink, guzzles half the bottle, then reaches for the nearest prostitute. Without a word, he takes her upstairs and assaults her. When the girl¿s lover intervenes, the stranger kills him. Then the cowboy steals a horse. Then he single-handedly runs all the frightened citizens out of town. Then he sets fire to the town and burns it to the ground.Welcome to Welcome to Hard Times, the first novel by E.L. Doctorow. Published in 1960, it¿s a grim look at the Old West. There¿s nothing pretty inside these pages; but once you start reading, I dare you to set the book down again.The cowboy with no name is known simply as the Bad Man From Brodie and once he destroys the North Dakota town of Hard Times (those events listed above all happen in the first chapter, by the way), he rides off into the horizon¿momentarily leaving the rest of Hard Times¿ diverse set of characters to pick up the pieces. Welcome to Hard Times centers on how the town (if that¿s what you can call a few ramshackle board-and-tarpaper buildings) is rebuilt from its ashes.It¿s also about how the oppressed citizens rebuild their hope in the wake of complete disaster. Like his other novels (Ragtime, World¿s Fair), Doctorow celebrates the endurance of the American spirit. If you¿ve read his other novels and come to Welcome Hard Times expecting to see historical figures like Billy the Kid or Wyatt Earp woven into the narrative, you¿ll be disappointed. Doctorow didn¿t start that practice until Ragtime. Here, the Old West is pure invention and it¿s pure terror. I¿ve never met a literary cowboy as fearsome as the Man From Brodie¿think Jack Palance in Shane¿.then multiply him by ten!The novel was made into a movie starring Henry Fonda in 1967. I¿ve never seen it, but reading the book¿with its mythic clash between good and evil¿reminds me of other cinematic westerns like Once Upon a Time in the West and Unforgiven. Interestingly enough, Doctorow was inspired to write this first novel after working as a script reader for Columbia Pictures in the late 1950s, an era when cowboy movies were all the rage. However, Doctorow cleverly turns the horse opera stereotype on its head. If you're not a fan of sagebrush prose, don¿t let the notion that this is a "western" dissuade you from reading this short, intense book. It is so much deeper than the typical fare of its genre.I read Welcome to Hard Times long before I¿d heard of Doctorow¿s other (more popular) novels. I knew from that first chapter of violent destruction that I was in the hands of a great writer. This is novel that grabs and won¿t let go!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago