The Harder They Come

The Harder They Come, T.C. Boyle's 15th novel, traverses an area familiar to most Chicoans, the Monterey County coast from south of Mendocino north to Willits. It's loosely based on the real-life story of Aaron Bassler, a young Fort Bragg man who in a fit of derangement in 2011 killed two men and then fled into the forest, where for 36 days he eluded capture by the largest manhunt in California history. Boyle's beautifully written novel is about rugged individualism become madness, a recurring theme in his work. There are three main characters: Adam Stensen, a budding survivalist whom we watch as he steadily slides into delusion; his older girlfriend, Sara, who's a member of the anarchist Sovereign Citizens' Movement that rejects all legal authority; and Adam's father, Sten, an ex-Marine and Vietnam veteran who, despite his worldly success (he's a retired high school principal) has not exorcised the violent demons within. A riveting tale of murder and mental disintegration, this novel is also a haunting look at how madness can destroy a family.