Title: Hard Pressed
Author: Robert Moore
Publisher: MLR Press
Amazon Link: Buy Link Hard Pressed
Cover Art: Winterheart Design
Genre: Historical, Suspense
Length: 232 pages, 68 k words
Rating: 3 out of 5 rating stars
A Guest Review by Feliz
Summary Review: A gay-themed tragedy of Shakespearian dimensions.
The Blurb: A puppeteer and two brothers get into a tangle on the island of Tasmania.
Hard Pressed is set in Tasmania over the four days of Easter, 1969. The spectacular island topography is a brooding giant, imprisoning all who inhabit the wild landscape.
It is the story of two brothers. Homosexuality is taboo.
David Mason is being groomed to take over the family hop farm. He is about to announce his engagement to Bronwyn Hiscock.
David’s brother Guy is a teacher at Zeehan on the West Coast.
He meets puppeteer, Paul Curtain, who is touring with a traditional version of Hansel and Gretel and preparing for his new show Black Hansel.
Unbeknown to Guy, Paul is David’s lover.
By the beginning of the story Guy is about to leave Zeehan, where he works, to spend the Easter holidays at the family hop farm. He’s looking forward to coming home, but he also dreads it, mostly because his brother David is going to be engaged to be married—and with David getting married, Guy is afraid his parents will urge him to do the same. For Guy has a secret he intents to keep at all costs, but the closer he gets to his childhood home, the harder it will be to hide. But other members of Guy’s family hide secrets of their own…
Right from the beginning, the story is pervaded by a sense of foreboding which builds and builds but never culminates. Well, yes, it does this, somehow—disaster after disaster happens, mostly to Guy’s friends and family, but by extension to almost any character that makes more than a fleeting appearance. And the misery never breaks; the characters aren’t ever granted a reprieve, much less any kind of salvation.
The hardships of life in Tasmania at that day and time (remember, it’s 1969) are depicted in harsh, factual words, at times so crude as to border on brutal. There’s nothing wrong with realism, of course; I’d be the last to complain about realistic writing. But there’s not mincing matters and then there’s wallowing in dirt, blood, shit and death—which this book did, literally at nauseam. (I’m serious, some scenes are downright nightmarish.)
None of the characters was overly sympathetic, even though I got to be inside most of their heads thanks to the changing 3rd person POV. Perhaps the crude, stark portrayals were also supposed to be realistic, but they bereaved the characters of their humanity. Every last character in this story was nothing but a puppet in the hands of some evil puppeteer who took a cruel joy in tangling the strings of their fates to the point of utter destruction.
Interspersed with the narrative were parts of the script for David’s new show, Black Hansel. Apparently, said play is supposed to be some socio-critical contemplation about the influence immigrants of European descent had on Tasmania in general. I couldn’t figure out how it featured into the story proper. To be in keeping with the times, maybe? Anyway, I found that script convoluted and mindless like some 60’s popsong lyrics written on LSD.
This book was very hard for me to rate. On the one hand, I found the writing in and of itself very good. The Tasmanian countryscape, the weather, the farm life, even the livestock on the farm were all cleverly instrumentalized to create a sense of dread, a suspenseful apprehension that kept me turning pages, that kept me wanting to know what was going to happen next even though I actually really didn’t want to witness the next catastrophe.
I can clearly see how people might take to this book’s intellectual writing style, I can see how some might consider this book to be of literaric value. Perhaps it is, I didn’t much care. I didn’t like this book, plain and simple. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, what a pathetic drama!
The three stars I rated this book are for the second part of this site’s definitions for a 3-star-rating, “might be of interest for readers of the genre”. Whoever thinks about picking up this book, consider yourselves warned.