“The Hard Way: The Risky Business of Moving to Las Vegas” is one of the most talked about films from the 1990’s. Ecstatic when his parents go on vacation for just a couple of days, high school junior Joel Goodsen (Goodman) makes plans to elope with his girlfriend’s best friend, Miles. Unfortunately, after an unsuccessful attempt at getting the attention of a willing prostitute, Joel gets scared off by the amount of money his new bride’s ‘ex’ has to offer. Now, in an effort to earn some fast money, Joel launches his very own prostitution ring. However, in order to keep things running smoothly and make sure that everything goes according to plan, the couple must work out of their rental home.
“The Hard Way: The Risky Business of Moving to Las Vegas” follows the misadventures of Joel, Miles, and their friends as they try to make money in the dangerous business world of Las Vegas. The book begins by giving us an idea of what to expect in Las Vegas with regards to the recent global climate change. The weather reports are alarming as extreme weather events continue to occur with alarming frequency. Familiar cities like Atlanta, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Miami are seeing severe flooding, tornadoes, and windstorms. These and other extreme weather conditions will force many businesses and individuals to consider relocating to safer areas or building their businesses somewhere else.
So how does this risky business, still occurring in Las Vegas, affect Joel, Miles, and their friends? The book wisely spends much of its time examining the social dynamics of the city. While the climate change may have temporarily forced some residents into creating innovative ways to make money (like, say, living vending machines or cleaning hotel rooms), the city as a whole is still largely dependent on tourists. And when a tourist town suddenly experiences a natural disaster (a tornadoes in Orlando, or hurricane in Miami Beach), many residents are left displaced and anxious to find new places to go.
What makes The Hard Way, by Michael Chabon, an engaging read is that Chabon, who is a very likable guy, keeps the story light-hearted yet realistic. The humor is often shared between Miles and Joel, and sometimes it is provided by a character named Brickman (yes, you read that right) who provides the perfect counterpoint to the overly serious-looking, doctor-and-medicine physician. The humor, whether sarcastic or comical, flows freely and without unnecessary profanities, and at times, the characters use words that would make some adult blush. That’s why The Hard Way is Chabon’s best book since Born Rich, arguably his magnum opus: an imagining of how life could be if he had never been born.
One thing that does keep The Hard Way from being too dark is the fact that Chabon is a great storyteller and entertainer, and his use of everyday life is engaging. The setting is mostly located in two locations: Lake Michigan in southeastern Michigan and near what is now known as Grand Rapids, in northeast Michigan. The first part of the novel centers on the author’s family as they try to adjust to life after Rebecca’s death. We get a glimpse into their rural home life in a number of backwoods scenes, including some delightful interludes between old man and his wife, played by Rosemary Clooney and Dan Butler. The humor is sharp and sustained, especially in terms of Joel’s clueless friends.
But the best thing about The Hard Way, which was also written as a sequel to Born Rich, is that it takes the story in a direction that most novels don’t. Although many novels will have some level of romance between a main character and his or her love interest, usually those plots are contrived and boring. In Born Rich, by contrast, both characters are very close, living out their lives almost together. The fact that Joel’s friend Mikey is more of a reluctant figure than the hardworking stud of the book helps make it more effective. Whether you like or hate Born Rich, you’ll enjoy this witty and compelling follow-up to one of the country’s top selling novel.