It’s easy to view the times we live in as apocalyptic even if you aren’t a religious believer. Climate change is, of course, the number one reason for that, but the problem there is that you have to believe in it, so any apocalyptic reaction to it is going to come from left-leaners who have confidence in science.
Politically, though, the right and the left share a lot more common ground, though they attribute the woes to different groups. One thing they do seem to agree on is of a conspiratorial nature behind the scenes, a virtual police state that we all live in, overseen by, depending on what part of the political spectrum you fall on, the Deep State or fascist-leaning Republicans or Corporate Democrats or Neo-Liberals or hidden Socialist liberals or I don’t even know who else.
I’ve not seen that particular aspect of modern American life captured as well as Eleanor Davis does in The Hard Tomorrow. There’s a mist winding through the book’s drama, the cloud of paranoia, and it creates a philosophical union amongst the different sections of the book. The mist brings together the fears and hopes of various characters as they face what seems like insurmountable odds to save the world, or survive the end of it, at the cost of their own choices, their own personal moments.
Particularly enveloped by this mist is Hannah, who lives on a plot of land in a van with her husband Johnny. She’s trying to get pregnant while Johnny builds their house, though he’s a sweet stoner who’s not attending to that task as vigorously as Hannah wants. Hannah makes a living as a home care worker and spends the rest of her time away from home with an activist group that holds intense meetings talking about the police state and takes to the streets for vigorous protest.
Hannah is preoccupied by Gabby, a member of the group, to the degree that she starts copying Gabby’s haircut and their friendship begins to take on a flirty aspect that Hannah seems partly oblivious to. Gabby questions Hannah’s determination to have a baby given the current state of the world, while Hannah counters that it’s in the service of providing hope, and in being so, it’s no different from their activism.
Johnny, meanwhile, gets help on the house from a friendly right-wing survivalist, Tyler, much to Hannah’s dislike. Tyler spends a lot of time talking about the surveillance culture of the government and his belief that civilization is falling apart. His concerns aren’t that different from the activist group, though culled from a different online source as theirs.
Eventually, shit does hit the fan, but it’s not necessarily exactly what everyone involved expects it to be — and humans being humans, not everyone reacts as you’d imagine. That’s because Davis has chosen to portray her characters as multi-faceted human beings rather than types, any of whom have aspects you might like and you might dislike, and this leads to more than a few conflicted reactions to what happens in The Hard Tomorrow.
It’s a compilation of moments spent with other people, where you connect one time, but are faced with your divisions another. It’s confusing and it’s something that a lot of people are facing in this age of digital openness, where you know all aspects of any given person all at once, far beyond your personal relationship. It’s the hard part about dealing with other humans.
But also Davis seems to be asking how someone can seem nice but also do the wrong thing? How can you like someone who also does something you are fundamentally opposed to? How can you connect with someone who might also harm you? Are you political beliefs something separate from who you are? Or are they at your core? And how do you rectify these contradictions?
The Hard Tomorrow ends on a hopeful note, but the mist still lingers and manifests in the the idea that this paranoia the characters feel might not all be misguided. Davis suggests that in order to get through this life, you have to embrace the joy that occurs in your personal world and not let whatever exists on the outside dictate that area of your life. Change happens in small increments, at least on the side of the people, and that change is the result of the very small victories each person makes apart from the sweeping tidal wave of history. You need something to help you look forward rather than focus on how you are drowning.