Tuesday, August 27, 2013

REVIEW: The Thicket by Joe R. Lansdale


Love and vengeance at the dark dawn of the East Texas oil boom from Joe Lansdale, "a true American original" (Joe Hill, author of Heart-Shaped Box).

Jack Parker thought he'd already seen his fair share of tragedy. His grandmother was killed in a farm accident when he was barely five years old. His parents have just succumbed to the smallpox epidemic sweeping turn-of-the-century East Texas--orphaning him and his younger sister, Lula.

Then catastrophe strikes on the way to their uncle's farm, when a traveling group of bank-robbing bandits murder Jack's grandfather and kidnap his sister. With no elders left for miles, Jack must grow up fast and enlist a band of heroes the likes of which has never been seen if his sister stands any chance at survival. But the best he can come up with is a charismatic, bounty-hunting dwarf named Shorty, a grave-digging son of an ex-slave named Eustace, and a street-smart woman-for-hire named Jimmie Sue who's come into some very intimate knowledge about the bandits (and a few members of Jack's extended family to boot).

In the throes of being civilized, East Texas is still a wild, feral place. Oil wells spurt liquid money from the ground. But as Jack's about to find out, blood and redemption rule supreme. In The Thicket, award-winning novelist Joe R. Lansdale lets loose like never before, in a rip-roaring adventure equal parts True Grit and Stand by Me--the perfect introduction to an acclaimed writer whose work has been called "as funny and frightening as anything that could have been dreamed up by the Brothers Grimm--or Mark Twain" (New York Times Book Review).

Hardcover, 352 pages
Expected publication: September 10th 2013 by Mulholland Books
ISBN 031618845X (ISBN13: 9780316188456)

About the Author
from his website

Champion Mojo Storyteller Joe R. Lansdale is the author of over thirty novels and numerous short stories. His work has appeared in national anthologies, magazines, and collections, as well as numerous foreign publications. He has written for comics, television, film, newspapers, and Internet sites. His work has been collected in eighteen short-story collections, and he has edited or co-edited over a dozen anthologies. He has received the Edgar Award, eight Bram Stoker Awards, the Horror Writers Association Lifetime Achievement Award, the British Fantasy Award, the Grinzani Cavour Prize for Literature, the Herodotus Historical Fiction Award, the Inkpot Award for Contributions to Science Fiction and Fantasy, and many others. His novella Bubba Hotep was adapted to film by Don Coscarelli, starring Bruce Campbell and Ossie Davis. His story "Incident On and Off a Mountain Road" was adapted to film for Showtime's "Masters of Horror." He is currently co-producing several films, among them The Bottoms, based on his Edgar Award-winning novel, with Bill Paxton and Brad Wyman, and The Drive-In, with Greg Nicotero. He is Writer In Residence at Stephen F. Austin State University, and is the founder of the martial arts system Shen Chuan: Martial Science and its affiliate, Shen Chuan Family System. He is a member of both the United States and International Martial Arts Halls of Fame. He lives in Nacogdoches, Texas with his wife, dog, and two cats.

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My Thoughts
I didn't suspect the day Grandfather came out and got me and my sister, Lula, and hauled us off toward the ferry that I'd soon end up with worse things happening than had already come upon us or that I'd take up with a gun-shooting dwarf, the son of a slave, and a big angry hog, let alone find true love and kill someone, but that's exactly how it was.
I thought this one of the most intriguing opening paragraphs of all time.

Sixteen-year-old Jack and his younger sister Lula have just lost their parents to "the Pox", and their Grandfather is taking them to live with a family member, when further tragedy befalls them, killing Jack's grandfather and leaving his sister kidnapped by ruffians. Jack hooks up with several oddball characters who, with the promise of future payment, set out on a quest to help him track down his sister.

I wasn’t a fan of the first half of this story. I even noted at times that it was rather “mundane” early on. It wasn’t what I was hoping for, having been dazzled and thrilled after being exposed to his last book Edge of Dark Water. Even the dwarf in this story, which I thought was a quirky addition, instead felt boring and annoying in the beginning. (By the end, I was in love with him. The handsome Shorty is no joke, and by the end of the story, the fact that he is “a midget” is moot. You almost forget the fact. He is simply an intelligent, thoughtful and loyal hero.)

I love the author's turn of a phrase. It courts me.
Pox ran all through the town like it was looking for money. (p. 11)
As Jimmie Sue says, you don’t always remember it so much the way it was as how you thought it was. (p. 237)
At times his expressions and descriptions can be bawdy and crass, or even offensive, but rarely fail to entertain.
Had she been willing and not Winton’s wife, then I could have got past that face, which was like a hatchet to the soul. (p. 165)
...he had a face that looked to have been shaped with a rock and a stick wielded by an angry circus monkey. (p. 21)
Jack is a likable character, caring only about getting his sister back, even if she is changed and damaged by the experience. He is an ethical boy, having been raised with the strong influence of an evangelical grandfather. At one point, he compares coffee and sin:
When I was young and had my first taste of it I found it bitter and nasty, but later on I learned to like it by putting a little milk in it, and then I learned to like it black. Sin is like that. You sweeten it a little with lies, and then you get so you can take it straight. I just didn’t want to do it all the way. I wanted to keep a little milk in it. (p. 187)
Jack is joined by a young prostitute Jimmie Sue who decides to leave the brothel in an attempt to go straight. The band of criminals who kidnapped Lula are especially loathsome and ruthless, and leave a trail of destruction in their wake.

I have to note that I'm under the assumption that “the N word” is used regularly in Texas. Otherwise I'm not sure why it is used so heavily in the author's writing. I understand that it sometimes must be used for authenticity, which makes me wonder whether the use in his stories is to bring authenticity, because that's just how people talk in much of Texas? (Or at least it was common back when this story took place.) I don't know, but be forewarned.

My final word: This is my second Lansdale story, and he is a premier storyteller. Outrageous and raucous, his stories have an offbeat flair and peculiar characters. His stories are not for the easily-offended or overly-sensitive. You have to go into them with humor. I enjoyed the second half of this story more than the first half, and loved the ending (found it very satisfying). For some reason that I can't put my finger on, this story felt like a "short story" that would be found in a collection of stories (although it is actually too long to be a "short story"). Provocative and entertaining, I would recommend this to fans of southern lit who don't take themselves too seriously.

Cover: A-
Writing Style: B
Characters: B+
Storyline/Plot: B
Interest/Uniqueness: A

My Rating: B+


I received a copy of this book to review through Netgalley, in exchange for my honest opinion. I was not financially compensated in any way, and the opinions expressed are my own and based on my observations while reading this novel. The copy I received was an uncorrected proof, and any quotes may differ from the final release.

1 comment:

Kitty said...

Hey! I like your site..I'm a fellow book worm, also stuck in redneck world lol. Joe Landsdale is actually apart of a kickstarter campaign right now and I'm trying to reach out to as many fans as possible. A 5 dollar pledge will get you an ebook of his! So I thought I would pass it along to you if you were interested! http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/chrismorey/black-labyrinth-book-ii-joe-r-lansdale

Thank you so much!! Let's keep the books alive!