Monday, November 4, 2013

Review: "The Thicket" by Joe R. Lansdale

Any new book by Joe R. Lansdale is cause for celebration, and having just finished The Thicket today, this time is no different. It continues this strange legacy he has been building for the past 30 years he has been writing. It is a legacy built on a lot of heart, a lot of gumption and a lot of guts, most of the time literally. You are not going to find a more unique experience in literature than the one that he provides for you, whether it is a scary and down right skin crawling one in novels like The Nightrunners or the story Night They Missed They Horror Show, or something a lot bit stranger and weirder like his trilogy of Drive-In novels, I have encountered no other writer who is better able to take me on a long journey into another world that is both archaic and completely new. His talent is also the kind that can change and adapt over time, as evidence by his most recent published books. The Thicket, much like his last novel, Edge of Dark Water, shows a great maturing in the themes that he is dealing with. Rarely are there any outright horror elements (although there are some that are downright horrible), and the seriousness in which things unfold show in the love he has each of his characters, and the need to do them justice by portraying them honestly. But rarely is there a boring moment. These new novels of Lansdale are coming-of-age fables set in distant times, with lots of intrigue and complexity. The story focuses on Jack who, along with his sister, have come upon some really rough times at the turn of the 20th century: both of their parents have succumbed to small pox, his widowed grandfather is forced to send them to unknown relatives, and on the way his grandfather is killed and his sister is captured by a brutal gang of outlaws with the worst intentions. Jack, alone, must seek the help of a weird duo made up of an alcoholic ex-slave named Eustace and a tougher-than-he looks midget named Shorty with a poor attitude and a short temper. What begins as an uneasy alliance based on Jack giving away everything he has, becomes a deeply moral story about right and wrong, and how forces of nature can guide us into making decisions we will regret. We witness the ambiguous hatred Jack has in his heart for the people that kidnapped his sister and murdered his grandfather, but in moments of urgency, like when Eustace and Shorty are interrogating a man by nailing his manhood to a chair, he falls back on his religion, and questions whether killing is the right thing to do. It’s really the deepest Lansdale has gotten in any of his stories, and it shows how serious he has gotten as he has aged. But this book still has its fun moments, many involving people underestimating Shorty’s potential for harm, to their unending regret. Violent and funny, sometimes simultaneously, The Thicket is a good place to start with Lansdale. A great world awaits.
Rating: 5/5

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