When I’m pushing Joe R. Lansdale’s The Bottoms on somebody, I’ll usually tell them that it’s in the same vein as To Kill a Mockingbird, kind of. Except it’s exciting, and has blood, and scary stuff. And those people, they usually come back and tell me, yep, that’s about the sum of it. And: where can I read the rest? Which means they’re ready for A Fine Dark Line, Sunset & Sawdust, that line of books — they evoke the region better than anybody else writing, and they’re also snapshots of a particular time, but they’re never that kind of nostalgic that whitewashes the era or gets all syrupy with sentimentality.
And, though Lansdale does tend to stick to the East Texas he knows, that’s not at all to limit him to being a ‘regional’ writer. Even (just) a ‘Texas’ or ‘southern’ writer. No, the issues he’s dealing with, always, they’re big, they’re human, they concern us all. What he’s always dealing with is how to be a good person in this world. And, sure, there’s blood, there’s killing — the imagery in Leather Maiden‘s far from pretty — but there’s always a kind of ethical boundary in his work, too. It doesn’t make you feel safe — that would be an insult (to Lansdale) — but it makes you trust him. And not that kind of trust where you know this writer’s so in love with his characters that he going to spoon feed them a happy ending, no. Never. But, every last time, every Lansdale I’ve read, you always go away satisfied. That this was right, this was proper.
So, those people I loan my precious hardback of The Bottoms to, they get turned on to the good stuff, and burn through it fast, and soon find themselves peeling through all the Hap & Leonards (that than which there’s maybe nothing more fun), and then, if they’re lucky, they get here, to this month. To The Edge of Dark Water. It’s Lansdale operating at his most authentic best. It feels like a story he had to tell, like it was scratching to get out. And, yeah, it’s being marketed as kin with Huck Finn, and rightly so, I think. Twain and Lansdale are cut from the same cloth, I suspect. But Lansdale’s got a lot more of the thriller writer in him than Twain ever did. He’s been writing mysteries too long to not incorporate that into everything he writes. And so it is here. You can call Dark Water picaresque and extract what commentary you want from it, of course, but at its center, it’s plain old solid storytelling. The kind that keeps you turning the pages, that gets you to inhale the book in two days. To skip your lunch hour so you can sit at your desk and go back to this place. So, this is less a review — I suck at actual reviews — and more just me, telling you that this book is worth picking up, is worth living in. It’s one of those that, after you close it, you realize that you’ve left a little piece of you in there with these people. And that you’d have it no other way.