Friday, May 13, 2016

Lansdale at his best

The versatile and prolific East Texas author Joe R. Lansdale is at his best in his adolescents-in-peril thrillers, such as The Bottoms, A Fine Dark Line and The Thicket.  Add Edge of Dark Water (2012) to that list.

May Lynn, a Texas beauty, dreams of Hollywood stardom. When her body turns up in the Sabine River, a Singer sewing machine tied to her leg, three of her young friends, each with his or own reasons for fleeing their impoverished rural community, decide to take her ashes to Hollywood. When they find some money stolen by May Lynn's brother, their journey becomes feasible. It also becomes dangerous because others want that money. One of these is a sadistic killer called Skunk, thought to be just a local legend until he turns out to be frighteningly real.

The three friends -- Sue Ellen, our narrator, who has an abusive father; Jinx, a black girl with a sharp tongue, and a homosexual boy named Terry -- are joined by Sue Ellen's mother, also eager to escape her abusive husband. On their way downriver they encounter a minister burdened with guilt and an evil old woman who redeems herself by saving Terry's life.

The novel makes a thrilling ride, yet it is also something of a literary feast. Lansdale's fine prose often calls for rereading and then rereading again.

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