Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Book Review: The Best of Joe R. Lansdale

Even if you don’t think you’ve ever heard of Joe R. Lansdale, I bet you have. Have you seen Bubba Ho-Tep? Or perhaps watched the Masters of Horror episode Incident On and Off a Mountain Road? Well, both of those were adapted (pretty faithfully, I might add) from Lansdale stories. The witty, outrageous and unforgettable dialogue from Bubba Ho-Tep is pure Lansdale while the heart-stopping action in Incident shows he can build a terrifying story.

I was fortunate enough to receive an early review copy of The Best of Joe R. Lansdale, due out March 2010, which collects many of Lansdale’s most acclaimed, weird and wondrous stories! The collection features sixteen of Lansdale’s short stories, including the previously mentioned Bubba Ho-Tep, Incident On and Off a Mountain Road, as well as Mad Dog Summer (my personal favorite from this particular collection), Godzilla’s Twelve Step Program, the non-fiction Hell Through a Windshield and many more odd and outrageous stories!

Lansdale’s writing style ranges from shocking to sentimental, but always surprises with its down-home style and wicked wit. All of the stories contained in this collection are well worth reading. Lansdale’s outlaw-style writing, complete with colorful characters and provocative settings, pops from the pages and makes you eagerly beg for more remarkable tales. This is Texan storytelling at its best – rude, crude and offensive! His stories have a tall tale feel to them, and though they contain many unpleasant circumstances and characters there is also an underlying sentimentality to them. They are both sweet and sour, but leave the reader satisfied in the end.

My favorite story in the collection is Mad Dog Summer, about a young boy in backwoods 1930’s East Texas who finds himself caught up in a sinister and grisly murder mystery. The story is built around the legend of the Goat Man, who legend says roams the woods and preys upon wayward folk. This story sent chills up my spine, especially as told from the point of view of a young boy. The frightening images of the Goat Man standing on the edge of the woods pretty much made me want to dive under the covers. It also deals with issues of racism, harsh (in)justice, intolerance, growing up and learning to do the right thing no matter what. These themes and the well-drawn characters as well as the details that Lansdale incorporates into the story really pulled me in. I truly did not want to put this story down and had to read it from beginning to end!

The strength of Lansdale’s stories rest squarely on the shoulders of his colorful characters, who are usually piss-full of vinegar and colorful language. They mainly hail from the hearty backwoods of Texas or other rural places, living hard lives and encountering many strange creatures, including zombies, mummies and even albino mules. Lansdale breathes spectacular life into these characters as he has them encounter some truly extraordinary experiences. And then there is just the pure and unbridled imagination of Lansdale – where else can you find a crotchety old Elvis stuck in a convalescent home with a black JFK or Godzilla on the road to recovery from his propensity to destroy things? There is nothing in horror literature like the characters in a Joe Lansdale story, that’s for sure!

The Best of Joe R. Lansdale is a must-have book for the lover of the weird, the champion of the bizarre and the fan of the outrageous. If you are looking for a unique experience that will leave you equal parts stunned and nostalgic, frightened and amused, look no further than the “high priest of Texan weirdness” himself, Joe Lansdale.

In Lansdale’s own infamous words, “Come on in – the weirdness is fine.”

Order it on Amazon!

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