Friday, February 5, 2021

Review of The Thicket by Joe Lansdale

Despite that more than a century has passed since the wild west was the wild west, stories set in the era continue to put asses in the seats—perhaps not in the same numbers as a few decades ago, but there isn't a year that goes by that the western genre sees participants across all media. Coming at the reader with bbq sauce dialogue, a hand of jacks, deuces, and kings as characters, and an undeniable authorial voice is Joe Lansdale's The Thicket (2013).

Tarantino with a splash of Cormac McCarthy and Texas drawl, The Thicket tells the coming-of-age story of sixteen-year old Jack Parker after his family is hit with one piece of bad luck after another. A pox descending upon Jack's town at the outset, it quickly takes his mother and father, leaving him to abandon his family farm with his grandfather and younger sister to start a new life elsewhere. Tragedy besetting their journey, Jack is left alone, burning red with revenge. A classic Western setup, what follows is a bloody manhunt that sees Jack collect a hard-edged, unlikely set of characters who have their own stake in the game.

Let's get it out of the way: if you enjoy Tarantino, do yourself a favor and get The Thicket. Lansdale has his own style, but the book is very much in the vein of Django. And it starts with dialogue. Again, Lansdale has his own way with words, but both place character interaction, interspersed with bloody action scenes, at the forefront. Reading, and subsequently hearing Jack, Shorty, Eustace, Jenny Sue and Major talk in the mind's ear, is the joy of reading. Not for the feint of heart, their talk has a real-world edge that a lot of other writers shy away from, but which nevertheless comes across as nothing but genuine for being so willing to represent the harsh realities of life. Despite that the base plot is tried and true, the novel as a whole is unique for the manner in which the characters are brought to life through their words and decisions.

I mentioned a splash of McCarthy. This is largely due to the moral landscape the characters traverse on their way to a notorious gang hideout in the wilds of Texas. When life gives you lemons make lemonade putting it lightly, Jack and his crew encounter the harshest of realities, realities that put to the test his youthful belief in Christianity. As in No Country for Old Men, Lansdale posits there are bad people in the world who thoughtlessly do bad things to others without a drop of compassion. What moral foundation does a person then have to stand on? Lansdale, like McCarthy, comes to a sobering conclusion, but a practical one.

In the end, The Thicket is superb, line by line reading. Lansdale does the characters' voices superbly, telling a bloody Western that achieves more then the average John Wayne film through witty, colorful dialogue and gory shoot outs. Fans of Tarantino should head straight to their friendly local bookseller and find a copy. Lansdale writes in his own style, yet affinity undeniable exists--westerns being westerns, notwithstanding.

No comments:

Post a Comment