Bookshots: 'The Thicket' by Joe R. Lansdale
Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review
Who wrote it?
Joe R. Lansdale, best known for the novella Bubba Ho-Tep and the cult novel Cold in July.
Plot in a box:
Sixteen-year-old Jack Parker enlists a grave robber and dwarf bounty hunter to help him find his kidnapped little sister.
Invent a new title for this book:
You May Proceed to Diddle Yourself (Read the book to appreciate it.)
Read this if you liked:
Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy and Blood Meridian, anything by Mark Twain, Charles Portis’s True Grit and similar Westerns.
Meet the book’s lead:
Jack Parker is a self-described nineteen-year-old who is actually sixteen. He’s built in the same vein as Twain’s boy heroes.
Said lead would be portrayed in a movie by:
It’d be a great part for a young, unknown actor. If it were to be someone I’ve seen before, Asa Butterfield (Hugo, the forthcoming Ender’s Game) seems like a great choice.
Setting: Would you want to live here?
Well, it’s East Texas in the early 1900s, so absolutely. It’s a real rough-and-tumble, only-the-strong-survive type area. I dig.
What was your favorite sentence?
When I got back home Ma and Pa were both dead, and there was Lula out in the yard crying, a strangled chicken in one hand because she was setting about making dinner, even with them dead in the house.
Admittedly, I haven’t read all of Lansdale’s previous work. But, with over fifty published books (both novels and short story collections), that’s like saying I live in New York City but haven’t dined at all of the Big Apple’s restaurants. How could anyone do that?
Maybe reading fifty-some odd books isn’t the same as eating at a thousand different restaurants. No matter, though, because after reading The Thicket, the rest of Lansdale’s work has shot to the top of my must-read list.
I’ll tell you what, if you like dialogue – gritty, sharp, well-written dialogue – then The Thicket is a must-read. Lansdale’s dialogue isn’t only all those adjectives I just listed; it’s also one of the keys to the story. Lansdale does a hell of a job weaving crucial characterizations in between quotation marks, a skill he’s also shown off in his other work, but his description in other areas does lack a little bit. That doesn’t change the fact that Lansdale is one of the best dialogue scribes working in fiction right now, but it does take away from further developing the background of the story's most important characters and plot lines.
The Thicket reads like something in between a wet dream and a nightmare. It’s one of those stories that feel like old folklore being passed down from your grandfather around a campfire…if your grandfather was a B-movie film director with a wicked sense of humor and no filter. And by wicked, I mean dark. When you venture into Lansdale's dirty, seedy underworld, you know what you’re getting yourself into. The Thicket is no different, and it will not disappoint if you’re a longtime reader.
It also reads like an old Western fable or fairy tale, filled with dark, red, viscous blood and even darker humor. If you’re fainthearted, this may give you pause. There is a healthy, healthy dose of sex, violence and strong language. There’s some animal cruelty and racial slurs (it is East Texas circa early 1900s, after all). So, if you’re easily offended, think twice about The Thicket.
But that's a very minor nit on my part. Really, it's a nit that doesn't need to be a nit. I struggled to find something I didn't like about this book – aside from a little more backstory. The Thicket isn't The Great American Novel by any means, but it's hilarious if you find the humor, and it's a touching story about love and loss. It may be Lansdale's most complete work yet.
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