Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Thicket by Joe R. Lansdale

“I didn’t suspect the day Grandfather came out and got me and my sister, Lula, and hauled us off toward the ferry that I’d soon end up with worse things happening than had already come upon us or that I’d take up with a gun-shooting dwarf, the son of a slave, and a big angry hog, let alone find true love and kill someone, but that’s exactly how it was.” ~Jack Parker, The Thicket

The Thicket is a dark and gory frontier tale about a boy out to rescue his sister, even though he’s not sure if there will be anything left to save.

Jack and Lula just lost their parents to smallpox, and when their grandfather loads up the wagon to deliver them to an unknown aunt, they discover someone’s gone and burnt the bridge over the river. The only way across is the brand new ferry, and Jack doesn’t like the way the other passengers are looking at his sister Lula. A twister hits the river just as Grandpa and one of the men start fighting, a gun is pulled, and next thing Jack knows, Grandpa’s shot, the ferry’s going down, one of the mules is flying through the air, and Jack’s separated from Lula and trying not to drown.

The cast of characters is truly a collection of sorry misfits, from Shorty the lonely and cynical little person, to Eustace the hog-owning drunk, to Jimmie Sue, retired prostitute and Jack’s true love. Lansdale’s language is rife with profanity yet lyrical—the story brings to mind the movie O Brother Where Art Thou, for the whimsicality and eccentric characters, as well as the TV show Deadwood, for the rough poetry, the quick violence, and the gore. There are no supernatural elements, but Jack’s coming-of-age tale has a Grimm’s fairytale feel.

The Thicket is a wonderful read for fans of dark western stories, anti-hero stories, and gritty coming-of-age tales. Very well written, and if you’re a wimp like me, you can skim over the gory parts without missing anything. (Note: Even if you do that, it’s still very R-rated—definitely not for the squeamish.)

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