“The man was as big as Grandpa, easily half his age, and he had a face that looked to have been shaped with a rock and a stick wielded by an angry circus monkey. He was scarred up and his nose was bent and one of his eyes had a lid that drooped over it about halfway, so that his peeper seemed sneaky all the time.”
-Joe R. Lansdale, The Thicket
Damn, if Joe R. Lansdale isn’t one of the best writers of first-person fiction, I don’t know who is. This story follows the misadventures of Jack Parker, a 16-year-old boy from East Texas, as he enlists a ragtag group of trackers to help him find his kidnapped sister, Lula. I don’t believe it’s specifically stated, but the book takes place around 1915, during an smallpox outbreak. Lansdale’ characters just leap off the page. This is a motley crew that sets out on this quest, to be sure. A sheriff, a prostitute, a star-gazing sharpshooting dwarf, and a gigantic hog named Hog, among them. These are truly wonderful characters, something Lansdale just excels at. That, and the crackling dialogue, which takes up huge portions of this novel.
Lansdale writes true-to-life dialogue in a part of the country where, at the time this story is set, racism was a deeply entrenched value for some. To that end, be prepared to read the n-word countless times. I recently listened to an interview with Lansdale and he was asked about this very subject. He is a hardcore social rights activist, and is horrified by racism (having grown up with a racist father). That said, he feels like he cannot write about this time period, and ignore what it was truly like for black people. There are also traces of feminism and environmentalism in his work, as well as some sweet sentiments about the mistreatment of animals.
The Thicket is quite dark, very funny, and also graphically violent. At the heart of it, it’s a very touching book about a group of people banding together to try and do the right thing, whatever their particular motivations are.