Listened: The Thicket by Joe R. Lansdale, 2013, downloaded from Overdrive. Narrated by Will Collyer.
Typical Lansdale with a very well told tale. As I was listening to this I realized that Lansdale's main recurring theme is cruelty.
16-year-old Jack and his 14-year-old sister Lula have been orphaned in slightly-post-1900 East Texas. Their grandfather is taking them to the railroad for the three to make their way to Kansas to live with Grandad's last living child.
The family has to cross a swollen river and shares the ferry with a particularly unpleasant acting trio. The starch talking Grandad gets in a verbal altercation that turns to fisticuffs. The older man bests the younger, scarred man who draws a gun. A mini-shoot-out occurs and Grandad is shot dead. A sudden tornado flips the ferry. Jack washes up on one side of the river. Lula washes up on the other side of the river in custody of the unpleasant trio. "Uh-oh," thinks Jack. "I gotta rescue Lula from those murderous thugs."
Jack goes to nearest town to find the Sheriff but finds the bank robbed, the Sheriff murdered, and the Deputy cleaning out his desk before the lynch mob shows up. Jack ends up knocked unconscious during the a lynching scuffle and wakes to Eustace, the grave digger. Eustace sometimes does bounty work. Jack offers his and his dead grandfather's farms as payment for Eustace to rescue Lula. Eustace will take the job if his partner, Shorty will sign on.
Shorty is a dwarf. Shorty is an autodidact. Shorty had a tough life. Much is made of Shorty's ornery midget-ness and gun skills. Eustace is a big and tall. Eustace's Indian relatives taught him (some) tracking skills. When Eustace drinks he becomes violent. Eustace is black. Much is made of Eustace's blackness. Jack is religious and believes in true love, right and wrong, and justice. Much is made of Jack's naivety. Eustace's pal is a 600 pound boar named Pig. Pig stinks. Pig is his own pig. Much is made of Pig's pigness.
The quartet track one of the killers. Jack visits a prostitute, Jimmie Sue, who cajoles Jack into helping her leave her bordello without trouble from the pimp. Much is made of Jimmie Sue's initially unwelcome presence.
Things happen. Similes occur. Metaphors are drops of rain in a thunderstorm. Shooting. Sex. Horses. Texas. Really, really bad dudes. These bad dudes are Lansdale style Bad Dudes. You don't cross the street to avoid a Lansdale Bad Dude, you leave town to avoid a Lansdale Bad Dude. Lansdale Bad Dudes are awful people for who crucifixation is not a fitting punishment because they can only be nailed up one time.
Everything ends happily ever after except for child murder, multiple rapes, multiple murders, torture, animal abuse, cruel racism, cruel dwarf abuse, cruel ginger abuse, drownings, and bad food.
1. Of course it is East Texas. Where else would a Lansdale novel be? Besides Tarzan in Africa, of course.
2. Conversations between Shorty and jack remind me of Sea Wolf. Shorty hates people after all Shorty has endured and witnessed during life. Jack is still positive. Jack sees the bright side. While others question on whether Jack will really want his sister back he is unwavering.
3. The whole "damaged goods" view of women. Will the women be raped? Of course, they will. Lansdale does not shy from reality. But, as I read I wondered if he might follow the trite plot point of the kidnapped woman being rescued before she is "spoiled".
4. 4 gauge shotgun love. 4 gauge? That's dang near a punt gun. Video link one. Video link two.