"My grandma, the nasty old bag, who fortunately is dead now, claimed Daddy has what she called The Sight. She said he was gifted and could see the future some. I reckon if that was so, he'd have thought ahead enough not to get drunk when he was handling explosives and got his fingers blown off."
The engaging and slightly gregarious siren of an astute raconteur's conspiratorial tone allows a tightly packaged bit of exposition slip through and the grace and economy of that excerpt are representative of Lansdale's considerable gifts demonstrated throughout. How many things could we deduce about our story and characters just from this passage?
1 - Our narrator, Sue Ellen, deals with a degree of contention in her home life.
2 - She also has an independent streak to her thinking and a sense of humor which she uses to provide emotional distance from hard circumstances.
3 - She is probably her father's intellectual superior.
4 - Though he is a drunk, mutilated dynamite fisherman, her father cannot be taken for granted. Whether it's The Sight or not, his is a perspective that will demand, at least, a wary consideration from the reader.
5 - The reader can expect humor, spookiness and blood from this book (though I was hip to that from the name 'Lansdale' on the spine).
I gave up marking my favorite passages after 20 pages because they were legion and beginning to completely dominate the pages - to the point that I began to reconsider the unmarked passages - just what was wrong with them, anyhow? Why hadn't I just highlighted each page in a solid block? The writer in me wants to hate Joe Lansdale because he makes it look so darn easy, but the reader in me wins that debate handily every time and afterward seeks to placate the sulking writer by saying things along the lines of 'Joe makes it seem easy - but you know he strains at it like everyone'. Frankly, the writer in me isn't going to buy that line much longer, and the reader in me would be well advised to, instead, memorize the phone number for the Mexican joint up the street and just start ordering taco platters instead.
Edge of Dark Water opens with teenaged Sue Ellen discovering the soggy remains of her good friend May Lynn at the bottom of the river where her father and uncle are employing unconventional methods to catch fish. Daddy and Uncle Gene want to push May Lynn back to her watery resting place and forget she ever floated to the surface, and they probably would have had Sue Ellen not made such a fuss. Sue Ellen and her remaining friends Terry and Jinx know that poor, poor May Lynn was not long for her humble origins and would soon have become a movie star, if someone hadn't y'know got their murder on. They figure that the least they can do for her is dig her up, cremate her and take her ashes to be scattered about Hollywood, but it's not going to be easy.
They're traveling the river and they're not alone. Pursued by some very nasty characters, their journey is fraught with frightening episodes and harsh consequences, but Lansdale, man, he makes it go down smooth and easy, and you can add his latest to a long tradition of literature going back to Homer's Odyssey and what has perhaps become the signature American story form - the road (or river) narrative. From Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (to which Edge will doubtlessly be compared), and L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz to Jack Kerouac's On the Road or recently Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain, Cormac McCarthy's The Road and even 2012's The Dispatcher by Ryan David Jahn (check out this piece written by Jahn on the American road novel), it's a combination that slakes wanderlust while stoking and exploring existential anxieties (Sometimes I look at the stars and think they're just God's salt), on a practical level - explains geography and social issues and on a visceral level - keeps the plot literally moving.
A proper road novel will also never have a satisfying sequel because everything worth knowing about our hero will be revealed somewhere in the gauntlet, and every worthy foil to their character presented in favor or antagonism along the way. You think Lansdale held back? I think he took that template, sprinkled in elements from the backwood nasty of that James Dickey book, the steely, if premature, self-possession of a certain Charles Portis heroine, and the nightmarish relentlessness of Davis Grubb's The Night of the Hunter, whisked laconically in full Ambrose Bierce mode and zapped it with microwaves channeled through Ray Bradbury's REM stage.
Hard to say how much I enjoyed reading it. Now I want tacos.
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