Joe Lansdale’s new novel, Edge of Dark Water, can be characterized as Huckleberry Finn on steroids (an easily imagined image for today’s sports fans), but a more apt categorization of the book is one author Joe Hill uses for it: hillbilly noir. I love that term and the image it creates.
Set in rural East Texas, an area Joe Lansdale calls home, this depression-era novel recounts the very personal quest that16-year-old Sue Ellen, her alcoholic mother, and Sue Ellen’s two closet friends embark upon, one that involves perilous journey along the path of the surprisingly treacherous Sabine River. Sue Ellen, Terry (the town “sissy”), and Jinx (a teenaged black girl) are close despite the prejudice and rigid segregation of the times, and they are determined to spread the ashes of the town’s recently murdered beauty queen in Hollywood where she had always dreamed of becoming a film star. Sue Ellen’s mother, needing to flee her old life before it kills her, insists upon going with them.
Lansdale is quick to set the tone of Edge of Dark Water. The novel opens on the banks of the Sabine where Sue Ellen’s father, who has decided that electrocuting fish is too much work, is busy poisoning them so that Sue Ellen and Terry can drag them out of the river for him. When local beauty May Lynn’s bloated body is dragged to the bank from the bottom of the river, things take a nasty turn that will have the reader rapidly turning pages for the rest of the novel.
|Joe R. Lansdale|
Just as Sue Ellen and her two friends begin to question their joint decision to go to Hollywood, the decision is snatched from their hands and they are forced run for their lives, May Lynn’s ashes in tow. Along the way, these Twain-like characters will meet, and often face-off with, some of the most interesting new scoundrels and villains any reader is likely to run into in any of this year’s new books, including super-villain, Skunk – a man who smells so bad that his victims often know he is around long before they see or hear him.
One suspects that Twain would be pleased to be mentioned in association with a novel like Edge of Dark Water because Joe Lansdale has created a story here that is every bit as funny as it is terrifying, much like what Twain did with Huckleberry Finn. In a novel filled with unforgettable characters, it is remarkable that even the book’s minor ones are memorable. Do not miss Edge of Dark Water.
Rated at: 5.0
(Review Copy provided by Publisher)