EDGE OF DARK WATER by Joe Lansdale
For the last few years, Texas writer Joe Lansdale has been writing books about what most people consider to be the “good old days.” Only Lansdale is showing his readers that those “good old days” were filled with murder and desperation, and a scattering of heroes who had no other way to survive other than to save themselves.
No one writes small town America west of the Mississippi River better than Joe Lansdale. He creates small towns everyone has lived in or scene in one fashion or another, and he fills them with people that are at once recognizable. And he gives his readers, for the most part, young people who are growing up in the world and trying to understand their roles and how that world truly works. Along the way, these characters – their innocence already tattered by life in general – are subjected to rough handling that further abrades that purity.
In most of these novels – The Bottoms, A Fine Dark Line, and Lansdale’s first YA novel, All the Earth, Thrown to the Sky – feature compelling young characters. In Edge of Dark Water, sixteen year old Sue Ellen is the narrator. Like Huck Finn, she’s pretty much alone in the world and on her own, striving to keep her life intact, and one of the predators she has to fight against is her own father.
The books deliberately shadows Huck Finn’s own story in many ways. Lansdale has been very forthcoming about this, but he provides his own riff on the tale. There is a river trip by raft, and there are vicious scoundrels chasing after Sue Ellen for a treasure.
Lansdale’s mysteries always offer a lot of twists and turns that are redemptive and illustrative, bringing home new truths to the characters that the readers can tune in to as well. I liked the character of Sue Ellen a lot. She was hard-nosed and vulnerable, knew herself and yet was confused by what she was doing and why sometimes. And she wasn’t at all sure how she felt about her drunken mother during most of the novel.
Like Sue Ellen’s raft and her motley group of friends, I was swept along in this adventure/mystery, trying to stay one step ahead of the bad guys (one of whom is almost supernatural) and figure out who killed May Linn Baxter, the prettiest girl in town. I loved the way the swamplands and nature came to life all around the protagonists. I’ve traveled the bottoms in Oklahoma and know they’re a lot the same, spooky as all get-out at night, and beautiful as you’d wish during the daylight.
Edge of Dark Water is a read that will take you away to another place, another time, thrill you and chill you, and throw you a handful of curveballs for good measure before the voyage is done.