THE THICKET by Joe Lansdale
The Thicket is a story, a tall tale about Texas, about growing up, and about a world that used to be that somehow still lives out in the West and talks about a mindset that colors much of what people think and do. Joe Lansdale spins this story with gusto, getting the narrative tone pitch-perfect, painting characters that are real people who just happen to be larger than life – even Shorty, the midget.
The story is a simple one. You Jack Parker and his sister Lula have the great misfortune to run across hoodlums that kill their grandfather and kidnap Lula. Sixteen-year-old Jack Parker tries to get help for his sister, discovers that the local law isn’t going to do anything, and takes up with a couple of bounty hunters, the aforementioned Shorty and a big black man name Eustace who hangs around with six hundred pound hog called Hog.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Thicket, but the story has some raw and rough edges to it that people who prefer their stories bloodless and cleaned up might find offensive. Lansdale is an amazing storyteller with an ear for dialogue and a true understanding of hard-hearted men and survivors who know the world never truly becomes a place where the unwary may fearlessly tread. There’s always a price paid for living, and the people in this book pay it.
As I read, I enjoyed the story on several levels. It’s partially a quest story from fable, partially a road trip from present day, and partially a character study couched in something that smacks precisely of a Western but refuses to settle in comfortably there either. All said, I think the tale is a journey, equally teaching readers about the characters while pointedly making readers think for themselves too as young Jack Parker ponders on his various predicaments and calls to action.
The local color is spot on regarding small towns, backward places, and the unvarnished truth about people who lived in the old West. Lansdale knows that some of these things, good and bad, have not left the small towns that exist today, and parallels are drawn without being underscored.
Most readers will probably revile Shorty and Eustace, but come to understand and enjoy them as the story progresses in the same way Jack settles in with them. This is a great journey, a story that will take readers away from the world for a while.