There is another world, but it is in this one.

Paul Eluard. Œuvres complètes, vol. 1, Gallimard, 1968.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Reading Joe R. Lansdale: Days 2-3



THE BEST OF JOE R. LANSDALE


In the early 90s I read Lansdale and other splatterpunks. The subgenre was proudly adolescent. Fearless, in fact, as adolescents always like to describe themselves.

(It was a New Wave, and in my 20s I was always chasing waves.)

After the Horror Boom was driven into the ground by publishers' marketing departments,  Splatterpunk authors had to promote themselves. (Today we see this ghastly self-promotion everywhere on social media: a canon of chums.)

Eventually, in late 1994, I had a choice to make: packing for a move, I had room for M.R. James or a Paul M. Sammon anthology. I chose to take the James collection. As Frost intoned, "And that has made all the difference."

Lansdale is still standing, has bestsellers, a TV show, and a series of short fiction collections. Reading "The Folding Man" last night, stunned and in awe, I decided to read one of his collections.

GODZILLA'S TWELVE-STEP PROGRAM
A droll story. Better to die on your feet than live on your knees.

BUBBA HO-TEP
Are there ever enough works of fiction that really address poop in all its physical manifestations and roles in human life? The scatalogical has a key place in Lansdale's fiction. A recurring trope. Is it simply a sign of the adolescent's dream of scandalizing the bourgeois mother and father?
    "Bubba Ho-Tep," when the adult diaper vicissitudes and late-in-life poignancy are set aside, is a rollicking tale of two old gents going out in a blaze of glory for the sake of their community, and their own dignity.

MAD DOG SUMMER
What if "To Kill a Mockingbird" was about a Faulknerian serial killer in 1930s Jim Crow South? I'm not sure Lansdale isn't squeezing too hard on the coming-of-age theme; King's "The Body" is light-minded in comparison.
    Still, it contains this fine sentence: "There's no way to explain how bad it hurts to hear your father cry."

FIRE DOG
A perfect and perfectly ghastly comedy. Any description would dull it.

THE BIG BLOW
Another big Southern novella. The Galveston Hurricane.

DUCK HUNT
Black as the pit. Another coming-of-age tale, brief and shocking.

INCIDENT ON AND OFF A MOUNTAIN ROAD
I began by hating this story and ended giving author and woman protagonist a round of applause.
    The prurience and ugliness of woman-stalking slasher films, but with tables turned once, then twice.
    Still, the story to the reader asks:   How much can you take? After three pages I was ready to skip it. Glad I did not.

THE EVENTS CONCERNING A NUDE FOLD-OUT FOUND IN A HARLEQUIN ROMANCE
Wonderful x-ray of how a team of amateur working class crime-fighters come together for their first case.

WHITE MULE, SPOTTED PIG
Tall tale of a mule race in East Texas. Joyfully funny in its narrative rascality.

ON THE FAR SIDE OF THE CADILLAC DESERT WITH DEAD FOLKS
A Romero-style zombie Western. Lawman and prisoner versus living dead religious cult. Meh.

NOT FROM DETROIT
"Because I could not stop for death.."
    The car came even of the house just as lightning flashed, and in that instant, Alex got a good look at the driver, or at least the shape of the driver outlined in the flash, and he saw that it was a man with a cigar in his mouth and a bowler hat on his head. And the head was turning toward the house.

COWBOY
Just an old fashion slice of life.

STEPPIN' OUT, SUMMER, '68
A stunner. Brilliant, deadpan gallows humor. A coming-of-age story about two teens who - God, I hope - learn better. The third lad sure doesn't:

    ....Buddy poured some hooch into his palm and rubbed it into his hair, fanning his struggling squirrel-do into greater disarray. He gave the jar to Jake, got out his comb and sculptured his hair with it. Hooch ran down from his hairline and along his nose and cheeks. "See that," he said, holding out his arms as if he were styling. "Shit holds like glue."

Buddy seemed an incredible wit suddenly. They all laughed. Buddy got his cigarettes and shook one out for each of them. They lipped them. They smiled at one another. They were great friends. This was a magnificent and important moment in their lives. This night would live in memory forever.

Buddy produced a match, held it close to his cheek like always, smiled and flicked it with his thumb. The flaming head of the match jumped into his hair and lit the alcohol Buddy had combed into it. His hair flared up, and a circle of fire, like a halo for the Devil, wound its way around his scalp and licked at his face and caught the hooch there on fire. Buddy screamed and bolted berserkly into a pew, tumbled over it and came up running. He looked like the Human Torch on a mission.

Wilson and Jake were stunned. They watched him run a goodly distance, circle, run back, hit the turned over pew again and go down.

Wilson yelled, "Put his head out."

Jake reflexively tossed the contents of the fruit jar at Buddy's head, realizing his mistake a moment too late. But it was like when he waved at Sally's pa. He couldn't help himself.

Buddy did a short tumble, came up still burning; in fact, he appeared to be more on fire than before. He ran straight at Wilson and Jake, his tongue out and flapping flames.

Wilson and Jake stepped aside and Buddy went between them, sprinted across the church yard toward the street.

"Throw dirt on his head!" Wilson said. Jake threw down the jar and they went after him, watching for dirt they could toss.

Buddy was fast for someone on fire. He reached the street well ahead of Wilson and Jake and any discovery of available dirt. But he didn't cross the street fast enough to beat the dump truck. Its headlights hit him first, then the left side of the bumper chopped him on the leg and he did a high complete flip, his blazing head resembling some sort of wheeled fireworks display. He landed on the bridge railing on the far side of the street with a crack of bone and a barking noise. With a burst of flames around his head, he fell off the bridge and into the water below....

FISH NIGHT
Prehistoric ghosts.

HELL THROUGH A WINDSHIELD
Drive-In movie nostalgia.

NIGHT THEY MISSED THE HORROR SHOW
Lansdale's masterpiece. Unforgettably visceral, like the ache of a broken bone. The best expression since James M. Cain of the noir ethos: do what you will, you can't win.





Jay

17 October 2018

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