Heading South

During the month of May I gave up television and I quickly found my usual screen hours filled up by reading. I went to my usual comfort zone and re-read some great fantasy (Tad Williams, Brent Weeks, etc). I immersed myself in make-believe worlds and while I am not sure this is any less escapism than television would have been it was still quite enjoyable. For our next book review David suggested we leave the science fiction genre and read a novel by Joe Lansdale called Edge of Dark Water. He told me it was “sort of a mystery” and that sounded fine to me.

The lyrical southern prose and the stark landscape of the East Texas during the depression made for an interesting an enjoyable contrast to my recent glut of fantasy. The story centers around Sue Ellen, a 16 year old girl from a poor family, and her rather bizarre journey down the Sabine river, which starts with cremating her friend. Oddly enough when I read literature I have to suspend my disbelief even more than when I read fantasy. Several times during the narrative I had to remind myself that it was a story. I admit that I also found myself a little distracted with wondering about allusions to other literary works. It is hard not to draw comparisons to Huckleberry Finn when the book is about a raft ride down a river while running away and just as I started wondering if the book was following the journey of the Odyssey the characters start to discuss the Lotus Eaters. I couldn’t decide if this meant the journey was supposed to compare to the Odyssey and Mr. Lansdale really didn’t want the reader to miss out on that or if he realized there might be similarities and didn’t want the reader to go down that path. There were scenes with very vivid imagery and I kept wondering if I was missing some symbolism. Also I had a hard time getting past the whole “digging up our friend and burning her body” part of the story. I’m guessing that would be a lot more work than the way it was described.

I was probably over thinking it, but it was still distracting.

Which doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the story. When I sat down to read Edge of Dark Water I was hooked immediately and the voice of the book sounded a little like Robert McCammon and a little like James Lee Burke, which made me feel like I was going to like Joe Lansdale’s works. Sue Ellen and her friends , Jinx the poor,sharp-tongued black girl and Terry the smart and neat “sissy”,  almost verge on character cut outs, but they manage to escape this fate by being interesting. The first chapter set the tone by describing Sue Ellen’s life and finding a body in the river. The body count gets pretty high as the story unfolds and you start to realize that this is less of a murder mystery and more of a gothic horror novel. As the friends, plus Sue Ellen’s mother, travel down they river they are pursued by Sue Ellen’s father, the Law, and a mysterious bounty hunter who they all hope is just a legend. It was a great read and I finished the second half in one sitting. I didn’t put it down not because I was dying to see what happened, but because I was pulled in to the story and just floated along until there were no more pages to read.

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