Reading Week #4: ‘Edge of Dark Water’ by Joe R. Lansdale

Joe R. Lansdale is one of my top five authors – a favorite from way back. I’ve been reading his books since the late 80s, when I came across a couple of his books in a used book store, and was hooked. So, when it was time to pick the next book for our reading week, I knew that I wanted to review one of his books. Luckily, he had a new release, “Edge of Dark Water“.

“Edge of Dark Water” is a coming-of-age story set in East Texas in the Depression era, with all of the aspects of a classic Joe R Lansdale novel. Lansdale stories are known for their characterization, incredible use of dialog, and ability to immerse you in the world of the characters. ‘Edge’ doesn’t deviate from that winning formula. The three main characters, Sue Ellen, Jinx and Terry, are just leaving childhood, and starting to realize that the adult world isn’t all that great of a place to be, especially in their neighborhood, a poor area near the Sabine River in East Texas. Within a few pages, Lansdale draws the reader into their world, with easily visualized characters who seem like people you could meet anywhere, although in many cases you’d probably prefer not to. After a friend of theirs is killed, they find a treasure that she knew about, and decide to run away with the money and their friend’s ashes. The book details their trip down the Sabine, the people they encounter along the way, and the perils that they face.

The book is structured like a classic ‘journey’ novel, a close cousin to Mark Twain’s “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn“. However, Lansdale provides his plots with a bit more randomness than most authors are willing to allow – life often isn’t very structured (although we’d like to think it is), and Lansdale isn’t afraid to add that element to his stories. He also has a very good grasp of the realities of life, and his plots don’t strain credulity. Too many authors don’t follow through with the real-life consequences of the actions taken during the course of their plots. Not so with Lansdale – people in a fight get hurt, and the hurt lingers and has consequences. These style elements are in full force in “Edge of Dark Water”, and provide a refreshing dose of realism to the ‘journey’ trope.

While not my absolute favorite Lansdale – I’d have to give the nod to “The Big Blow”, “Sunset and Sawdust”, or “The Magic Wagon” – it has earned a place high on the list, and it’s one that I will revisit again. With a few more visits, it might move higher – the classics often reveal more with each retelling. My final thoughts? In some ways, “Edge of Dark Water” reminds me of Steinbeck’s “Cannery Row” – both are set in similar eras, with characters drawn from similar backgrounds. “Edge” is a bit grittier and in-your-face than “Cannery Row”, and while it has its humorous moments, like “Cannery Row”, ultimately “Edge” provides a much more realistic view of life as it likely was for those people at that time.

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