Thoughts about reading and writing after reading a Joe R. Lansdale book

19 Jul


As I said, he and his son looked a lot alike, but now that I could see Pye more clearly, I should add that though their resemblance was strong, the elder Anthony’s face seemed to hold his past in it, and by that I mean there was something about that face that made me feel even weaker and more lost than I had a moment before. In the dark it was hard, in the light it was a place of ruin. There were bad deeds there, embedded in his flesh like scars; in fact, there were actual scars, and I had seen enough wounds to know that most likely they had come from a knife fight. They stitched little patterns across his cheeks and forehead, like maybe Dr. Frankenstein had put him together in a hurry.

From Hot in December by Joe R. Lansdale

So, that’s pretty good, right? Wow. This is from a very simple and effective novella-length crime thriller I read yesterday. The book is nothing fancy–just a fast-moving story of a normal guy whose family is suddenly in great danger from a gang of vicious criminals led by this Anthony father and son. For the most part, Lansdale doesn’t mess around with all kinds of fancy sentences and paragraphs with descriptions and thoughts and crap. But, every once in a great while he will stop the incredible momentum of his narrative to give a sentence or two like the one I just quoted. Just enough, just enough words to really give us the perfect idea of what kind of people and situations and stakes we are dealing with. When I read that passage, I actually felt scared myself for a moment.

Okay then, this is what I like, what I like to read and write. Entertaining fast-moving unpretentious crime fiction. Books where I don’t have to feel that horrible effort of reading, but instead, am fascinated from the first sentence and paragraph by what is being told, and just can’t stop reading to find out what happens next.

I guess that means I’m low or middle-brow in my basic taste (though I’ve read and enjoyed a lot of fiction considered ‘literary’ and high quality), and in my artistic/creative ambitions. However, no one can tell me that what Lansdale does here isn’t creative, artistic, original, and, somehow, new, and that it doesn’t help us to look at the world around us with a little more clarity, a little more light. Don’t even try to tell me that cause I’ll just get all prickly.

I get this experience all the time  in my genre reading, even the most pulpy and trashy. I mean, how can one ever write with the clarity and skill it takes to compel a reader to keep turning pages without also being able to say what needs to be said in exactly the right way?







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