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Joe R. Lansdale
If the Coen brothers’ film version of “True Grit” gave readers an appetite for more underage period Western bounty hunting, East Texas writer Joe R. Lansdale is eager to oblige.
“[O]ne thing for sure, this ain’t your day,” the retiring deputy of Sylvester, Texas, tells Jack Parker. He doesn’t know the half of it. After Jack’s parents are carried off by smallpox, his grandfather packs Jack, 16, and his sister, Lula, 14, onto a wagon and heads for their Aunt Tessle’s in Kansas. The wagon makes it only halfway across the Sabine River on a suspiciously expensive new ferry when three men spoiling for a fight shoot Caleb Parker and the ferryman, leave Jack in the river and ride off with Lula.
Jack’s obligation to rescue his sister is clear, but the means aren’t, until he runs into tracker Eustace Cox — part black, part Comanche, and maybe a hint of Parker mixed up in him — and his buddy Reginald Jones, a philosophical dwarf everyone calls Shorty. Offering to swap the deeds for his family’s land for some timely assistance in dealing with “Cut Throat Bill” and “Fatty Worth,” Jack interests the unlikely pair in his quest. Soon enough, they’re joined by Jimmie Sue, a prostitute; Winton, ex-rancher, ex–bounty hunter and ex-sheriff; Spot, his assistant back in the Sylvester jail; and Hog, Eustace’s hog. The anecdotes and back stories that emerge among the group gradually reveal to Jack what he’s going to have to do to rescue Lula.
“The Thicket” is alternately violent and tender, with a gently legendary quality that makes this tall tale just about perfect.
Joe Lansdale will speak and sign copies of his new book at 7 p.m. Thursday at BookPeople, 603 N. Lamar Blvd. Kasey Lansdale will speak and sign copies of “Impossible Monsters.”
Amor and Psycho
Erotic, whimsical, profound — almost all of Carolyn Cooke’s stories illustrate what Matthew Arnold terms “the eternal note of sadness.”
In “Francis Bacon,” the narrator hangs out at “Bob’s House … the largest private residence in Manhattan,” an obvious allusion to Bob Guccione, founder of Penthouse magazine. He’s hired the narrator to shape up the quasi-erotic ramblings of the feckless Laya, who serves as the “grand prize” in a contest Bob dreams up. “Aesthetic Discipline” introduces us to Karim Brazir, the narrator’s “alluring, sexy, [and] passionate” lover, who takes her to visit his home in Hell’s Point, Long Island, for a weekend or two. There, she comes up against the sensibility of Karim’s ultramodernist parents, who inhabit a house with black bathrooms and minimalist furniture.
One of the best stories in the collection is “Amor and Psycho,” which features a pair of adolescents. Psyche, who renames herself “Psycho,” is a poet who freestyles brilliantly, though she readily admits her friend Harald Bugman is even “more whacked and brilliant.” After she accidentally runs over a baby in her car, Psycho does community service. The second part of the story features Georgie, the best friend of Harald’s mother, Babe, who’s trying to hang onto a life in which she deals with cancer and chemo.
Cooke writes with passion, empathy and considerable humor as her characters face life-changing issues of divorce, illness, self-destruction and impending death.