Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Review of Edge of Dark Water by Joe R Lansdale (Mulholland, 2012)

It’s the early 1930s and Sue Ellen lives with her alcoholic mother and abusive father in a falling down house deep in rural East Texas.  Her best friends are Jinx, a local coloured girl, Terry, suspected of being a sissy, and May Lynn, who dreams of travelling to Hollywood and making it big in the movies.  One day, when fishing the Sabine river, Sue Ellen and Jinx snag the body of May Lynn, weighed down by a typewriter.  In her personal effects they find a map pointing to the location of loot stolen from a bank by May Lynn’s dead brother.  Sue Ellen, Jinx and Terry decide to find the money, dig up May Lynn and cremate her, and float down the river to the nearest town to catch a bus to Hollywood to scatter her ashes.  What they don’t count on is Sue Ellen’s mother tagging along, nor the attentions of other’s interested in getting their hands on the money who are prepared to use any means to obtain it.  Suddenly the trip down the river has become a battle for survival.

Edge of Dark Water is top draw country noir.  Lansdale writes in engaging prose, with a strong narrator’s voice that makes it feel as if it’s a transcript of porch-told yarn.  And that voice is very much that of sixteen year old girl coming of age.  Lansdale does all the basics very well - character development, sense of place and time, dialogue and plot.  The book is populated with real people, with the principles of Sue Ellen, the strong-willed, fast mouthed Jinx, and conflicted Terry, very well penned.  Lansdale’s particularly good at creating a sense of foreboding and tension, and writes great action sequences and unpleasant endings without descending into gratuitousness.  If you enjoyed Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell or Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin, then Edge of Dark Water is in the same mold - Southern, rural, coming of age tales laced with noir.  The story is not always perfect, and there are a couple of weak plot devices, but this is nonetheless superior storytelling.  I loved it from the first page to the last.

2 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Rob - Oh this does sounds like an excellent noir choice. Thanks for sharing your review.

Uriah Robinson said...

I loved The Bottoms, and promised myself I would read more of his stuff. Will try this one soon.