Sanctified and Chicken-Fried: The Portable Lansdale
Lansdale is Lansdale, his ownself, sanctified in the blood of the walking Western dead and righteously readable
Reviewed by Marc Savlov, Fri., June 26, 2009
SANCTIFIED AND CHICKEN-FRIED: THE PORTABLE LANSDALEby Joe R. Lansdale
University of Texas Press, 212 pp., $29.95
There's a lot of critical literary spew that gets splashed around every time the Texan summer sun goes hot enough to melt minds and inflame otherwise-incombustible readers: Erica Jong-inspired Fahrenheit brain-freeze, I call it, or "fear of frying." (The yawn-inducing "summer reading" is the more commonly bandied term.) If, however, your idea of a good beach read involves post-apocalyptic, bubba-centric, East Texan, multiple-Bram Stoker Award-winning short fiction, then this micro-omnibus of Nacogdoches' genre-hopping Joe Lansdale yarns is all you'll need. It's less a beach book, thank god, than a pond or crick or quarry read, compiling as it does Lansdale's best known – and frequently most disturbing – stories, every one of them a minimasterpiece of the short form. There's the incandescent, ink-stained horror of "Tight Little Stitches in a Dead Man's Back" (my own first introduction to Lansdale, circa 1988); the casual, perfectly captured redneck nightmare of "Night They Missed the Horror Show"; and, thanks to Don Coscarelli's film adaptation, Lansdale's most well-known novella, "Bubba Ho-Tep," which posits an unlikely nursing-home alliance between an aging Elvis Presley and a black man who may or may not be John F. Kennedy. (It gets weirder, trust me.) Lansdale continues to hurdle literary fence posts like an author being pursued by the unwanted shade of verbiage artist Edward Bulwer-Lytton. The deep-fried Southern twang (echoing no less than another great regionalist, Mark Twain) of "White Mule, Spotted Pig" is an intensely welcome revelation, and an excerpt from Lansdale's long out-of-print "young adult" (kinda sorta) novel The Magic Wagon shows more than a hint of Ray Bradbury's influence. Lansdale's been hailed, at varying points in his career, as the new Flannery O'Connor, William Faulkner-gone-madder, and the last surviving splatterpunk. He's none of those, of course; more than any other contemporary writer I can think of, Lansdale is Lansdale, his ownself, sanctified in the blood of the walking Western dead and righteously readable. Here's a tip: If you want to freak out that hot chick on the beach towel next to you, opener "Mister Weed-Eater" is as good a place to start as any. Just don't expect to get yourself any.