Tuesday, April 27, 2010
A Damn Fine Ride
(Image copyright Morning Star Press 2010)
The new edition of Joe R. Lansdale's By Bizarre Hands, called By Bizarre Hands Rides Again, may admittedly be for some a damn expensive ride, too. But, if I could and if I had the resources, I'd guarantee every damn copy sold down to the last damn, hard-earned red cent. Because MoJoe is worth it, and, beyond that, reading what Joe Lansdale writes, well, it's the kind of literature that gives back on your investment. And that's saying a hell of a lot these days. And By Bizarre Hands is one of Joe's absolute best. When I think of a collected works for Joe, you'd have to practically include this book in its entirety. It's not too many sluggers that can hit a grandslam homerun on their very first outing, but Joe did and still does. It's just the way the man works is all, you see? When you get Joe, that's what you get.
And that's why he's a classic, and that's why I've already ponied up my sweat-stained greenbacks. And I feel damn lucky to have done so. I had to wait a bit to order. Frankly I was shocked that the limited run of 300 copies wasn't already sold out. And I'm not saying all this to throw the product and numbers out there like I'm part of some marketing scam. To be honest, I'd do that for Joe, but he wouldn't want me to and doesn't need it. He's never pandered for profit and never will. He writes what he writes, he sells what he sells, and those in the know are all the better for it.
But the man's a classic, and there's no modern classic much better than this one.
I can't remember exactly when I first read Joe. It was sometime in my late twenties. But I do remember exactly the first Lansdale work I read: the short story "The Fat Man and the Elephant." (And, of course, the reason I bring it up is that this story is included in this collection.) And it includes one of the best openings to a story I've read yet:
"The signs went in relay and went on for miles. The closer you got to the place the bigger they became. They were so enthusiastic in size and brightness of paint it might be thought you were driving to heaven and God had posted a sure route so you wouldn't miss it. They read:
WORLD'S LARGEST GOPHER!
SEE THE SNAKES! SEE THE ELEPHANT!
BUTCH'S HIGHWAY MUSEUM AND EMPORIUM!
But Sonny knew he wasn't driving to heaven" (99).
That last line says it all, doesn't it? You're just reading a rip-roarin' little colloquial tale, and BANG! You're shot dead with a thematic power you didn't think such Southwestern-honed weaponary had spinning down its barrel.
That's all I've got to say for now, folks. If you want to be one of 300, go get yours now. If not, we'll miss you, but we'll definitely get along without you. Because not everyone deserves such great literature in life. This kind of wonder takes a special kind of reception.
Lansdale, Joe R. "The Fat Man and the Elephant." By Bizarre Hands. Shingletown, CA: Ziesing, 1989. 99-111.
NOTE: Okay, I'm kind of lying, kind of creating a legend. This wasn't Joe's "first time out." But By Bizarre Hands was one of those so-called over-night sensations where a writer's been around for a while, getting chosen time and again for anthologies and earning respect from his peers and garnering a little cult audience and then with the release of some golden collection of stories finally hits the big time, so to speak. There was a uniqueness to all these stories put side by side that hasn't been matched by much else. I guess that what I'm trying to recreate for people coming to this brand new is the way I felt when I first read this collection, and that feeling was a powerful sense of newness like seeing The Northern Lights for the first time. And I've been thankful, dedicated, and loyal to Joe since. To put it simply, he's made a believer out of me.