Six Impossible Things

A Blog About Fiction and Reading

Sunset and Sawdust

SunsetSunset and Sawdust by Joe R. Lansdale


Joe Lansdale writes some weird stuff.  Consider “Bubba Ho-Tep,” a novella about a dying Elvis impersonator living in a nursing home, a black man who believes he’s JFK in hiding from the government, and a mummy who’s stealing the souls of the nursing home residents.


Sunset and Sawdust is a more mainstream novel for Lansdale, set in 1930s Texas, but it’s not without the normal Lansdale weirdness.  Sunset, the main character, so named because of her long, fiery-red hair, has just shot her husband because she’s had enough of him beating her up and raping her.   When she goes to her mother-in-law for help, she finds not a woman distressed at the loss of her son, but a sympathetic woman who gives her the position of Constable at Camp Rapture, the local sawmill.  Aside from her bring a woman constable in Depression-era Texas, she raises even more controversy because the constable she replaced was Pete, the husband she shot.

A lot happens in this brief novel, but Lansdale pulls it off without making it seem convoluted (an achievement all by itself) or forced.  At the beginning of the novel, I had an issue with how one of the characters reacted to a certain plot point, but by the end of the book, Lansdale had explained that away, and made it seem more acceptable.  It was a bit jarring at first, but by the time I had finished the book and thought back on the beginning, knowing the whole story, it made perfect sense.  I should have known to expect something like that, knowing that Lansdale is an accomplished writer with more than a few tricks, but it was a nice surprise.  It just reaffirms my faith in him as an author.

The other great thing about Lansdale is his turns of phrase.  He writes like you would expect a Texanwould , and comes up with some very clever metaphors.  He describes the color of a sunset as being like a razor had been slashed across the horizon, and he describes a hot, searing sun as like a blister hanging in the sky.  The banter between characters is also a sort of signature of Lansdale’s, and it never gets tiring; if nothing else, it accounts for much of the humor in his stories.  It’s always dry, but it never fails to get a laugh from me.

Lansdale, though, is also a brutal writer.  He doesn’t hesitate to show you the darkest nature of his characters (protagonists and antagonists alike), and he won’t shy away from violence.  I suppose you could best categorize his books as noir, but the East Texas settings, and the characters who live there, make his stories a category unto themselves.  Noir is usually reserved for dark alleys and average men; Lansdale populates his stories with bright, sunlit areas and odd characters.  Southern noir?  Country noir?  Who knows?  It’s worth reading, though, and Sunset and Sawdust is as good a place as any to start.


January 16, 2007 - Posted by | Adult Fiction, Reviews

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