Growing up in Texas, I was always fascinated with books of Western or Texas lore. Whereas a lot of my childhood friends were reading Nancy Drew and National Velvet, I loved the more adventurous and dangerous novels by Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey, and the stories of J. Frank Dobie. As I got older, two of my favorite authors became Larry McMurtry and Cormac McCarthy. Their Lonesome Dove and Border Trilogy became classics of the genre. Recently, I’ve read some novels and one non-fiction book that carry the spirit of the Western myth in their teeth. The first of my weekly recommendations is:
The Thicket, by Joe Lansdale. One of my favorite reads of last year, and a finalist for the American Library Association’s top pick of historical fiction in 2014. Set in East Texas at the turn of the century, a young Jack Parker, is orphaned through a string of tragic events. His lot is further worsened by being set upon by a group of bank robbers who kill his grandfather and kidnap his younger sister, Lula. Jack’s search to recover his sister is aided by a charismatic, bounty hunting dwarf named Shorty and his crew. In Lansdale’s capable hands, East Texas is painted as a wild and untamed place, inhabited with rich, complex characters, by turns dark and funny. I especially loved the tale-telling Shorty, recognizing in his mannerisms and speech the authentic expressions of the true sons and daughters of the Big Thicket. If you loved the down and dirty, take-no-prisoners world of Deadwood, you’ll love this novel.