Edge of Dark Water is a fairy tale, a grim but hopeful coming of age story about a band of misfits on the run from pure evil on a raft headed down the Sabine River in East Texas during the Great Depression. Thankfully, because it’s a Joe R. Lansdale novel, Edge of Dark Water is far more hilarious, sick, Southern-fried, and ridiculously fucking badass than that description implies.
The story starts with teenager May Lynn being dredged up from the Sabine, her once beautiful body now bloated with river water, her ankle tied to a clunky sewing machine. No one’s got any ideas on who her killer might have been and no one seems to give a shit other than her friends Sue Ellen, Jinx and Terry.
When the threesome find a map to a grand in cash tucked into May Lynn’s diary, they decide to take the money and May Lynn’s ashes down the river on a raft to the nearest decent-sized town of Gladewater. From there they plan to take a bus to Hollywood (where May Lynn had planned to go with the money before her death) and scatter her ashes in tribute to her. But that much money will always be missed and they don’t make it very far before a legendary hired murderer and tracker named Skunk is on their trail.
Our hero and narrator is Sue Ellen, a tough tomboy looking to escape the advances and beatings of her abusive father, who tells the story with all the gleefully vulgar humor and plain-spoken poetry we’ve come to expect from Lansdale. With the help of her laudanum-addled mother, the dangerously defiant African American Jinx, and the highly intelligent and closeted Terry, Sue Ellen might just get May Lynn’s ashes to the Grauman’s Chinese after all.
But you better believe in their path lies plenty of horrific violence, colorful characters, and lethal forces of nature (one of said forces arguably being the almost supernatural and utterly fucking awesome Skunk), making this trip down the river anything but lazy. (That sentence was so fucking cheesy I think my balls just ascended.)
If you’ve never read a Lansdale novel before, I’d tell you that Edge of Dark Water is what was splattered out of the bookshelf nine months after The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Lonesome Dove rubbed spines together. And if you have read a Lansdale novel, you already can imagine that such a description doesn’t even begin to get at the balls-out fun you’re gonna have on this adventure. If you like stories, you’re gonna dig the hell out of this one something fierce.