Joe R. Lansdale’s The Thicket is like a Larry McMurtry western that’s been soaking in the saloon spittoon. It’s got plenty of tough and funny characters, nasty violence, vulgar-ass dialogue, and a prose style that feels like your great uncle is eight beers in and running down the greatest hits of his anecdotes for you. To say that you should get hip to this beast toot-sweet is putting it way too fucking lightly.
The novel takes place somewhere in the neighborhood of a hundred years ago in East Texas and 16 year old Jack Parker has just lost his folks to smallpox. While his grandfather tries to get Jack and his sister up to Kansas to live with their aunt, they come across a gang of bank robbers, the mean bastards killing Granddad and kidnapping Lula for, you know, unsavory purposes. Jack quickly puts together a posse of misfits using the deed to the family farm as payment upon rescue and the adventure has begun.
Jack is naive and deeply Christian, making this violent journey a brutal coming of age for the boy. His compatriots, which include a beautiful young prostitute, a deadly midget philosopher and a mixed race tracker who is a mean drunk, are quick to pull triggers, and Jack soon finds that if he’s serious about getting his sister back he’d better get comfortable with killing awful fast.
Lansdale uses this simple quest story to also explore storytelling itself, with seemingly every character Jack comes across having some tale to tell or another. Some tell outlandish legends, others debunk myths, and many attempt to explain or account for themselves via their condensed life story. For such a tight novel and we certainly get our money’s worth in story and then some.
But don’t let such talk of thematic concerns and dark experiences from the Nerd lead you to think that The Thicket isn’t anything less than a fucking hoot of a book, a bloody picnic with cold fried chicken, Louisiana hot sauce, biscuits, slaw, and gallons of Lynchburg Lemonade. And on that note, the Nerd is gonna scare up some dinner and you’re gonna pick this fucker up toot-sweet.