When a copy of this novel first appeared on my doorstep, Mr. PCN, being a big Joe R. Lansdale fan, immediately snatched it up and claimed it for himself. After he tore through it in about two blinks, he submitted the following review. This title also made the Nerdy Special List for June—PCN
Joe R. Lansdale’s latest novel Paradise Sky is witty, outlandish, and full of adventure. Fans of his previous books such as The Thicket, Edge of Dark Water, and A Fine Dark Line will recognize the familiar narrative framing device, as well as the usual references to the Sabine River and the fickleness of East Texas weather. Lansdale, however, deftly manages to escape being formulaic in Sky.
Not long after the Civil War, twenty-year-old Willie (aka Nat Love aka Deadwood Dick, a character first referenced in A Fine Dark Line) is sent on an errand by his Pa from their farm in rural Texas to town for supplies. It’s a long walk on a hot day, young Willie’s mind wanders, and his eyes absentmindedly alight on a woman’s bottom while she’s bent over doing laundry—just as her husband’s eyes catch Willie looking.
It’s a defining moment in the story because the couple is white, Willie is African American, and Texas has yet to embrace the notion that former slaves are now free and equal, as opposed to animals that can be killed for little or no reason. This incident begins a world of trouble and the odyssey of a young man toward wisdom. Along the way, Willie strikes up a friendship with Wild Bill Hickok, sleeps with four Asian women (one with a wooden leg), joins the army, wins a shooting contest, and even eats a dead guy.
Among my favorite passages:
I ain’t no great judge of poems, though Mr. Loving had me read a considerable number of them, but I can tell you these were so bad they hurt my feelings. I threw the book away and had an urge to bury it lest a coyote come across it, read a few lines, and get sick.
The buildings was thrown up willy-nilly along the sides of the street, as if some drunk had been given lumber, hammer, and nails and told to go at it. A few buildings had seen paint at one time or another; some rambled nearly into the street, as if they was trying to slink across it and into the hills and return to timber.
This novel is great storytelling as it ought to be, and readers should reach for the Sky.