Monday, November 30, 2015

PARADISE SKY by Joe R. Lansdale

"Now, in the living of my life, I've killed deadly men and dangerous animals and made love to four Chinese women, all of them on the same night and in the same wagon bed, and one of them with a wooden leg, which made things a mite difficult from time to time. I even ate some of a dead fellow once when I was crossing the plains, though I want to rush right in here and make it clear I didn't know him all that well, and we damn sure wasn't kinfolks, and it all come about by a misunderstanding."
And so begins the true account of the adventures of the Western legend Deadwood Dick, as told by his own damn self. He's eager to set the record straight about his story, which begins when as a young man named Willie Jackson, he runs away from home to escape a lynching after a grudge-crazed rancher catches him staring at his wife's ass. After he discovers that he's a natural horseman and shootist, Willie takes the name of Nat Love and embarks on a series of wild escapades across the frontier, making friends, killing enemies, finding love, rubbing noses with legends, and becoming one himself.

Once again Joe Lansdale crafts a Western adventure that is charming, exciting, and a pleasure to read, featuring a great lead character. And big ups to him for helping to bring attention to black western figures like Nat Love, since they've largely been ignored in movies and books. And aside from Love, the supporting characters and villains are a big reason why this one is so enjoyable, each one memorable and providing their own color to the overall tapestry. It's a testament to Lansdale's talent that with so many characters populating the book, he can make each one stand out. His considerable skill as a natural storyteller is again on full display here, with his folksy narrative voice and trademark wit proving a perfect fit for the story.
"Let's go outside and see how much of you is fact and how much of you is fart mouth and horseshit."
If you're looking for an entertaining, rousing adventure tale, throw this one on your to-read pile. I might even go as far as saying that it's even more knock-down awesome as his previous western The Thicket, but I personally wish he explored Nat as a more flawed character. It's a wonderful novel that I would gladly read again and a great folktale of the Old West. For companion reading, there is an old autobiography of the real Nat Love that was an inspiration for the novel, and Lansdale also published a novella with further adventures of Deadwood Dick called Black Hat Jack.


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