Driving to Geronimo’s Grave and Other Stories by Joe R. Lansdale
Subterranean Press (October 2018)
272 pages; $26.70 hardcover
Reviewed by Blu Gilliand
I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing several Joe R. Lansdale novels, collections and stories in my time. It’s almost to the point where I’ve run out of superlatives to share; where the limitations of my vocabulary and ability make me want to just say, “Here’s a new Lansdale book. It’s good, as usual. Go throw money at it.”
But Lansdale deserves better, and you do, too. So, please follow along as I attempt to find new and interesting ways to heap praise upon Lansdale and his new collection, Driving to Geronimo’s Grave and Other Stories.
Let’s start with the idea of diversity, a concept which can be applied in a couple of ways here. First is diversity among characters, at which Lansdale takes particular care. Lansdale writes about people honestly, without regard to the expectations that the audience may bring to the ideas of a teenage girl or a cowboy or a broken-down old wrestler. Each of Lansdale’s creations is depicted as a real person, with all of the flaws and quirks and bad days and good hearts and despicable intentions that humans exhibit and inhabit in real life.
Next, we apply the idea of diversity to Lansdale’s style. There are only six long stories in this collection, but they range all over the genre map, from Depression-era road trips to post-apocalyptic science fiction to mind-bending Lovecraftian horror. Reading this book is like holding a mirror up to Lansdale’s entire career, which counts among its highlights stories about an elderly Elvis Presley fighting a mummy, and two best friends who function as a dysfunctional set of private investigators, and a drive-in full of people driven to cannibalism and other assorted acts of madness by the light of a passing comet, among other oddities. Joe R. Lansdale is his own genre, and we, the readers, should be thankful for his inability to pick one flavor and stick to it.
A couple of highlights:
“Wrestling Jesus” is a story Lansdale refers to as one of his favorite stories he’s written, and it certainly ranks as my favorite from this collection. It might be about two old wrestlers who get together once every five years to fight about a woman; or it might be about voodoo; or it might be about the father-son relationship that builds between a young man and his mentor. Or it might be about all of those things.
“Everything Sparkles in Hell” is a Nat Love story. Nat Love is the character featured in Lansdale’s novel Paradise Sky and the novella Black Hat Jack. If you haven’t read those, particularly Paradise Sky, you’re missing out on some of Lansdale’s finest work. “Sparkles” is a fine introduction to the character. Love is chasing some outlaws in the mountains, but before he can catch up to them, the bad guys run afoul of a giant bear. What follows is a tense and escalating race between man and beast, with the outlaws the prize at the end.
I could march through each story in this collection and say nice things about them all, but you get the idea. I’ll leave you with this: Here’s a new Lansdale book. It’s good, as usual. Go throw money at it.