Review: Jane Goes North by Joe R. Lansdale

Jane Goes North by Joe R. Lansdale
Subterranean Press (March 2020)
232 pages; $40 limited edition hardcover
Reviewed by Blu Gilliand

I took a few road trips in my youth. While they were marked with plenty of shenanigans and questionable decisions (as was most of my youth), none of them came close to the craziness experienced by the women in Jane Goes North, Joe Lansdale’s new novel from Subterranean Press. It’s probably a good thing, too; Lansdale’s women barely flinch in the face of the inconveniences and dangers he tosses at them, while I would have crumbled like a cheap cookie.

Lansdale is legendary when it comes to pairing up mismatched people (and if you thought I was going to get through a Lansdale review without referencing Hap and Leonard, now you know better), and Jane and Henry are not exactly made for each other. They are both damaged, but each approaches life and people in different ways. Henry is defensive, often caustic, while Jane is cautious but more open and compassionate. The two balance each other out as they reluctantly agree to drive to Boston together, Jane to attend her sister’s wedding, and Henry to see a doctor about fixing her lazy eye.

It’s a simple, straightforward story that (like the best road trips) gets sidetracked multiple times in entertaining, sometimes dangerous ways. This is not a story relying heavily on plot; rather, it’s driven by the awe-inspiring power of Lansdale’s storytelling. It’s not about where they’re going, it’s about how they get there, and what happens along the way (again, like the best road trips).

What happens along the way? Oh, I’m not telling. I’ll hint around a bit: there are seedy motels and a shooting or two; some dive bars are visited; and people both creepy and kindhearted are encountered. It’s all told as only Lansdale can tell it, and I can say that I actually, physically cringed a time or two, and laughed out loud a bunch of times.

Kudos to Subterranean Press for giving this book a home. Sometimes you need a rest from high-concept horror or high-stakes crime; sometimes you just need to dip into the lives of some interesting people and hang out with them for a while. Jane Goes North lets you do just that.

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