On Joe Lansdale’s Edge of Dark Water

Did you know today is Joe R. Lansdale Appreciation Day? To tie in with Horror Novel Reviews‘ day-long celebration, we’ll be reposting our greatest-of posts about Joe’s work and a few from the legend himself.

When we passed along  Joe R. Lansdale’s EDGE OF DARK WATER to Dan Simmons, we had high hopes he would like the novel as much as we did. Dan loved the novel so much he provided us with not just a nice quote, but an inspired, insightful essay which is included in the paperback edition of Joe’s novel, and which we’re delighted to share with you below.

Go pick yourself up a copy of EDGE OF DARK WATER if you haven’t already! And be on the lookout for Joe’s next novel THE THICKET, in bookstores everywhere this September.

Since Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was first published in America in 1885, there have been hundreds — if not thousands – of favorable comparisons to Twain’s masterpiece by publishers, blurbers, and/or reviewers of “contemporary” novels. Almost all of these comparisons have been inappropriate or just plain silly since – a) Huckleberry Finn was an unmatched novel of male adolescence, moral awakening, and an entire dark era of American history told in perfect regional and temporal vernacular   b) as Ernest Hemingway said, “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called  Huckleberry Finn . . . It’s the best book we’ve had” and c) Mark Twain was a genius.

The river voyages and brilliant narratives in both Joe R. Lansdale’s Edge of Dark Water and Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are cries from the heart of the heart of America’s darkness. Both books are the result of real genius at work.Joe R. Lansdale’s Edge of Dark Water is worthy of being compared to Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Nor are the rafts or the marvelous and terrifying river voyages in both books the primary reasons for Lansdale — and what may be his masterpiece – earning the right to this comparison to Twain’s masterpiece. “Sue Ellen’s” voice throughout Lansdale’s novel is almost certainly the strongest, truest, and most pitch-perfect regional-temporal vernacular narration since Huck Finn’s. The young protagonist’s moral decisions in Edge of Dark Water are among the most complex (yet clearest) since Huck decided to “steal” Jim and go to Hell forever for doing so. Edge of Dark Water evokes a time and place – East Texas, Depression era – as powerfully as Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn preserved and illuminated the Mississippi River region in pre-Civil-War America.

Finally, if we’re to quote Hemingway on how wonderful Twain’s book was, we need to add his all-important caveat – “If you read it you must stop where the Nigger Jim is stolen from the boys. That is the real end. The rest is just cheating.” It was (and remains) “just cheating” because Twain decided that he had to keep the ending of Huckleberry Finn, as was his goal for all of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, to being “just another Boys’ Book” in order to hold up his novel’s subscription sales and library orders in Victorian America. And so, after Tom Sawyer shows up, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is just a funny and beautifully written boys’ book, whether we want to admit it or not. “Jim” ceases to be the complex, human, adult Jim of the rest of the important novel and Huck becomes a mere sidekick again to Tom.

Joe Lansdale’s Edge of Dark Water does not suffer from Mark Twain’s forgivable failure of nerve at the finale of Huckleberry Finn, nor in any lack of confidence in the maturity and courage of his readership. Perhaps most importantly, Lansdale’s Edge of Dark Water stands alone and confident in its own dark power and beauty and doesn’t require comparisons to any other novel.

DAN SIMMONS is a recipient of numerous major international awards, including the Hugo Award, World Fantasy Awards, Bram Stoker Awards, and the Shirley Jackson Award. He is widely considered to be one of the premier multiple-genre fiction writers in the world. His most recent novels include the New York Times bestseller The Terror, Drood, and Black Hills. He lives along the Front Range in Colorado and has never grown tired of the views. Visit him online at www.dansimmons.com.

Joe R. Lansdale’s Edge of Dark Water, about which the Boston Globe raved: “From its pages waft memories of Huckleberry FinnTo Kill A Mockingbird, and even As I Lay Dying,” and which was praised by the New York Times Book Review as “a charming Gothic tale…as funny and frightening as anything that could have been dreamed up by the Brothers Grimm–or Mark Twain,” is now available in bookstores everywhere.