November 18, 2015

An Artful Exaggerator: a review of Joe R. Lansdale's "Paradise Sky"

Paradise Sky 
by Joe R. Lansdale
Mulholland Books (2015)
417 pages
Available at

It is near impossible for me not to fall in love with a Lansdale novel at this point. He's become one of my favorite authors for the simple fact that his well-honed brand of storytelling draws me in each time like a moth to a flame, though I don't get burned, but I do get marked each and every time. A Lansdale tale is something you carry with you well after you've read it.

It's his crime fiction that hooked me years ago, but I've come to really appreciate his westerns, and Paradise Sky is a corker.

Western tales from the old days were known for ... embellishments, and with the liberties Lansdale takes with the real history of Nat Love through this novel, it makes the man a myth, and the myth a man all at the same time. For that alone, I'd give this book high praise, but throw in the delectable way with dialogue Lansdale is known for and this book is just irresistible.

Essentially, we meet Young Willie just as his life takes an unexpected and disastrous turn, and all because he happened upon the sight of a married woman's rear end. Slavery days are over in the legal sense down south, but a lynch mob comes together in no time flat to hunt down Willie. At the behest of his father, Willie flees the farm with an insanely irate husband on his trail. At each turn, the series of occurrences that propel a hapless son of a former slave to become a renowned cowboy known as Deadwood Dick could be called outlandish, but life's funny like that. And amidst all the death and hate and carnage that chases our young protagonist, it's that twinkle of humor that keeps you turning pages just to see what'll happen next.

I don't know if historians will give this book a passing grade for its accuracy, but western lovers and lovers of stories in general ought to find nothing but enjoyment from this novel. Is this Lansdale's best work yet? Bah, who can tell when the man has penned so many tremendous novels. I'd dare say The Thicket from a couple years back is better, at least for my own personal enjoyment, but Paradise Sky is hot on its heels.

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