Gloria Feit's Reviews > Edge of Dark Water

Edge of Dark Water by Joe R. Lansdale
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's review
Apr 29, 2012

really liked it
Read in March, 2012

The reader is introduced to sixteen-year-old Sue Ellen and her family on the no-nonsense first page, when Daddy is ‘fishing’ – a chore that combines ‘telephoning,’ i.e., “cranking that telephone to hot up the wire that went into the water to ‘lectrocute the fish,’ dynamiting them, and poisoning them with green walnuts. I might add, as does the author, that the dynamiting doesn’t always work too well, as he attempted it one time when he was so drunk that some of his fingers got blown off.

By page eight, Sue Ellen, Daddy and her Uncle Gene, finishing up the fishing project, discover the body of her friend, May Lynn Baxter, at the bottom of the lake, long dead, her hands and feet tied behind her and with a sewing machine weighing the body down. She describes her as “the kind of girl that made men turn their heads and take a deep breath . . . [who] moved like she was hearing music we couldn’t,” a girl with no living family who had dreamed of going to Hollywood and becoming a movie star. Sue Ellen and another good friend, an African-American girl named Jinx [described as having “a sweet face, but her eyes seemed older, like she was someone’s ancient grandma stuffed inside a kid”], and Terry, the fourth member of the group and a boy who was rumored to be homosexual, determine to “burn her up” and take her ashes to California from East Texas, described as a place where “jobs, especially for woman, had become as rare as baptized rattlesnakes.” That trip, when it finally begins, fittingly enough in a leaky boat, is like nothing the friends, or the reader, could possibly have anticipated, or even imagined.

This author’s writing has been compared to that of Mark Twain, and deservedly so. That said, I should add that I found the writing to be very original, as is the book as a whole, which is [loosely] placed in time by the frequent casual references to the segregation that was then the norm, as were drunken, abusive husbands/fathers, and convincingly captures the vernacular of small-town, little-educated and poverty-stricken Southerners of the period. There is some graphic material [not sexual, I should point out] that seems of a piece with that. “Edge of Dark Water” has been described as “hillbilly noir,” and that captures it as well as anything.


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