Written by: Wayne C. Rogers
Freezer Burn by Joe R. Lansdale is rather different from his other mainstream novels. Nevertheless, it is pure Lansdale at his best.
This is the story of Bill Roberts, a low life who simply doesn’t know any better. He’s been living with his dominating mother for a long time, and when she finally dies, he decides to keep her body in the bedroom so her social security checks will continue to come in. The only problem with the plan is that Bill’s unable to successfully forge her signature on the checks.
So, with a handful of checks he’s unable to cash, a raucous smell permeating the house, and a couple of cans of beets in the kitchen cabinet left to eat, Bill makes the less-than-lucid decision to rob the firecracker stand across the street on the fourth of July with the help of two equally stupid acquaintances, Fat Boy and Chaplin.
Like everything else in Bill’s life, the robbery goes terribly wrong.
The owner of the firecracker stand is murdered and then Fat Boy (he encounters a nest of water moccasins in the swamp!!!!) and Chaplin are killed in the getaway. Bill hides out in the Bottoms for a day or so, feeding the mosquitoes with his face, avoiding the poisonous snakes, and praying the law doesn’t catch up with him.
When he eventually comes out of hiding, Bill sees a carnival in a nearby field and goes to them for help. The owner of the carnival, Jack Frost, takes Bill in and allows him to stay until he’s completely healed from the mosquito bites, and then offers him a job.
You see, this carnival is special. It’s filled with freaks: Conrad the Dog Man, U.S. Grant the Bearded Lady, the two-head Buckwheat, pin heads and punk heads, midgets, and the Ice Man. Even Frost has a hand growing out of his chest. The only other normal person (except for a couple of nasty roustabouts) besides Bill is Gidget, the wife of Jack Frost.
Gidget–blonde, beautiful, sexy, and as deadly as one of those cottonmouths in the Bottoms–is every husband’s worse nightmare. Over a period of weeks, Bill gradually begins to see Frost and some of the other freaks in the carnival as human beings, but it isn’t his destiny to be a nice guy. Gidget has other ideas for him. It isn’t long before she seduces Bill with her body and talks him into helping her kill Frost so that they can take over the carnival. Of course, like Bill’s other endeavors, the plan to kill Gidget’s husband will have its drawbacks and pitfalls, and nothing will turn out quite as he expects.
Freezer Burn is definitely not for everyone. I think the reader has to have a rather bizarre sense of humor and a willingness to allow the author to take him down a path that may seem weird to the average person; yet, is actually a journey about life and what it means to be different, not to mention what goes around, comes around.
This novel is Mr. Lansdale’s homage to James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice, using the themes of lust, adultery, and murder, only with a slightly different twist. Though funny from beginning to end (yes, I have a rather bizarre sense of humor about life), this novel is also filled with poignant insights into how people treat those who are different.
I also think Mr. Lansdale is a firm believer in karma. When people do bad things, it always comes back to bite them in the butt sooner or later. I will say that the finale of FREEZER BURN is a downer. Still, I don’t see how the author could’ve ended it differently. The story could only have one final outcome and still remain true to the personalities of Bill Roberts and Gidget Frost. If you’re looking for a happy ending, this isn’t the book to read. If, however, you’re looking for a book that will shock you, tickle your funny bone, and make you think about prejudice in all of its unhealthy forms, then this is definitely the one to buy.