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[Joe Lansdale Appreciation Day] ‘High Cotton’ Review


Written by: James Keen

In his introduction to ‘High Cotton’, an extensive collection of  his own short fiction, Joe Lansdale discusses his tumultuous development as a writer, citing such disparate influences as Poe, Faulkner, and the journey he has thus far undertaken to find his own literary  ‘voice’  which is expressed through his lively and considerable body of fiction. Reviewing a compendium of Lansdale’s work for HNR is troublesome when considering the parameters involved, defined as they are by the relative constraints of what is widely perceived to be ‘horror fiction’. Lansdale’s canon, taken as a whole, embraces virtually every  discipline of fiction, though it can be argued that no matter what genre he chooses to use as a mode of storytelling, his ‘voice’ is uncannily recognizable. His tales can twist, hybridize genres and so on but only do so to service the tale itself. The result is an author who is, thankfully, impossible to categorize. The man writes, to put it purely and simply, regardless of literary type, to enthrall and excite, to educate and enlighten. And it’s rare indeed when reading works in which he is not indulging in ‘full-on’ horror tropes that the reader is left feeling deflated or cheated. As such, this is a collection which has it all; horror, science fiction, mystery, thriller, comedy and even a snippet of autobiographical text that is deeply affecting.

The story ‘Steppin’ Out Summer ’68’ is indicative of the type of collection we have here; often caustically witty, sometimes bleakly observant but overall a wickedly told tale. The combination of laugh-out loud social commentary and blackly comic gruesome action is something few authors would have the temerity to attempt. The same can be said of ‘The Big Blow’, a comparatively longer chronicle set during the worst natural disaster in American history – the hurricane that hit Galveston, Texas in  September 1900. Opening with, ‘On an afternoon hotter than two rats fucking in a wool sock…’ Lansdale’s depiction of the event is suitably bereft of sentiment and is a creative piece that dwarfs all the other collected stories here in terms of the near-relentless intensity of its plot and grimly portrayed devastation. There’s a neatly threaded contiguous narrative involving the famous pugilist Jack Johnson, the ‘Galveston Giant’, that plays as something of a mildly droll counterpoint to this horrific post turn of the century episode and affords the reader an agreeable frisson before the tale concludes.

Many of the stories contained in ‘High Cotton’ are short zesty vignettes, peppered with charm and disarming brevity but it’s the conspicuously abridged pieces such as ‘The Pit’, ‘The Job’ and others that, while they are admittedly remarkable literary ‘sketches’ in their own right, they hint at much larger scenarios or literary avenues that Lansdale unfortunately decided, for whatever reason, not to pursue. Sadly the same is true of ‘Dirt Devils’, ‘Hang In There’ and the “rape, murder and candy-theft” story ‘By Bizarre Hands’ – which again read as carefully drawn character outlines without fully fleshed-out storylines. It’s a minor gripe, given the huge array of stories collected in this volume and it’s more than compensated for by the stand-out tales which are of such potency that the alleged creative miss-fires are largely forgiven. These other outrageously beguiling stories resonate in the mind long after finishing them, which, after all, is all that you could possibly expect of such a resolutely entertaining writer.

“I know this doesn’t fit in exactly, but since this is my book, I don’t give a shit,” Lansdale writes in  “The Junkyard” a short personal record of an episode from his own childhood. I’d contend that this is also how the author approaches his art. He seems to know what he is doing.

Order High Cotton here.

Rating: 4.5/5

About The Overseer (1669 Articles)
Author of Say No to Drugs, writer for Blumhouse, Dread Central, Horror Novel Reviews and Addicted to Horror Movies.

1 Comment on [Joe Lansdale Appreciation Day] ‘High Cotton’ Review

  1. Wayne C. Rogers // April 15, 2013 at 10:57 pm // Reply

    I’ve got this collection up on my bookshelf, but haven’t any of the stoties yet. Joe told that this and The Best of Joe R. Lansdale were his two best anthologies.


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