The Thicket by Joe R Lansdale
The story opens with Jack’s parents dying of smallpox. His grandfather decides to take him and his sister to their aunt’s and along the way they cross a set of bankrobbers who kidnap his sister. Jack hires two unconventional bounty hunters: a dwarf named Shorty and a black gravedigger named Eustace who has a Hog companion (not pet). It’s set in turn of the century Texas and the hunters must travel to “The Thicket” an iniquitous den of thieves, murderers, rapists and other ne’er do wells with several adventures along the way.
“He’s right you know,” Jimmy Sue said, “ Just a year ago I kept thinking this ain’t fair, the way things have turned out for me. Then it comes to me clear as spring rain. Life is just what it is, and it ain’t fair at all.”
“Can’t we make it fair?”
“You can try, but all that other unfairness keeps seeping in.”
There’s an underlying message that life is just what it is and a tension between God-fearing Jack and reality, as the other characters see it. There is a loss of innocence and a worry of corruption threaded throughout. Lansdale is a wordsmith, full of pretty turns of phrase (or should that be ‘purty’) and the Wild West is beautifully pictured.
”I had a thought that if I didn’t run for it I was going to be dead next, so I broke and made like a rabbit, hit that back door so hard it came off its hinges, and me and it went out into the back there. A bullet came past me like it had to meet someone downtown and was late, and gave me a hot kiss on the ear as it passed.”
The plot is fairly standard for Westerns but that doesn’t make it any less of a page turner. It’s full of memorable characters but of course the Hog is the best one.
Overall – Dark Western with a mean streak and gallows humour. Recommended.
The guest cat by Takashi Hiraide
A couple in their 30’s renting a cottage in a quiet part of Tokyo work as freelance writers, from home. They no longer have much to say to each other. One day a cat invites itself into their lives, visiting from next door, a “guest cat”. It transforms their lives, they begin to order their lives around the cat’s visits, cooking it special meals, playing for hours with it with a ping pong ball. Then the landlord dies and everything changes. This is a philosophical book about ownership and property and a very quick read (140 pages). It lacks a certain feeling of story, being more espisodic and without a clear structural beginning, middle and end. If you can get past that and are a cat lover I think you’ll love this book. The prose is quite beautiful and thoughtful but lack of story meant it failed to sink its teeth into my imagination. The narrator notes that he wrote a number of articles that turned into the book you’re reading and I wonder if this is autobiographical. There’s a number of translator’s notes in the back which further elucidate what could be obscure facts about Japanese society.
Overall – Cute, thoughtful and well observed cat and cat owner behaviour.