Wednesday, July 1, 2015

An Epic tale of justice and revenge.

Paradise Sky

By Joe R. Lansdale

Publisher: Mulholland Books

Pub. Date: June 16, 2015

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Joe R. Lansdale has shown throughout his illustrious career to be an accomplished writer in many genres. Longtime admirers like myself know him primarily in the horror and thriller genres in which he wrote extensively when I discovered him in the 80s. But even then he wrote a few westerns, most noticeably The Magic Wagon and the before-its-time zombie Western, Dead in the West. Lately though, he seems to be focusing on Westerns again. His last novel, The Thicket, was a True Grit style tale of Western revenge and justice. It is also one of his best. But Lansdale has upped the ante, so to speak, with his newest novel, Paradise Sky. This new book carries similar themes yet goes beyond them and becomes a true epic of the West.

Paradise Sky is a very fictional account of an actual historical figure: a black cowboy and sharpshooter named Nat Love who was later nicknamed Deadwood Dick after winning a shooting contest in Deadwood City. In Lansdale's meticulous storytelling style, Nat was originally named Willie and was forced on the run in the Post Civil War South for glancing at a white woman's posterior. As Nat puts it, "I will admit to a bit of true curiosity as to how that backside of hers was far more attractive than the front, but I wasn't about no mischief of any kind." The enraged husband murders Willie's father and vows to hunt him down. Willie takes refuge with a man by the name of William Loving who teaches him to ride and to shoot among other helpful things. But soon Willie is forced to go on the run again and takes on the name of Nat Love as he journeys into the West.

Paradise Sky is full of daring deeds and momentous discoveries and it is best for the reader to discover them on his own. It is sufficient to say that the pursuit for Nat Love never stops and our hero is eventually forced to face his pursuers in a act of justice and revenge. If the author wrote a simple revenge tale it still would have been memorable. However, Paradise Sky is a tableau of Western mythology with legends like Wild Bill Hickok and Bass Reeves being peppered in to provide color and authenticity. But Nat Love is the focus of the story and it is his struggles against injustice and the ever prevailing aura of racism that makes this book so alive. Lansdale has always had a keen sense of American history and the prevalence of racial conflicts in America, That is certainly true here. Couple that with his endless gift for incredibly witty and real sounding dialog and it makes for a invigorating read that entertains but doesn't sugarcoat our history.

Lansdale often writes about his East Texas surroundings and, because of that, some might call him a regionalist. Yet it is books like Paradise Sky that belies that idea. Taking place in a range from Texas to South Dakota and over a span of years, Paradise Sky is a true American Western epic of a novel written by one that can merge the romanticism of the West with a socially honest and sometimes brutal realism. Whether writing about present day East Texas, the Depression, or the 19th century frontier, Lansdale manages to not only tell us a riveting story but confronts us with truths about our own interactions and the way we treat others.

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