Joe R. Lansdale’s High Cotton and Bumper Crop
Golden Gryphon Press
I read a few Joe R. Lansdale books last year (Part 1, Part 2). Some were great, and I ended the year as a Lansdale fan. I gathered from social media and other blogs that his short stories are some of his best writing, and I decided to look at them next. His first story collection, By Bizarre Hands , is highly esteemed, but I opted instead for High Cotton and Bumper Crop. These are ‘best of’ collections that came out in 2000 and 2004 respectively. There has since been another greatest hits collection, but its contents are nearly all included in the collections I read, and what’s left, I can read some other time.
For the purposes of this review, I’m going to treat the two collections as one. I cannot imagine a person reading one and then not wanting to read the other. The original Golden Gryphon Press editions are hard to find now, but both collections have been reissued by Crossroads Press.
I had read one of Lansdale’s short stories in the first Splatterpunks Anthology a few years ago, and then I read the God of the Razor ones after finishing The Nightrunners. I didn’t bother to reread these ones.
I was actually working on some short fiction right before reading these collections (I’m debating whether to post it here), and I actually found these books quite inspiring. My biggest struggle with writing fiction is coming up with ideas, and it’s really cool to see an author taking what are often silly ideas and then going through with turning them into a story. ‘Fire Dog’ is a perfect example. It’s very silly, but also very entertaining.
Some of the stories are hilarious, but some are also extremely violent and deeply disturbing. ‘I Tell You It’s Love’ was my favourite. It’s the romantic tale of a couple of deranged sadomasochists. It’s quite nasty. I’m already looking forward to reading it again.
Joe R. Lansdale’s readers won’t need PhDs in literature to see that his writing is openly anti-racist, but these books contain the n-word an awful lot (well over 100 times in High Cotton). The usage of this word is to show the ignorance of the characters using it, and this is nearly always entirely obvious, but it definitely dates the writing. I can’t say for sure because I haven’t read any of his recent books, but I doubt Lansdale puts that word on paper as much as he did in the 80s. Again though, he was very clearly trying to use his writing to condemn prejudice.
Lansdale’s writing is exactly the kind of stuff I need when I’m coming down off some high falutin’ literary horror that I’ve had to push myself to get through. It’s not that his writing is dumbed down or anything like that; his stories are just a lot of fun to read. His prose is tight and he tells a mean story. I am, without doubt, going to read more of his short story collections in the future.