READ. THIS. BOOK.
Why are you still here? Did you not hear? Go. READ!
But no, of course that isn’t enough. You want more. “Why should I read this book, oh great and mighty reviewer?” you ask. “What is its premise? What are it’s strengths and weaknesses? Where were you on the night of April 19, 2011?” Oh, wait, probably not that last one.
But the thing is, I’m pretty sure I can’t do this book justice simply by reviewing it. It’s a bit like showing someone a picture of the Grand Canyon, and knowing that they’re going to look and nod their head and say, “Why yes, that does look rather impressive.” But they don’t really get it. Because some things can’t be summarized. Some things have to be experienced. But, for what it’s worth, here’s my puny three-by-five glossy overview of Joe R. Landsdale’s Edge of Dark Water.
This is a story of death, and ashes, and a raft floating down an endless river. This is a story of chance encounters, of people, good and bad, and often both at the same time.
This is a story about a girl. A girl who dreamed of going to Hollywood, of breaking free of her rural Texas life and living in a place where she could really be somebody. A girl of rare and cruel beauty. A girl who is dead, before our story even begins.
She is pulled up out of the dark waters of the river, her hands and feet bound, and weighted down with a sewing machine. There are few to mark her passing, no one who cares enough even to pry into the mystery of her murder. But there are three; three friends who know it isn’t right for a life so full of promise to end so unceremoniously. Three teenagers, two girls and a boy, who set out to make things right in the only way they know: by burning her body, and bringing her ashes to Hollywood.
This quest grows from its conception into a fully Odyssean journey. It takes our heroes on a chaotic, and sometimes, seemingly aimless journey of self-discovery and survival.
And through it all one simple idea echoes through the pages like a distant drum beat: people are more complicated than you think. The characters you want to hate twist and turn in the story, revealing deeper and more nuanced traits that force you to rethink your perspective. And the ones you start out cheering for, show themselves to carry deep flaws and fatal faults that challenge you to reassess your notions of what a “good person” really is.
And in the middle of all the dramatic tension, all the deep and nuanced characters, this book is frequently hilarious. I found myself stopping time after time as I was reading to say to my wife, “Okay, you’ve got to hear this.” I would have finished the book a week earlier if I hadn’t gotten bogged down going back and reading the funny bits to her.
If the book has one flaw it’s this: it seems to me that it wants to be To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s a story with a young female narrator from the South told in a powerful and unique voice that addresses the issues of bigotry. Sound familiar? I only bring this up, because the similarities have been niggling at the back of my mind. And yet, if Edge of Dark Water is trying to emulate To Kill a Mockingbird, it does it really well.
In summary: READ. THIS. BOOK. Really. I don’t know what else I can do other than coming to your house and dragging you bodily to the library or bookstore. And I will do it. You’ll wake up in the middle of the night and I’ll be towering over your bed, a hulking shadow with wild eyes. And I’ll growl in a low and sinister voice that send chills down your spine, “You still haven’t read Joe R. Landsdale’s Edge of Dark Water.” Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But soon.