JOE R. LANSDALE – A Fine Dark Line.

Mysterious Press, hardcover; January 2003; trade paperback: October 2003.

    On page 7, when thirteen-year-old Stanley Mitchel learns that there is no Santa Claus, he doesn’t like it. He feels “like a big donkey’s ass.” He doesn’t know it, but his small comfortable corner of the world is starting to crumble. Nor does he know what else is in store for him during that summer of 1958, but in the hands of Edgar-winning author Joe Lansdale, it’s pure magic, at least to the reader, and this one in particular.

LANSDALE Fine Dark Line

    What happens to Stanley and his family in this one brief summer is more than what occurs to most people in twice their lifetime. Finding a metal box filled with letters and pages from a diary buried in the ground, seems to trigger a seismographic sequence of events that takes the East Texas town of Dewmont across some unknown and never before seen line separating dark mystery from reality.

    The boom-times spawned by the end of World War II took their time reaching rural America, forcing Stanley’s father to uproot the family and head to the big city, where they make their new home inside the huge screen of the drive-in theater that’s the source of his new livelihood.

    The year 1958 was an innocent age of Dairy Queen’s and rock-and-roll, back when the black population knew their place, and the white population kept them there, not always maliciously, but simply because that’s the way it was and always would be. And yet aiding young Stanley with his investigation of the letters, and the two young girls who died (were murdered?) on the same night some 25 years before, is Buster, his father’s aged black projectionist — and Stanley’s ad hoc mentor leading him on this passage to adulthood.

    It’s an education, all right. Lynching of black men had ended not very much earlier, and minstrel shows were still common, but in 1958, to Stanley and his family, the entertainment value seems to diminish before their eyes. Stanley’s sixteen-year-old sister is growing up as well, and her explanation of certain aspects of life begins to open brand new horizons for him.

    It’s a remarkable trip, told by a master of words and nostalgic journeys, and it’s never a smooth one. Life never is smooth, in case you hadn’t noticed, and this is art, imitating life.

— February 2003