Trailer Park Trolling In The Big Thicket

If you’re down for (key word, down) a slog through the sub-strata of East Texas culture (using the term extremely loosely), then a hike through the pages of Joe R. Lansdale’s 1997 Bad Chili may be for you. You’ll definitely find all the good old boys, bad babes, miscreants, and malcontents you can handle. Assuming you can also handle the nonstop colloquialisms, homespun profanity, bawdy metaphors, scatological humor, and a tendency to do everything possible to turn off anyone expecting to find anything of lasting value.

Crime novels are crime novels, you might counter. And woe to the reader who thinks he’ll find traces of poetry amid the pulse pounding prose of murder, mayhem, and misery that make up most pulp fiction. But one can dream, can’t one? More than dream, one can actually find arias of adjectives and violently vivisected verbs in the tales of masters such as Andrew Vachss, to whom this novel is actually dedicated. But there’s a vast desert of difference between Mr. Lansdale’s unrelenting overkill and Mr. Vachss’s expert economy.

Bad Chili is one of a series of novels featuring two friends named Hap and Leonard. Hap is a middle-aged white guy who drifts from job to job (offshore oil rig worker, nightclub bouncer, would-be night watchman) and Leonard, a black homosexual who apparently drifts from one lover to another while maintaining his platonic relationship with Hap. They are both (as the genre requires) extremely skilled at firing guns and busting heads. And each, in his own way, has redeeming qualities. Providing at least the pretense of someone worth rooting for.

The plot is replete with gruesome murders, sexual torture, mangled bodies, embarrassment, humiliation, and treachery. All played more or less for laughs. There’s a bit of a love (make that lust) story embedded in the antics, but it concentrates more on the rutting than the romance and reinforces the author’s proposition (probably unfortunately true) that the heart’s desire is always ignited by the organ south of it.

Joe R. Lansdale is certainly accomplished at his trade. He’s written multiple novels, won prestigious awards, culminated a devoted cult following and made money at something he no doubt enjoys doing. One can be envious of his success without being drawn to the product of it. Such is the case with The Fiction Fortune Hunter. Of course, you may be different. And if you know what you’re getting into, by all means give it a go. But for me, a little Bad Chili goes a long way.

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