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By Bizarre Hands, Joe R. Lansdale, 1989, Mark V. Ziesing Books, ISBN 0-929480-12-0, $25, hb, 246 pp.

Lansdale’s world is filled with razors, bad boys, drive-ins, pain, unfulfilled desires, injustice, bigotry, preachers. But most of all, it’s filled with energy and truth. By Bizarre Hands is Joe’s first collection, but rest assured that it won’t be the last; talented and prolific are two more words synonymous with Lansdale. Worth the price of the collection alone is the Stoker award-winning story, “Night They Missed the Horror Show,” to my mind the best horror story in the last ten years, no small recommendation. But also herein are the genesis stories for Lansdale’s novels The Nightrunners (“Boys Will Be Boys”) and The Magic Wagon (“The Windstorm Passes”), as well as collecting obscure Lansdale classics such as “Tight Little Stitches in a Dead Man’s Back” (from Masques) and “I Tell You It’s Love” (from Modern Stories #1, a one-shot magazine edited by Lewis and Edith Shiner).

Two stories are new to this volume: “The Steel Valentine” and “The Fat Man and the Elephant.” The former is a relative of Stephen King’s story, “The Ledge,” a battle between two men, one ruthless and cruel and the other learning how to be. An interesting variation on the theme, yet not as original as I had come to expect from Lansdale. On the other hand, “The Fat Man and the Elephant” is something that could only have been written by Joe. A curious mix of metaphysics and good ol’ fashion religion, with a little zen on the side, the story centers on Sonny, a Baptist minister, who “communes” with a sideshow elephant.

What makes Lansdale different from the hordes of horror writers flooding the market today? It’s his sense of place. Joe grew up in the backwoods of East Texas, and almost all of his stories are set there. Trapped underneath the evergreens, there lurks a different sort of horror, one that Joe escaped from and is telling you about now: small town Texas. The people are more alien than you might imagine, the settings more bizarre, but in Lansdale’s stories, they come alive before your eyes to reveal these differences. And the reason Lansdale’s stories work? Because by the time you understand the differences, you have also discovered the similarities within your own back yard.

By Bizarre Hands is only available in a hardcover edition from Mark Ziesing, who is also publishing hardcover editions of Lansdale’s recent paperback thrillers Cold in July and Savage Season. No other small publisher (well, maybe Ursus Imprints, Arkham House, and Scream/Press) puts as much quality into the production as Ziesing and all three of these books are as beautiful as the work is talented. Highly recommended.

[Originally published in New Pathways in 1990.]


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