"Paradise Sky" Book Review
Written by Gabino Iglesias
Published by Mulholland Books
Written by Joe Lansdale
2015, 416 pages, Fiction
Released on June 16th, 2015
I remember finishing the first paragraph of Joe Lansdale’s The Thicket and thinking there was no way he would ever be able to top that. Well, it was easy to realize I was wrong the second I cracked open Paradise Sky:
“Now, in the living of my life, I’ve killed deadly men and dangerous animals and made love to four Chinese women, all of them on the same night and in the same wagon bed, and one of them with a wooden leg, which made things a mite difficult from time to time. I even ate some of a dead fellow once when I was crossing the plains, though I want to rush right in here and make it clear I didn’t know him all that well, and we damn sure wasn’t kinfolks, and it all come about by a misunderstanding.”
After that opening, it only gets better.
Paradise Sky follows former slave Willie Jackson, whose life is thrown into chaos because a white man caught him looking at his wife’s rear end. The man, an angry and very racist fiend, considers the look an unforgivable crime and decides Willie has to die for what he’s done. Instead of achieving that, the former slave’s family suffers and he has to abandon town. That’s how he ends up meeting an older man who takes him in and teaches him how to shoot, along with a plethora of things about life that will eventually come in handy. After the old man’s death, Willie decides to take part of his name as tribute and becomes Nat Love. What follows is a wildly entertaining ride that recounts Nat’s adventures as he continues to evade his crazy pursuer, survives various attacks, falls in love, and builds his legend as Deadwood Dick one story at a time. The narrative, loosely based on the life of real African American cowboy Nat Love, is so full of action and plot twists that offering a comprehensible synopsis would require at least three pages. Because that’d make for a very long review, here’s what readers need to know: this is one of the best Westerns out there and one of Lansdale’s most layered narratives, and that’s saying a lot.
Paradise Sky comes in at over 400 pages, and the fact that it never gets boring or slow is a testament to its author’s storytelling skills. Also, in typical Lansdale fashion, the narrative jumps around from one thing to the next while making perfect sense. There’s everything from a cute love story to a half-dead man getting a dead horse’s penis shoved down his throat. There’s violence and shooting competitions and sex and many rescues from the jaws of imminent death, but the best thing about it is that is moves forward at breakneck speed and the reader can never guess what will come next.
Lansdale does many things well in this novel, but two that merit special attention here are his outstanding dialogue and the way he builds Nat into unique and very likeable character. Very few authors understand the Texas rhythm like Lansdale, and the fact that his understanding of it seems to easily travel in time is marvelous. That knack for accents and local sayings carries his dark humor and a good portion of the action. Additionally, this talent also translates into an affable, unforgettable character that has his own voice and lingers in the heads of readers for a long time after the book is over.
When you take everything I’ve already written, throw in a few recognizable historical figures, a healthy dose of tragedy, and a touch of justice in the face of racism, the result is a rowdy, heartfelt novel that, just like The Thicket, makes Westerns cool again. Yeah, this one demands to be read.