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Have you heard of the author Joe R. Lansdale? He is a Texas author who writes specifically about East Texas (he also lives there). This is where my husband is originally from, where we own a small farm and is one of my favorite places on earth. It’s only a few hours from where we live so we spend much of our free time there.
Funny story: I found out about Lansdale only very recently on Instagram. I (a native Texan currently living in Texas) was a little surprised to be introduced to a Texas author from someone who lives in the Pacific Northwest. But that is how things work sometimes, I guess? It’s a beautiful example of what can come when you engage in the community that is #bookstagram.
Anyway, this part western, part historical fiction sounded right up my reading alley, so I grabbed a copy and tore through it in a matter of hours.
The Thicket is the gritty but hopeful story of Jack Parker, a young boy in the care of his grandfather after the loss of his parents. Jack, Jack’s sister Lula, and their grandfather are traveling north through turn-of-the-century Eastern Texas.
In case you were not aware, East Texas was a rough place during hundred or so years leading up to the time of our story. There is a funny (or maybe not so funny) story about one of my husband’s ancestors coming to East Texas hiding in the back of a wagon.
Family lore says he was attempting to evade the authorities with whom his wife had a less than cordial disagreement (I am SURE it was self defense, right?). Their destination was such a lawless place at the time (1820’s) that neither Mexico or the United States really wanted to claim it as their own. This is actually how my husband’s family ended up in this part of the country. I am so proud.
Anyway, back to the book. So, this particularly rough part of East Texas, known colloquially as “The Thicket,” was a place of outlaws and crime and the home to basically all things evil. As Jack and Lula make their way North, they have a run-in of sorts with a band of particularly nasty outlaws. I won’t say much more except Lula is taken and Jack determines to go after her.
Enter some of the most interesting and well-written characters I have encountered in a very long time including a “gun-shooting dwarf” named Shorty, a grave-digger and former slave’s son named Eustace and a rather plucky but wicked smart “woman of the night.” I could not help but feel vibes from a few of my other favorites: Lonesome Dove, All the Pretty Horses and True Grit.
Jack, Shorty and Eustace are joined by Jimmie Sue and her pet pig whose skills as an assassin outweigh the group’s desire to eat pork. The company of misfits take off after the outlaws who stole Lula. The race is on toward the most dangerous, scary and violent part of the area at that time – the Thickets of East Texas. Following the outlaws trail, our rag-tag band of heroes encounter nothing but turmoil and ruin in the bad guys’ wake as they travel.
I used the word gritty before, and I want to mention that this book is not for the faint of heart. It is a very weird and wonderful mix of violence, humor, and love…making me grimace, laugh and smile, sometimes all on the same page.
My Overall Thoughts
Friends, do you know any other books that can do that? I don’t, and quickly put this on my Favorite Books of 2019 list. Soon after completing The Thicket, I read one of Lansdale’s back list books, The Bottoms, which I also adored but that is a blog post for another time.
The Thicket completely pulled me in with it’s crazy, weird scenarios (the pig stories alone could make up their own book) and it’s old-time Texas backdrop. With it’s unlikely heroes and it’s seemingly doomed-from-the-beginning epic rescue story. It’s smart and authentic dialogue kept me in stitches. At the heart of the story is an emotional pull of a good versus evil where you root so hard for the good guys to prevail, you can’t stop turning pages to find out if they do.
Book-Inspired Recipe for Duck Stuffed Jalapeno Peppers
Our farm in East Texas is my happy place. It is wild (read: little to no cell signal), rough (ok, we have a cabin with a little kitchenette and a shower but that’s about as rough as I go), and gorgeous.
Shooting wild game was pretty much the only way to survive in turn of the century East Texas. In modern times, we have the grocery store and meat counter. However, I relish the opportunity to show my children how to successfully manage property with an eye towards sustainability for the future. This means, I frequently have wild game in my freezer and this book inspired me to share this recipe alongside it.
To make this recipe for Duck Stuffed Jalapeno Peppers, wild duck breast meat is brined and wrapped in a delicious pocket of cream cheese, jalapeno and bacon and then grilled (or baked and broiled) to oozy perfection. Many folks make this same recipe, but our recipe (“our” here means my brother-in-law, Trevor McCarley from whom I got permission to share) has a very special ingredient and one that I think elevates this recipe from your “typical” stuffed jalapeno to something really special.