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All the Earth, Thrown to the Sky

All the Earth, Thrown to the Sky - Joe R. Lansdale I've been reading Joe Lansdale for a long time. I haven't been there since the beginning, but I discovered him around 1994 and found a lot of reasons to come back to him. He has a very natural storytelling style, he tells stories with great theme and atmosphere, and his voice doesn't disappoint. Not all of his stories are big hits (Lost Echoes and Leather Maiden weren't as good as Sunset and Sawdust), but even when they're a miss, they're still enjoyable reads.

All the Earth, Thrown to the Sky has all of those characteristics, but it's not his best work. I think part of it is because it's a YA book, and I expect that it's unfair to judge this book for what it isn't, but when I know how a Lansdale story reads when he's running all cylinders on nitroglycerine, it's hard not to wish that this story could have been so much more.

A lot of the appeal of reading Lansdale is the way he unflinchingly looks at injustice and intolerance. It's not always a comfortable read, but it's usually an enlightening one, and it's more effective when he's writing with adults in mind. He doesn't have to be careful with his language, he doesn't have to worry about the violence being too graphic, and he doesn't need to ask himself if he's going too far. With this book, though, he did, and I feel like it suffers for it. It's as if he's trying to get that same point across without offending anyone in the process, and as it is, the antagonists come across as being far too gentle for some of the atrocities they commit.

The story is about three young kids in the 1930s who have lost their parents to the dust storms in Oklahoma, and how they wind up making their way to Texas. The reasons for their departure are pretty clear -- there's nothing left for them there with their parents dead, their houses in foreclosure, and their farms decimated -- but how they get from Oklahoma to Texas is the real story. I wouldn't want to give too much away, but rest assured, there's enough Southern Gothic weirdness here keeping the story moving. The events in the story feel a little random, but the structure follows that of the Odyssey, where the main characters are on a journey that takes them through many trials, so I doubt that this was Lansdale flailing away at the plot. I think he was making a conscious decision to bounce the kids around from one event to the next.

Overall, the story was good, and I can see it being a good book for YAs (the themes will generate discussion, and the lessons to be learned from the story, though a little too obvious, are important), but it's hard to recommend it to adult readers. If you have a hankering to try out Lansdale's style, I'd recommend starting with Sunset and Sawdust; it will make everything else of his you read pale by comparison, but it's a damn fine story that should engage all readers of fiction.