Lansdale's 'All the Earth, Thrown to the Sky' great storytelling

There are a lot of talented authors out there I enjoy reading. But in my opinion, there are only two great storytellers writing today: Stephen King and Joe R. Lansdale.

The difference between being a great storyteller and a great author is that a storyteller can whip up a good yarn in any genre and hook the reader with just a few sentences. It doesn’t matter if the genre is horror, suspense, westerns, thrillers, fantasy or science fiction.
Stephen King you know. 

Joe R. Lansdale, I hope you know. If you don’t, it’s a shame because Lansdale wrote “The Bottoms,” which is probably the best novel I’ve ever read. It made me laugh, cry, shout out in righteous anger, and in certain scenes it scared the crud out of me. Lansdale’s works also include my most favorite series of all, Hap and Leonard. I like Hap Collins and Leonard Pine so much that I sent the latest novel, “Devil Red,” to Bruce Willis’ production company.

Lansdale’s newest book, “All the Earth, Thrown to the Sky,” was written primarily for the young adult market, but the book is one that adults will love it, too.

The story takes place during the Great Depression, beginning in Oklahoma and ending in East Texas. The dust storms have devastated most of the states in the central part of our country, leaving families with no way to support themselves, no crops and little food, scores of individuals committing suicide with no hope for the future, while others turn to crime.

Jack Catcher is a young boy, whose mom just died of pneumonia and father hung himself in the barn. Jack has no dreams of things getting better, except perhaps that California holds the possibility of a new beginning. That idea gets sidetracked when he spots two kids running out of strength while trying to make their way in a dust storm. Jack saves them. He knows them from school — Jane and Tony Lewis. It seems that their mom ran off with a Bible salesman, and their dad was crushed underneath a fallen tractor.

After getting some rest and some food, all three decide to head to parts unknown, using Old Man Turpin’s car. Since Turpin already is dead, he won’t miss the vehicle. The kids are hoping the car will get them far enough from Oklahoma that they can finally breathe some fresh air again. Their journey, however, takes a turn for the worse when the car blows a tire and a bunch of bank robbers come driving by.

The criminals, Bad Tiger Malone and two partners, crazy Timmy and bullet-wounded Buddy, are mean and deadly people. The two main robbers decide to leave poor Buddy behind with a bullet in his head, thus ending his misery. But Bad Tiger sees a use for the kids. He can hold them as hostages. During their ordeal, the three kids learn that Bad Tiger and Timmy are after another partner, Strangler Nugowski, who stole $50,000 from them to get his child a much needed operation.

When the right moment comes along, Jack, Jane and Tony escape from the bad guys and continue their journey. But Jane now thinks they should continue to Texas and warn Strangler Nugowski about his no-good ex-friends. With the journey into East Texas, the kids meet Box Car Bertha and Pretty Boy Floyd, who makes a definite impression on Jane. After a chance encounter with a crooked sheriff and his pea farm, the kids get firsthand experience of slavery. Of course, the real question is whether or not the kids will get to Strangler Nugowski before Bad Tiger and Timmy.

“All the Earth, Thrown to the Sky” is storytelling at its absolute best. Lansdale’s writing style resonates with his fans. He has the ability to make you laugh with his stories, while keeping you glued to the seat in suspense. Like King, Lansdale is able to get to the heart of his characters with a few choice words or sentences that enable his readers to see them as real people.

Lansdale seems to know his history with his depiction of the Great Depression. Everything rings true as he describes the dust storms, with some being a mile high and hundreds of miles long. The criminals of the period bring a stark realism to the story with either their outward meanness or inner fairness. Lansdale certainly knows how to create conflict in the story with his dark, violent villains, and he does so superbly with this novel.

“All the Earth, Thrown to the Sky” is a winner in my opinion, cementing Lansdale’s status as one of the best storytellers of our time.

Wayne C. Rogers is the author of the horror novellas “The Encounter” and “The Tunnels,” both of which can be purchased at Amazon’s Kindle Store for 99 cents each.