Book Review: BY BIZARRE HANDS by Joe R. Lansdale

Well, it finally happened. After countless mentions of his name and talk of his immense talent, I took the plunge and read my first book by Joe R. Lansdale. As you know, I believe that short fiction collections are a great place to begin a new (to me) author’s work. Because of this, I decided to start my trip into the land of Lansdale with BY BIZARRE HANDS. The edition I have is a 2016 republication of the original, which was released in 1991. It now contains both a foreword (by Lewis Shiner) and an afterword (by Ramsey Campbell). I love these additions to a book, and in this case, each was a perfect bookend to the stories found in between.

If you’re already a fan of Lansdale, you won’t learn anything new from my review, but I hope you’ll keep reading as I further validate the praise you’ve given this author. If you’re waiting to take the plunge into Lansdale’s writing, what I tell you here might be similar to what you’ve already heard, but I hope this time it prompts you to jump in. Better late to the party than never, right?

Lansdale’s writing is everything I was told it would be. BY BIZARRE HANDS is a horror collection, but the stories within span so many genres that they can’t be confined to just one. Together, they form a perfect example of how versatile and limitless the genre can be—a full display of how “horror” cannot be narrowly defined or fit into a box. Here you’ve got a wide range of story types: western, post-apocalyptic, alternate history, and coming-of-age are just a few. They are all horror stories in the sense that they force the reader to look fear in its face and leave feeling unsettled, shaken, or even flat out frightened. I love that these stories are so versatile, and believe that more readers would take a chance on horror if they knew it could be like this.

The stories in this collection are memorable. The writing is unapologetic, and a perfect blend of great storytelling elements. The dialogue and setting are often characters in their own right, and the human characters themselves are what seal the deal in each of these tales. Most of the stories in this book have no hint of the supernatural, and are further proof that it’s not a necessity in order for horror to be effective. In this collection, Lansdale has written some of the most frightening stories I’ve ever read, with the majority of them based on human monsters. The characters are real, raw, and often downright vile. In these tales, I’ve come across some of the most memorable antagonists I’ve ever encountered. As I was reading, I often felt like I was watching crime unfold from the sidelines—like I couldn’t stop watching in horror, and I was helpless to stop it. This is some highly effective writing, friends.

My Top 5 in this collection are:

-BY BIZARRE HANDS

-BOYS WILL BE BOYS

-NIGHT THEY MISSED THE HORROR SHOW

-DOWN BY THE SEA NEAR THE GREAT BIG ROCK

-ON THE FAR SIDE OF THE CADILLAC DESERT WITH DEAD FOLKS

After reading just this one collection, I understand why Joe R. Lansdale’s work is treasured by so many. Many of my favorite authors have been influenced by him, and now that I’ve read it for myself, I can see hints of his fingerprints on the work of those he has inspired. I have no doubts that he can write in any genre and the end results will be spectacular. These stories won’t be leaving my memory any time soon, if ever. I’m thankful I’ve got more of this author’s work waiting on my shelves. From this day forward, you can count me in as a member of the chorus singing Lansdale’s praises.

5/5 Stars

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