The Nightrunners

The Nightrunners - Joe R. Lansdale I understand the appeal of this early Lansdale novel, as it does have a few things to commend it: a strong though at times inconsistent pace, good dialog & a sincere interest in character. There is a kind of desperation in these pages, the overwhelming sense of mortals caught in a Lovecraftian world governed by unforgiving forces, where humans are impotent against some diabolical power, "The God of the Razor," & are mere puppets in its unfathomable plot to destroy life. Despite these interesting elements, the novel is marred by weak writing & a final impression of senselessness not just in regards to mortal existence, but to the work as a whole, which left me fairly unsatisfied. In the introduction to the 2007 Subterranean Press collection The God of the Razor, Lansdale himself appears mystified by the book's popularity; it is not the best of his early books, he claims.

The novice shows itself throughout the narrative, & I almost did not read past the first few paragraphs. In this novel, Lansdale adopts the use of odd, often abstract similes the way some people adopt a nervous tic. For a fast-paced work I often fumbled at passages, trying to grasp their meaning & realizing that the images were constructed solely for effect. This for me is problematic, since an image without sense is one of nonsense. I found myself not only stumbling, but actually groaning at certain passages. Here's a taste: "Clyde led Brian through rooms... empty rooms, cold and hollow as the inside of a petrified god's heart." I have no idea what this means. Do gods even have hearts, since that would make them mortal? If petrified, does a heart remain hollow or does it shrivel & become flat, eliminating the presence of space? I paused for some time on this one, & eventually abandoned hope for an answer since I doubt one was even necessary. A young Lansdale probably liked the sound.

I tripped again a few pages later: "she was blond, had massive breasts and dark eyes like pools of fresh-perked coffee; pools that went down and down and down into her head like wet tunnels to eternity." I won't even begin on this one.

SPOILERS: I mentioned earlier a "final impression of senselessness," which is what the novel finds itself entrenched in by the end. We spend a large amount of time with certain characters that have no place in the novel. I am not clear as to the purpose of Angela and Jimmy. They appear early with a strong back story presented through Angela's point of view, a strong teenage girl with an overbearing Catholic mother. Unfortunately, after a strong introduction we see the two as mere whiners through the eyes of the "bad guys," & Angela is reduced to snivelling & begging for her life. Then they die. I was disappointed as I actually found Angela's narrative quite interesting & she was by far a more interesting character than Becky & Monty, who we spend too much time with.

Finally, after a long chase sequence, which much of the book is, we find our cast of characters all kill each other off in the last twenty pages and The End. The book I mean, not the world. Had something near-apocalyptic occurred I may have been somewhat satisfied, but was offered by the young Lansdale a mere few lines of the two main "bad guys" calling each other names & promising an eternity of razors. Perhaps that's where those "wet tunnels" fit in.