REVIEW: Of Mice and Minestrone by Joe R. Lansdale

Thank you to the fine folks at Tachyon Publications for providing a review copy of Joe Landsdale’s Of Mice and Minestrone.

51600122. sx318 sy475 I have read several Joe R. Lansdale stories over the years, but it’s only recently that I’ve been making a conscious effort to seek out his work. I have reviewed his new documentary, All Hail the Popcorn King for Grimdark Magazine, and I’ve also reviewed an earlier collection, Driving to Geronimo’s Grave: and Other Stories at my personal blog for NetGalley.

While Lansdale’s work is as varied as the regions of Texas, there is one common link through all of it: his brilliant storytelling. I had only dabbled in the world of Hap and Leonard before this, but it’s safe to say that after reading this collection, I’m hooked, and will be reading more of these stories sooner rather than later.

Established fans of Hap Collins and Leonard Pine will love these stories, which go back to their youth as their friendship was just getting started. It is also a great place to introduce new readers, as it gives a great taste of their background in the 1960s of East Texas, as well as a snapshot into the dynamic friendship between the two.

Five stories make up this collection:

“The Kitchen”, where we are introduced to another very important element of these stories, food. Not just any food, but the East Texas Southern cooking that serves as the foundation for all that is to come with these characters.

“Of Mice and Minestrone”, the title story where we see a young Hap Collins as he’s faced with some disturbing social issues of the time.

‘The Watering Shed”, a tale that shows that just because our heroes can go into a seedy backwoods bar, it doesn’t mean that they should.

“Sparring Partner”, the longest story in the collection, deals with an illegal boxing ring that’s about as safe an environment as the Watering Shed.

“The Sabine is High”, where our two main characters just want to hang out and go fishing.

This book is a remarkable study of friendship, as Hap and Leonard are faced with several challenges of their times and geographic setting. The late 1960s were a time of Vietnam, racism, and the old South good ole boy system where women were treated as property. Hap and Leonard weren’t defined by these issues, however, and had a strong sense of right and wrong which motivated their decisions.

I was actually born in the southern part of the East Texas region where these stories are set, and though my family moved away when I was quite young, I remember several occasions where we went back to visit family. These stories struck home for me and stirred up some of these memories. Starting out the collection with “The Kitchen” brought back those experiences of the family gatherings, and the food we had. This was a great way to settle in and get comfortable, before striking out with Hap and Leonard to face the challenges presented by the other stories in the book.

An extra bonus to these stories is the section at the back of the book, where recipes are included of the main foods experienced in the stories themselves. This section was written by Lansdale’s daughter Kasey, and she did a great job of providing entertaining recipe notes in Hap’s narrative voice. This was a great addition to the stories, giving them a little extra flavor. My arteries might just have hardened a little bit after reading these…

Buy Of Mice and Minestrone by Joe R. Lansdale

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Chris Haught

Chris Haught is a lifelong fan of all things fantasy, since picking up a copy of The Hobbit age the age of 10, the same year that Star Wars premiered. These laid the foundation for a reading career in speculative fiction, which has expanded over time with exposure to the job market, military service, fatherhood, married life, and becoming a grandpa. These experiences contributed just enough appreciation for the absurd, cynicism, and irony to develop a love of grimdark fiction.