Sunset and Sawdust, by Joe R. Lansdale

“Naked, except for her shoes and the gun she was holding, she wandered off of what remained of her house, stumbled down the muddy clay road in front of her place, frogs, minnows and perch hopping and flapping beneath her shoes.”

In the middle of a cyclone, Sunset shoots her town constable husband after he beats her and attempts to rape her. This is not the first time, but it is P1030938the first time she’s hit back. After her house is blown away her mother-in-law arranges for Sunset to be the new constable, to the dismay of most of the town. Even worse, she takes her job seriously and tries to solve a brutal double murder, but some members of her town try and stop her with every means possible. Sunset and Sawdust is a story about the Great Depression, a woman finding her own strength, but also about murder, deceit, corruption, greed, and generally awful people.


This book is very hard to summarize and even harder to have write a review on without it turning into a 2k word essay. It has so many twists and turns and is so full of story I don’t even know where to start. I’ll begin with Sunset.

I love her as a character. She is so human, so realistic, so tough and smart but also sometimes not so tough and smart. I find it so often that female characters written by men, even if they’re very good writers, still feel in some way a little.. flat. Especially when they’re supposed to be ‘tough’ women. Because no one (male, female or otherwise) is always one hundred percent ‘tough’. People break down, people make stupid decisions, trust the wrong people. Like Sunset. Female characters from the two other books I’ve read from Lansdale are also incredibly written (Fender Lizards and All the Earth Thrown Up To the Sky, check them out I loved them both), tough because they have to be but also human.

Honestly all the characters were interesting and really three-dimensional, even when they were only minor characters. Even the ‘baddies’ are just so strange and interesting and real in a way. They get even more scary because they feel so real, and you’ll be made sure you never want to meet them. What I also noticed is that Lansdale really seems to understand that a social environment becomes part of a person. Like how the black characters respond to white people, or to dangerous situations, because of their life-long experience with ultra violent racism. Lansdale incorporates these experiences into the characters (this sounds like every writer should do that, but, believe me, they don’t) and that makes them so real. I generally love how Lansdale shows how bad the racism was back then (not that it’s good now, though) and how people were ingrained with those ideas and with those constant threats.

The plot was also amazing. I never had any idea where Lansdale was going with this story. I’m not very familiar with his work, and I felt myself having certain expectations that were constantly crushed, but in a good way (“oh, this character is gonna be the hero, this is what’s gonna happen, yeah sure. oh. Oh. OH!”). Nothing in this book ever follows rules or patterns most story tellers use. You can’t be sure of anything, you can never predict what is going to happen and who is going to do it. It kept me on my toes constantly. Especially because Lansdale seems to constantly switch genre, from drama to humor to thriller to crime mystery and back again. Because of this, your expectations are constantly challenged and the story is kept fresh and interesting all throughout the book. Honestly it was an experience.

I had some trouble getting through it, though, mostly because it was a little slow. But I can understand the merit of a slow build for this particular plot. Also the somewhat graphic descriptions of certain things made me hesitant to continue reading (but hey, I’m a chicken in that regard, so anyone else might not have any problems with it whatsoever), though they were never just to shock the reader, but just part of the story and the lives the story tells us about.

It’s gritty and dirty and crawling through the dust, but also about fighting tooth and nail to come out on top again and just hoping good wins this time. It’s full of colorful characters and dead pan dialogue (but don’t read it if you cannot handle gory details or creepy violence). In general a very interesting read about how awful people can be.

Trigger Warnings: described rape, attempted rape, murder, sexual intimidation, sex, extreme violence, racism (even descriptions of lynching, but off-scene), sexism, pedophilia 


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4 thoughts on “Sunset and Sawdust, by Joe R. Lansdale

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