Review: The Magic Wagon by Joe R Lansdale

Stories associated with the Weird West genre often stand out as unusual historical works as many of them involve actual locations with real people. I guess that’s the reason “storied” events work so well in literature.

BookVoice Publishing is releasing a limited run (only 500 hardcover copies – signed!) of The Magic Wagon by Joe R. Lansdale. Originally published over thirty years ago, the story still maintains a sense of freshness that fans today will enjoy. Though the book reads a lot like the classic dime novels of the period, it maintains just enough of the author’s unique eye for the odd to clearly appeal to those fans who crave the weird.

Our narrator is Buster Fogg, a young man who, after watching a tornado sweep his mother away and fatally impale his father with a pitchfork, soon finds himself associated with a trick shooting medicine peddler named Billy Bob who claims to be the illegitimate son of Wild Bill Hickock, a former slave named Albert, and a wrestling ape named Rot Toe. Oh, and there is the possibility that Wild Bill Hickock’s mummified remains may be accompanying them in the wagon. Yup, this is classic Lansdale.

What makes this story go by so quickly is the natural, almost calming demeanor of the narration. Writers are taught early on to show a story rather than tell one, which is supposed to allow the reader’s imagination to interpret the events and encourage a sense of ownership. But Lansdale throws this technique out the window by allowing Fogg to tell the story here. And this works to perfection because of the connection the readers establish with such a charismatic yet naïve character. Fogg’s vulnerability makes the strangeness around him palpable, but it is his determination that allows the audience to build such an emotional tie.

Joe R. Lansdale has successfully written stories in just about every known genre, and a number of them have comfortably crossed genres, leaving an even wider troop of satisfied fans. The Magic Wagon is a classic western, but the strange cast of characters definitely lends to the weirdness and a few mystic elements with a macabre undertone could push the story into the horror category.

So, what exactly is this book?

Who cares. It’s a fun read that is difficult to put down and goes by much too fast. With such a limited publication, these signed hardcopies are sure to go fast.

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