cover image Freezer Burn

Freezer Burn

Joe R. Lansdale. Mysterious Press, $30 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-89296-703-2

Professional loser Bill Roberts's mother has died, and if he buries her he'll lose her pension checks, which he's also afraid to cash. Out of money and food, he joins two idiot friends and concocts a robbery of a neighboring firecracker stand. They botch the job and flee into the swamps, where Bill escapes, his face so swollen with mosquito bites that John Frost, manager of a traveling carnival and freak show, takes him in. Frost is married to the gorgeous, blonde Gidget, a virtual sex-machine and the most desirable woman Bill has ever seen. Bill is soon immersed in a world of freaks, where he makes friends with Conrad the Wonder Dog and U.S. Grant, the bearded lady, and quickly becomes embroiled with Gidget in a Double Indemnity-style plot to kill Frost and take over the business. Lansdale outdoes himself in rendering sophomoric sexual fantasy and graphic, stomach-turning passages of lurid behavior. There's also an inordinate amount of concern with penile size, bouncing breasts and tiny jeans shorts. As protagonist, Bill is not as much a hero as victim of circumstance, a man who ""everywhere he turned is socked by the mallet of stupidity."" But at the story's climax, Lansdale reveals Bill to be a true sucker, and unfortunately, readers may not be sympathetic to or appreciative of his folly. The details of East Texas swamps and forests seem on target, although the humor often misfires with overloaded similes and strained attempts to be outrageous. Still, this a page-turner suitable for bus or beach and for anyone with a predilection for tacky raunchiness and a yen for what teenagers call ""gross-outs."" (Sept.) FYI: Lansdale is the winner of the British Fantasy Award, the American Horror Award and five Bram Stoker Awards from the Horror Writers of America. He has written or edited 31 books, including 16 novels.