Jane Goes North by Joe R. Lansdale
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I received a free advance copy of this for review from NetGalley.
And I thought Thelma & Louise had a bad road trip…
Despite recently losing her job and being low on cash, Jane is determined to attend her estranged sister’s wedding so she goes looking for someone headed north that she can catch a ride with. Unfortunately the only candidate she finds is a surly one-eyed woman named Henry who doesn’t seem like the kind of person you want as a traveling companion on a long trip.
With no other options, Jane and Henry set off but have one misadventure after another involving a weird assortment of oddballs like an unusual thief, a washed up country & western singer on her last tour, and redneck slavers. Will Jane be able to make it in time for the wedding? And what kind of gift she should buy?
Joe Lansdale has written several types of novels over the years ranging from horror to westerns to crime novels. This feels like something different, and I mean that in the best possible way. There are similarities to his other writing like the Hap & Leonard series in the style and characters, but things take a turn in the second half of the book. What starts off as a goofy romp with some rednecks turns into a pretty moving character story by the end.
That mainly comes from what we learn about Jane along the way. At the start Jane seems like just an aimless women in her mid-thirties with a string of failed relationships and dead end jobs behind her, and she has absolutely no idea what to do next. One thing compounding her problems is that Jane has got a stubborn streak that compels her to resist listening to anyone, especially when they’re right.
Jane also lacks basic planning skills and is extremely limited in her thinking. For example, since she had a bad bus ride in school years ago she refuses to take a bus to the wedding because she assumes every bus trip would be just as bad. It's also not very endearing that the main reason Jane wants to go to her sister’s wedding is because she realized that nobody really wanted her there so this is all for spite at a time when she has far bigger problems like trying to make sure she keeps a roof over head.
In short, Jane seemed like the kind of moron who consistently always does the wrong thing but never understands why her life is so crappy. However, despite seeming like the kind of person I've been actively avoiding for most of my life I came to like Jane quite a bit. Through all her trials and tribulations we learn that Jane is essentially a good-hearted and honest person who can be tough as hell when need be. Lansdale pulled off a two-part trick here in the way that Jane realizes some important things about herself, and then he also subtly shifted my perspective of her until I realized that I had been thinking of Jane as just a stereotypical red state rube because of her circumstances rather than as a complex person whose opportunities were so limited to begin with that a few bad choices left her with increasingly shitty options.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I think it’s Lansdale’s best book since The Bottoms.
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