The Big Blow
Joe R. Lansdale
Subterranean Press: 2000
Galveston, Texas. 1900. The “Storm of the Century” is on the horizon. Prizefighter John McBride arrives in Galveston from Chicago to fight the local heavyweight champion, a black man named “Lil” Arthur Johnson. The men who have hired McBride are offering an additional $500 if he can kill Johnson in the ring. The stories of Johnson and McBride leading up to the fight are the core of The Big Blow, but Lansdale gives us glimpses of other aspects of Galveston life: prostitutes, the captain of a ship, a young couple getting romantic on the beach, a husband and wife traveling with their newborn son. This is context. The story is McBride, Johnson, the fight, and the impending hurricane.
Lansdale opens The Big Blow with a sentence so hot that it sets the tone for everything to follow. It is a sentence so ripping that you know that this is a book that you just have to read. It’s the opening sentence that grabs you. I don’t have the book in front of me right now, so I can’t duplicate it and won’t try, but suffice it to say that Lansdale states that the weather is as hot as two rates fornicating in a wool sock...only Lansdale flat out tells you what they are doing in coarser language. The opening is absolutely perfect.
The narration of The Big Blow fits around the characters Lansdale is writing about. The McBride sections are the most profane, both in narration and dialogue. The Jack Johnson sections are angrier, prideful, and resolute. The family with the baby is fearful.
The Big Blow is a slim novel, more a novella. It’s one hell of a read. Joe Lansdale is more than a master stylist, though his use of language is unrivaled. Lansdale is flat out a great storyteller. He’s the guy you hope to meet somewhere when you are waiting for a plane, a train, the next bus...and he lays out this incredible, unbelievable story that you’ve never heard before and you can’t stop listening. Lansdale is the guy you want to tell you a story, the guy you need to tell you a story. When he does, it’s a damn good one.
From the Publisher:
The New York of the south, with cars, electricity, and all the conveniences of modern life.
A prize fight pitting legend Jack Jackson versus a professional brought in to teach him his place.
Whorehouses, gambling, family life, a stark depiction of the times, and the points where history, reality, and modern myth intersect. They're all on display in a short historical masterpiece by award-winning author Joe R. Lansdale.
The hurricane of the century is coming, to destroy it all.