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Saturday, November 12, 2016

Paradise Sky

Nat Love was a real person, but bears little resemblance to Joe R. Landsale's character in Paradise Sky, a rollicking Western that showcases the travails of a black man in the post-Civil War south, and then in the Wild West.

I just looked at Nat Love's Wikipedia page and see that other than the nickname "Deadwood Dick," which was given to Love based on a dime novel character that had already existed, there is nothing true in Lansdale's book. But that doesn't lessen my enjoyment of it. As Nat says: "I can’t stand a damn liar and have no respect for one. But an artful exaggerator always gets my full attention and my undying respect."

Lansdale, who writes in all genres, starts his book in East Texas, where a young man named Willie in town on an errand for his sharecropper father, looks at the ass of a white woman. That woman's husband, Ruggert, will then pursue a life-long vendetta against Willie, who for several years hides out with a kindly white farmer, who teaches him how to ride and shoot. Willie will take the name Nat Love, and join up with the army and fight Indians, and then will spend time in Deadwood (running into the real-life Wild Bill Hickok) and then Dodge City. He will get his revenge as Ruggert further disrupts his life.

I don't know why Lansdale called this book Paradise Sky, as there no mention of a paradise or of the sky. But he has created a memorable character with Love, who narrates the book. We get all sorts of lifehacks, such as: "Be careful of women. They can cause you trouble," and "Bill once told me an Indian, even a deaf one, could hear a June bug fart under a bucket a half mile away," and "Bald barbers make me nervous" and "Banks and churches just about ruin everything."

Lansdale's dialogue is wondrous, and not only Nat gets good lines. Hickok's portion of the book is a dazzler, especially for a man who has been depicted in so many books and movies (Richard Matheson didn't think much of him in The Memoirs of Wild Bill Hickok, but played by Keith Carradine in Deadwood he was a stalwart). We do experience Bill's death at the hands of Jack McCall (and so does Nat). Hickok said of McCall:  "He came out of his mama’s wrong hole and she forgot to wipe. So there he is. But he is of no concern. I’ve played him in cards, and he’s a coward. You can tell a lot of things about a man by the way he plays cards." Bill also says of his wife, who was an acrobat: “I was charmed by her, for she is quite flexible,” Wild Bill said," but then adds, "Part of my departure might be due to the fact that despite her profession she is quite the lady and wouldn’t suck a dick if it were coated in peppermint oil."

Nat is a man of integrity and decency, and is always trying to do the right thing. And the book is consistently as funny as it is adventurous. I mean, come on, can you resist a book that begins: "Now, in the living of my life, I’ve killed deadly men and dangerous animals and made love to four Chinese women, all of them on the same night and in the same wagon bed, and one of them with a wooden leg, which made things a mite difficult from time to time." I dare you. This is one of the best Westerns I've read in a long time.

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