|When her friend, May Lynn, is found dead in the nearby Sabine River, Sue Ellen is upset not only about the loss of her friend, but the fact that no one seems to care about May Lynn's death including the local law enforcement. Sue Ellen and her friend Terry who happens to be a boy but is not her boyfriend, and their mutual friend Jinks, who is black hatch a plan to exhume their friend's body, burn it and transport the ashes to Hollywood because their friend had yearned to be a movie star.
The friends quickly realize that they will need some money to finance their trip, but, of course, have no savings or other income source. They do know of a stash of money that was stolen jointly by one of their number and another person. They are able to get their hands on the cash, but there are others who know about the money. These men would like to claim the cash for themselves and are not shy about using whatever force is necessary to do so.
Set at some unspecified time in the past, and an unspecified place in the southern United States, the tale is not so much plot driven as it is an examination of relationships, a coming of age novel, and the not so clear cut differences between right and wrong. With the usual optimism of youth, the teenagers embark on a dangerous journey with little planning for the execution of their thoughts. The realization that life is much more complicated and perilous than they had anticipated leads to all manner of trouble. The story at once belies the notion that life in rural America some years ago was slower and simpler than it is today.
The story is told, primarily, in the first person by Sue Ellen. A teenager in a home that consists of her mother, stepfather, and his children, Sue Ellen only gradually learns the circumstances of her own birth and early life from a mother who is dependent on drugs supplied by her stepfather. Her voice is convincing, except for an occasional lapse into language that is uncharacteristic of her circumstances and level of education.
Despite the serious nature of the subject matter, Lansdale manages to interject moments of humor which lighten the mood. Sue Ellen's description of hogs that are raised for slaughter and her relationship with said animals is sure to elicit a chuckle or two. Sue Ellen's mother, when she is not in a drug induced state, also manages to create some light banter with her daughter.
Some of the difficulties the characters find themselves in through their haphazard journey toward Hollywood are comedic in a different sense. They are only steps away from slapstick comedy, yet the circumstances are very close to being life threatening, an interesting juxtaposition.
Of special interest in this novel is the important role the river itself plays in the story. At times the river is an enemy; at times it is a friend. Various characters fates are dependent on the river.
It is difficult to categorize this novel as any one genre or subgenre. What can be said about it is that it will cause any reader to stop and think about the characters and what is happening to them either as a result of what they have done or what has been done to them. It is certain to appeal to a wide range of reading tastes.
Joe Lansdale has produced a novel that does not follow a pattern of his earlier books, but is sure to provoke most readers to think about life in a different way.