Review: Of Mice and Minestrone

Posted: June 17, 2020 by in Books We Love (5/5 single_star) Meta: Joe R. Lansdale, Western, Collection, Short Fiction

I love reading speculative fiction. So much so, that I hardly ever read anything that isn’t at least somewhat speculative in nature — at least not by choice — but when I do read something that is just “fiction” I always find myself pining for that little bit of made-up tomfoolery. So this read was a bit out of the ordinary for me, because there really wasn’t anything to do with the speculative in it. However, when we got the book, I couldn’t help but jump at the chance to read it because of how much Steve enjoys this guy’s stuff. We have pretty similar reading tastes, Steve and I. And so even though this was straight-up fiction, I was surprised in the least to find that I *really* enjoyed reading it. There’s something to be said for masterful story-telling, and these stories are completely riddled with it.

OF MICE AND MINESTRONE is a small anthology of short stories and novellas about one of the author’s iconic character sets: Hap and Leonard. Lansdale has written a lot of stories with these characters. About a dozen novels, loads of short material, and there was even a TV series with a few (that’s three) seasons. And if the rest of this guy’s stuff is as well-told as these stories were, then I really need to get catching up on them. I can’t say enough good about how much I enjoyed reading this one.

Hap Collins and Leonard Pine are an unlikely duo living in the wastelands of East Texas. Hap is a good ol’ white boy and Leonard is proud and gay and black. And yet they’re the fastest of friend. Have each other’s backs, even if one thinks the other crazy. Know each other better than anyone else does. Find comfort and peace with simply being together. There is no hesitation in either of them when it comes to the veracity of their relationship, and this bleeds through the prose every time they are together.

Six stories in this collection. Two novella length and the rest relatively short. Some deal only with Hap, but most with the two of them together. It was so easy to fall into these stories and feel the life that they contain. Life is hard for each of them alone and as a pair. Blacks had only recently come out from under the thumb of oppression according to the law, but the law hadn’t yet diffused into practice. Leonard had no qualms whatsoever in reminding people of this fact, and they get into more than enough trouble because of it.

Lansdale’s writing here is best described as sparse. In ways, it reminded me of Mike Resnick’s, but I found that I enjoyed this a whole lot more. It stayed consistent in it’s portrayal of character and had me pining not for something more speculative, but instead for the wide-spread countryside, the cool of the river, the heat of the desert sun, the companionship of a brother.

For me, the humor worked brilliantly well. I found myself chuckling and even outright laughing consistently. And the juxtaposition of this humor against some of the truly horrible things that they have to deal with here made each end of that spectrum all the more poignant.

Stories of two friends in their youth. Their lives, their escapades, and a bit about how they learn to deal with the hardships of life. Character to the max

The last “story” is really a collection of recipes local to their time and lives. There is story there also in the presentation of those recipes. As a man who loves to spend time in the kitchen, a number of these recipes had me wanting to try them. I found myself unable to repress a grin at the fun they must have had putting these together.

I think I just need to read me some more Lansdale. That’s the conclusion I’ve come to at the end of this read. Anyone else love this guy’s stuff? If you haven’t tried him yet, and you enjoy great storytelling with great writing, then you need to pick something up from him. You won’t regret it. I certainly don’t. Even though it wasn’t speculative in the slightest.

  • Recommended Age: 16+
  • Language: Infrequent but strong
  • Violence: Physical violence against women, fisticuffs, guns, and war references
  • Sex: Frequent and casual references

Some readers may be sensitive to the use of the N-word, which is found semi-frequently in these stories.


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