By Bizarre Hands (1989) is a somewhat uneven but very enjoyable and at times downright grueling collection of brutal and comic bizarro and horror tales.
Lansdale floats around several recurring themes: the brutality of human nature, racism in the South (even though I think he goes back to the well of characters casually using the n-word a bit too often), and misogyny. He likes his monsters human for the most part but throws several weird beasties in, too.
I expected to outright love this collection based on my reading history with Lansdale but found it didn’t turn my wheels like I thought it might. But it’s still an excellent collection of stories overall, and entertaining throughout. A good read but not as great as I hyped it up in my mind.
However, there are a few tales that rise to masterful:
“Fish Night” – The opening story is a nicely wrought character study of two traveling salesman crossing through a desert that takes a poetic bizarro turn.
“The Pit” – An absolutely brutal look at two slaves, one white and one black, captured by backwoods hillbilly maniacs and forced to fight to the death. There is some difficult imagery here but Lansdale keeps a steady hand and brings us to a vicious end.
“Duck Hunt” – A vivid portrait of a young man’s induction into hunting culture turns blacky absurd and horrific. Hell of a central image.
“By Bizarre Hands” – Darkly comic Southern Gothic tale of a preacher with an unhealthy interest in preaching to mentally handicapped girls. Reminds me of Flannery O’Connor a bit – horrible and funny and sad. And fucked up, very fucked up.
“The Fat Man and the Elephant” – Another traveling preacher story but this preacher is considerably less psychopathic – he just gets visions from hotboxing elephant shit. Didn’t say he wasn’t still crazy.
“Down By the Sea Near the Great Big Rock” – Perhaps my favorite. A short but fantastic story of a family vacationing by the sea where intrusive violent thoughts build in each of them. Very pulpy and strange turn at the end.
“Night They Missed the Horror Show” – A masterpiece of pitch-black horror. A pair of racist assholes save their black football captain from a beating only to run into some truly sick shit. Drenching with the darkness of real human evil – no one is good here – even racist assholes don’t deserve this.
“On the Far Side of the Cadillac Desert with Dead Folks” – Epic of fucked up bizarro zombie madness. Scumbag bounty hunter and psycho pedophile run into mad scientist messiah who’s controlling zombies and more than enough and maybe too much said. Weirdo wildness.
By Bizarre Hands starts well and ends very well but overall I do think it’s a little padded out for its own good. Yet the heights are truly tremendous. Reading Lansdale is like reading no one else in the world.