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Hap and Leonard: Blood and Lemonade by Joe R. Lansdale
Tachyon Publications (March 2017)
Hap and Leonard: Blood and Lemonade is equal parts short story collection and novel; or, as author Joe Lansdale terms it in his Afterword, a “mosaic novel.” The stories are a mix of previously published material and a couple of new stories, all of them set in the early days of the duo’s friendship. The wrap-around segments take place in the present day, and mostly consist of the two guys riding around and reminiscing, a conceit that works as well as it does because of the long (ten novels’ worth) history between the two, not to mention Lansdale’s considerable storytelling skill.
Although we’ve gleaned a good deal about the nature of both Hap and Leonard in previous books, Blood and Lemonade serves as a coming-of-age story for the two of them. As with the books, these stories (with one exception) are told from Hap’s point-of-view, but there’s plenty to learn about Leonard through Hap’s eyes. What we see is that the two of them are basically the same now as they were as kids: tough, principaled, brave, loyal, and prone to let these characteristics get them in a fair amount of trouble.
The stories vary in length but not in quality—all are exceptional. In keeping with the rambling nature of the wrap-around segments (and with real conversations in general), they’re not presented in chronological order. However, despite this unconventional approach, Blood and Lemonade fits right in with the rest of the Hap and Leonard catalog. Rights are wronged, fists are thrown, vanilla cookies are consumed, and lessons are learned.
On standout I would like to mention is the final story in the collection, “The Oak and the Pond.” It’s a story about a small patch of land featuring a giant tree and a well-stocked pond, a place Hap and Leonard used to meet to talk and fish and relax. It’s gone now, and while Leonard won’t even look toward the spot when they drive by it these days, Hap likes to revisit it in his mind from time to time. The story contains some of my favorite writing by Lansdale—this, for example, where he describes what they called “the Robin Hood tree:”
Its bark was healthy and dark, and in the spring its leaves were green as Ireland. To stand beneath it when it rained was a miracle, because the limbs were so thick and the leaves so plush that during the spring, and much of the summer, if not the fall when the leaves were brown and yellow and falling, you would hardly get wet. When it stormed the limbs shook like angry soldiers rattling their weapons, but the limbs didn’t break, just old dead leaves and little branches dribbled down.
Hap and Leonard: Blood and Lemonade is a wonderful piece of storytelling, and a worthy addition to a great series.