Of Mice and Minestrone: Hap and Leonard: The Early Years by Joe R. Lansdale
Trade Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Tachyon Publications
I must have been six or seven at the time, and it was an event that went on for years, this gathering of relatives.
The Overview: Beware of Spoilers…
Of Mice and Minestrone: Hap and Leonard: The Early Years contains five short stories about Hap and Leonard during their, you guessed it, early years. As an added bonus, there’s a section titled Good Eats: The Recipes of Hap and Leonard by Kasey Lansdale (Joe’s daughter). Let’s take a quick look at each…
The Kitchen is, as Lansdale says in the intro to the book, more of a vignette than short story. Reading it you get a sense of where Hap got his moral foundation and why family is important to him. If you’re lucky it will also bring back memories of another time when things moved slower and family get-togethers were special events.
Of Mice and Minestrone is divided into two parts. In part one, Hap (a 16 year old high school student) has a run-in with a thugish man at a gas station. Hap apologizes for his part, but the bully wants a fight. When the thug’s wife tries to calm her husband by saying, “He’s just a kid. He didn’t mean nothing -” it’s obvious she has overstepped. The gas station owner comes out and the man and his wife leave.
Later, when Hap unexpectedly sees the woman in town he can tell that she’s been beaten up. Hap wants to help her, but she’s afraid and Hap is just a kid. Together they devise a plan to save her. Part II Of Mice and Minestrone deals with the fallout from their plan and as you can guess things don’t end up all sunshine and roses.
The Watering Shed was a dive bar located a ways from town. It was a rough place where you could get a drink even if you were under-age, if you had the cash. Hap and Leonard had some coin and a hankering for a beer. Had Leonard not been black, there wouldn’t have been a problem. But he was and there was and it led to two murders.
In The Sparring Partner Hap and Leonard are offered some easy money to assist a promoter in getting his new fighter ready for his next match. Unfortunately the promoter isn’t on the level and his fighter is in waaay over his head. Hap and Leonard could take their sparring partner money and walk away but we know that won’t happen.
The Sabine was High takes place when Leonard arrives home from Viet Nam and Hap has recently gotten out of prison (for refusing to be drafted). They go on an overnight fishing trip and share stories about the hell each of them has been through.
Good Eats: The Recipes of Hap and Leonard is exactly what you’d imagine, recipes for preparing food from the stories.
Of Mice and Minestrone: Hap and Leonard: The Early Years provides a look at events that shaped Hap and Leonard into the men they would become. You don’t have to be a H&L fan to enjoy the book, but if you are you’ll enjoy it all the more. My favorite story gave the book it’s title. Lansdale sets up a classic situation and then throws in twists along the way (doesn’t he always) that will leave you smiling at his storytelling ability and sad at the situations the characters are in. There’s not a weak story in the book and even though I’m not much of a cook, I think I’ll give a recipe or two a shot.