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November 6, 2008 |

By Dustin Rowles | Books | November 6, 2008 |

Potentially the stupidest reason to read an author, but I grew up ten minutes from a town in Pennsylvania called Lansdale. It was the midpoint on the major highway that led to our mall, so we’d always see signs for it. It was also the last exit before hitting the Mid-County Turnpike and driving into Philadelphia on the Schuylkill. So, yeah. So many authors I admire would mention Lansdale as a fantastic inspiration and king of his craft, so I decided to give him a whirl.

My problem with most prolific authors is I never know where to begin. All of his novels might be stand-alone, but I’m not sure if, like Preston and Child, some of the characters from the peripheral novels end up in the main drag and so forth. I never know which is the best, or whether only the late works are good or what. Often, people would ask me which author I liked at Barnes and Noble, and I would answer either Stephen King or Chuck Palahniuk. But which King book should someone start off with? I think I started with Skeleton Crew because I was entranced by the cover with the cymbal clapping monkey on it. Or people who just wanted to read the Dark Tower series. I would often start people with Different Seasons, because it’s got four essentially short novellas, three of which are based on major films. But with Chuck Palahniuk, it’s the same deal. Which did I start with? Well, Fight Club, of course. Which is my personal favorite? Well, it was Invisible Monsters, but I don’t think you’ll like it. But now it’s a toss-up between Lullaby and Haunted.

I was determined to read a Joe Lansdale book for the Cannonball, because his supposed heady blend of violence and popcorn pulp was allegedly amazing. So I gave it the old crapshoot on the library website. I called up his name and looked at what was available. And up came The Drive-In, which was subtitled a B-Movie with Blood and Popcorn, Made In Texas. But I looked up the Omnibus, which has both The Drive-In and it’s sequel The Drive-In 2, and realized that together they’d be over 200 pages, and why not read a whole collection? I expected to get a 500 or 600 page behemoth teaming with novel. Instead, I got a shoddy little paperback just edging in over 300 pages.

This was perfect for Halloween, in that it truly is written as if it were a shitty B-Movie you’d watch at a drive-in. The premise is basically that a bunch of high school boys go to the biggest drive-in in Texas (and big in Texas means BIG). And while they are there, some sort of mysterious comet causes them to be walled up by a big black cloud that dissolves anyone who touches it. And they become a Lord of the Flies type town, where society begins to break down.

It was a really over-the-top novel, incredibly cheese and unbelievably, and narrated in what felt like Sam Elliot’s voice from The Big Lebowski. It had a full-on, soaked in gravy and grit Texas feel to it, and it really made the novel enjoyable. It was amazing to watch this whole society break down as people went insane from being trapped in a drive-in for ever. People went mad, started fighting, killing each other, running around naked. Watching things degrade into a Mad Max world set up at a theatre where they are screening The Evil Dead and Night of the Living Dead and the Toolbox Murders on a constant loop. People having to live off of concession foods until those start to wain, and then resorting to eating human flesh. Martial law and then anarchy breaks out. It’s pretty nutty. But it never loses it ridiculous sense of style or humor.

The sequel was lesser, but that’s all part of the joke I suppose. Essentially, it cover the events after the first movie, what the world has become, and what exists beyond the black smoke. Our heroes (or who survived) return for the next part, and most of the book gives us play-by-play studies of the different people they meet and their backgrounds, including Grace, a kung fu archaeologist, and Popalong Cassidy, a deranged wanna-be serial killer with a TV for a head who may be the new messiah. The first book blew me away with it’s focus on the breakdown of seemingly decent people. The second mostly capitalized on being as ridiculous and symbolic as possible.

You can practically taste the tobacco spit between the lines of Lansdale’s work, and it really benefits. There’s a dark sinister undertone that’s incredibly disturbing. It kind of reminded me of the gallows humor of Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. In the second book, folks have set up a noose and having a hanging tree that is limited to three people a day. People help each other tie their hands so they can quickly die without clawing at the rope. It’s brutally disturbing, but done in this sort of off-handed sarcasm. I really was impressed.

The only downside was that the story was really wandering and stupid. It really was as cheesy as a B-Movie, and there was barely any explanation. The idea was to craft a throw-away story, and he really did, which considering his narrative ability, is kind of depressing. They could have been better, but he wasn’t trying real hard.

I’ll probably try another Lansdale book. If his westerns are anything like these two, I’m in for a treat.

This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. Details are here and the growing number of participants and their blogs are here.

Cannonball Read / Brian Prisco

Books | November 6, 2008 |

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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