Glancing over online reviews of Owen King’s book I didn’t find one that seemed to perceive the book the way I did: as an engaging romp that tells a contemporary story and drew me into the lives of the characters. It is very much a book about adolescences, immaturity and indulgence. In other words it holds up a (good-natured) mirror to our fucked up society. The book is full of characters who are caught in the swirling pop culture of films. It also has many fanciful descriptions of movies. A few I recognized, but most sent me to the Interwebs to make sure King was making them up.
And the movies in this book also pulled me into their word-created world. I think I read somewhere where King said he found it much easier to write a movie description than he envisioned the difficulties in actually making a movie.
In the first third of the book, we meet Sam who is living in the shadow of his father Booth a larger than life actor in B movies that King based on Orson Welles. Beginning as an imaginative child, Sam has fantasized about filming what he sees and creating. As a twenty something he makes up his mind to make an independent film of his own script. The basis of his story is the idea of compacting time in the movie so that four years of attending college is crammed into scene after scene where we witness the quick passage of time in the relationships of the people he is filming. So that an arguing couple getting high flickers into one of them sitting listlessly and a bit older alone while the other might disappear. It sounds like a mildly interesting idea for a move.
King goes into some detail about the way Sam manages to organize this film. This interested me because I am fascinated by how it seems to “take a village” of people to do a film (judging from the credits I invariably sit through).
It doesn’t take long before Sam discovers that his insane AD (Assistant Director, on board because he put up a lot of money) has converted his film into a hodge podge of shots of a leering satyr like person obscenely romping for the camera in between about a third of the original movie. This insane AD has destroyed all other versions of the movie. Sam’s work is completely wasted.
So the film is made and ruined and the reader is only a third of the way into the book. The characters in the book haven’t drawn me in yet. I remember wondering where in the heck he was going to go for the rest of this book.
And this is probably the “double feature” nature of the the book. As Booth says in a key passage I have quoted here before life is like a double feature in a drive in movie. The first feature is kind of a throw away choice that doesn’t suffer too much if the light is quite right yet or you arrive late. It’s the second feature that is the real McCoy, the reason you came out to sit and eat popcorn and swat mosquitoes.
I found the rest of the book slowly engaging me into the second feature of the lives of the characters and leaving me laughing out loud more than once. The people become more complex and believable. There are shifts in their personalities as well as deaths and other things that make the whole thing believable in a cock-eyed way.
Owen King (son of Stephen whom I think he has outdone in this work) is no Anthony Burgess but I welcome his prose and clever take on what it means to be alive at this time.