Sunday, July 31, 2011

Drive-in


I can't remember the first place I discovered Joe R. Lansdale. I may have read a short story or two before, and had certainly heard his name around, but the first place I really made note of him was... well, it was either The Drive-In: A 'B' Movie with Blood and Popcorn, Made in Texas or Dead in the West.

I know that I followed him through the years since, from The Magic Wagon to The Nightrunners to The Big Blow to Sunset and Sawdust, not to mention the multitude of short stories and excellent short story collections.

For what it's worth, I actually first read Bubba Ho-tep when I picked up The King Is Dead: Tales of Elvis Postmortem by happenstance one day.

He's one of my favorite writers. In fact, I'd have to say that at this point he'd be the writer my writing would sound way too much like if I were good enough at writing. As such, it's one of those small favors of mediocrity that I don't expect to sound like his voice any day soon.

At one point I upgraded to The Drive-In: A Double-Feature Omnibus and held onto it for years. Despite the first book being a seminal book in my mind, or perhaps in some way because of it, I never got around to reading "The Drive-In 2: Not Just One of Them Sequels".

Now, it's years later, I've moved across the country and I pick up a copy of the less intriguingly titled, but further upgraded The Complete Drive-In, which includes "The Drive-In: The Bus Tour", a much more recent third book.

This time I read the whole way through.

You can find reviews anywhere that will tell you the failings of these, especially the sequels, and yet from where I am today I saw something else.

For one thing, in spite of the separate introductions that describe very different writing experiences, this book works oddly well as one novel. I suspect the "double feature" formula served the second book particularly poorly, its unexpected ending could be a problem for many at the end of the literary equivalent of long night.

On the other hand, here in the middle of a longer novel, it seems only a natural transition to the next stage.

For those still reading this and not knowing what I'm talking about, the "Drive-In" books are about the survivors of a mysterious event at a giant Texas drive-in movie theater. Whether that event was the end of the world or an alien attack or what is a major source of concern, especially through the early parts of the first book.

Concerns of "why?" are quickly lost as the movie-goers struggle to merely survive. Of course Lansdale can't leave them with mere survival. He throws increasingly insane forms of oppression against them as they go on.

At the start, Lansdale seems to nearly despise the characters and goes out of his way to pile harrowing trials upon them, however by the end he seems to have come to admire or at least grudgingly respect them, if for no other reason than their continued determination to survive.

I think there's an insane, cynical out-of-genre perfection to the first book, and there's perhaps an argument to be made that it should have stayed at that.

And yet for me as an older reader who perhaps needs a little larger dose of hope and admiration of survival, there's something I feel good about in this as an extended saga. I'm satisfied.


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