Review by Dave Thompson:
When I was in college, I made a student film. I went to a Christian university, and so I decided to write and direct a movie about vampires. This was just as Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV show came out, before it became “a thing.” So, I spent a semester of my life and education attempting to make a horror movie – one that to this day has never actually been edited together and completed. One of the tapes was lost (probably the one with some of the best footage on it – where we tromped through a sewer). And while that does completely suck (ha!) most of the time I’m generally okay with that, because I think it probably would not have turned out to be a very good movie for a number of reasons. Most of the time. I was trying to make a movie that I really didn’t have the right budget for, and I’m sure any multiverse version of me would be a decent cinematic director. (I will say – I think we put together a pretty kickass preview, though!) Also, I made some choices back then that I regret. But what if – what if I’m wrong? And the movie was bad, but so bad it was awesome? And still haunted me?
Owen King’s Double Feature is a modern-day coming of age story – one win which the characters only figure out how to redeem the errors of their youth as adults. It’s the funniest thing I’ve listened to in a long time, and while it might attempt answering some of life’s harder questions a little too pat at times, I still found it genuinely moving.
Sam Dolan, estranged son of B-movie maestro Booth Dolan, is a student filmmaker intent on making a great movie, and is willing to do whatever it takes to create the best art he can. That might sound like the beginning of a great horror movie itself, but this is not that book. He’s egotistical and full of youthful arrogance, but you kind of can’t help but love him. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t quite turn out the way Sam hoped it would, and he’s left disillusioned. Fast forward several years into the future, and Sam’s disillusionment has earned him a career as a wedding videographer, a job he loathes. He doesn’t dream of being a filmmaker anymore – he doesn’t really dream of being anything – and his film has become a cult hit that’s the 21st century cross between an Ed Wood and David Lynch mash-up. But circumstances occur, and this second act of Sm’s life, he is given the chance to repair the relationships and dreams he sacrificed as a young man, and maybe, just maybe – come out of it changed, and better. It’s not a huge set-up, but I give King a lot of credit – this could’ve very easily have been one of those books where a father and son finally reunite at the end of one of their lives…but this isn’t that book, either. The relationship between Sam’s dad Booth and Sam is at the center of this story, and it’s not only hysterical, but full of heart.
Booth, for his part, is something of a failure as a father. He lied to his son and wasn’t there for him, cheated on his wife and sacrificed his marriage. He’s a cult actor and director who believes character can be defined by the simple addition of a prosthetic nose. And by the end of the book, he just might convince us of the same thing.
There were some small issues I had with the book. Many of the supporting characters don’t feel as complete or as interesting as the leads. I’m never quite sure why one of the characters falls for Sam, and is so accepting and understanding of some of his foolishness. (Though to be fair, it’s startling how accepting I was of him too.) Additionally, Sam’s best friend is absent for half the book, and his goofy Assistant Director is absent for the other. There characters fulfill their roles in Sam’s story, but if they have their own stories, they seem less aware of them. Still, it’s easy to forgive for a book that is generally so endearing and entertaining.
Holter Graham’s reading is part of why this is all so much fun. He gives the characters a sense of humanity, which is a big accomplishment because when we meet a lot of them, they seem like really awful, petty people. But the way he acharacterizes both Booth and veteran character actor Rick Savini are so much fun, you want to grab a bucket of buttery popcorn and just listen ot him read them over and over again. Graham can go from funny to sexy to touching all in the space of a few sentences, much like King’s story itself.
All in all, this is a very welcome debut from Owen King. It made me laugh lots, it got me choked up, and then it made me laugh again. It made me want to make sure that the best parts of my life aren’t left on the cutting room floor, and that I make them count. All in all, that’s a pretty good book.