By Dave Barry
Dave Barry has been a professional humorist ever since he discovered that professional humor was a lot easier than working. He has written more than 30 books, including the novels Big Trouble, Lunatics, Tricky Business and, most recently, Insane City – his first solo adult novel in more than a decade!
I’ll be honest: The reason I agreed to review this book is that Stephen King asked me to. For 20 years Steve and I were members of the Rock Bottom Remainders, a rock band consisting mostly of authors with severely limited musical talent.
Steve and I have spent many hours standing on a stage, enveloped in a thick thudding cloud of noise, frowning at each other’s guitars, each of us trying to figure out what specific chord the other guy was playing. We have also sung together on both “Teen Angel” and “Surfer Bird.” When you go through experiences like that with another person, you become friends.
So when Steve asked me if I’d consider reviewing Owen King’s first published novel, Double Feature, I said “Of course!” But I also said, to myself, “Uh-oh.” My concern was: What if I hate it? I’d still have to give it a nice review, even though that would totally compromise my integrity.
But then a really fortunate thing happened: I remembered that I have no integrity.
No! Seriously, the fortunate thing that happened is this: I read Double Feature. And I didn’t hate it. In fact I really, really liked it. I liked it so much that it sort of pisses me off – the fact that Owen King, who is something like 142 years younger than I am, is such a skilled, imaginative and complete writer. This is a well-wrought and thoroughly satisfying novel, which manages, at the same time, to be both moving and – this is what pisses me off the most – very funny.
It’s the story of a melancholy young man named Sam Dolan. Sam is the son of Booth Dolan, a career B-movie actor who always, when performing, wears a false nose (he has two suitcases full of them). Booth is big-hearted, shrewd, spontaneous and a wondrously flamboyant raconteur; many people love him. Sam, however does not: Booth has been a seriously unreliable parent, and a faithless husband to Sam’s mother, Allie (who loves Booth nonetheless, as do I, and as will you).
Sam is estranged from his father, but not the movies. We meet him as a film student determined to produce and direct a movie he wrote called Who We Are, which is financed in part by a wealthy but weird fellow student named Brooks Hartwig Jr. With heroic effort, Sam manages to get his movie made, only to discover that Hartwig has destroyed all the prints but one, which he has transformed into an entirely different, totally bizarre movie starring a spectacularly well-endowed college janitor who, among other things, has sex with a tree.
His dream dashed, Sam drifts away from filmmaking. When we see him next, eight years have passed, and he’s earning his living making wedding videos. We learn that the mutant version of Who We Are has, to Sam’s enduring anguish, become a big cult hit, a kind of X-rated Rocky Horror Picture Show that hipsters gather to mock-worship.
Sam can’t get away from the movie, and he can’t reconcile himself to its success. He can’t accept anything good happening to him, and therein lies the heart of the plot, which I won’t divulge further except to say that it is skillfully executed and never predictable. The characters are brilliantly quirky and non-generic, and (I’m saying this again because you really need to know) the story is just wonderfully, organically funny.
Owen King has a gift. I don’t know where he got it. But I can’t wait to read what he writes next.