The Drive-Thru Crematorium: The Horror of a Mundane Existence
The Drive-Thru Crematorium by Jon Bassoff is a bizarre, surreal, and disturbing look at the mundane life of middle-class America. I could just end the review there, tie a bow on it, and present it as that tagline, but it’s so much more.
The book follows a man named Stanley Maddox, he’s your average American suburban man. He has a cushy job he does well. He has a beautiful wife, he’s balding, and he also has some nice love handles. He likes his cozy office job which he excels at. But, one day Stanley walked into his office and nobody recognizes him. In fact, his boss can’t even remember his name. They allow him to continue his work at the office, only he will no longer receive his salary. He returns home to find a rabbit with a broken leg running all over the house dragging blood everywhere. Worse yet, he finds out his wife is cheating on him with a man named Jeff. This man is the new man of the house, including taking Stanley’s place in bed with his wife. After he loses his salary and his dignity, he notices a small flap of skin is peeling off of his face. Beneath his skin, there is another person, dying to get out, and this person will change Maddox’s life forever.
This novel is being published by Eraserhead Press. They are well-known for such Bizarro titles as The Haunted Vagina, The Terrible Thing That Happens, I’m Not Even Supposed to Be Here Today, and the classic Baby Jesus Butt-Plug. Eraserhead books are all bizarre and surreal, even comical. They use their bizarre and surreal atmosphere to write about people, political issues, emotions, and to make some commentary on society. The Drive-Thru Crematorium is less bizarre than I would have suspected coming from this publisher. It takes place in a mundane suburban American town and there’s a surreal, dreamlike quality to the novel. The only bizarre element of the book is The Drive-Thru Crematorium itself. There is a crematorium which operates as a fast-food restaurant; hop in your car, pull into the crematorium, pay your respects, sign the book, drive away. It’s almost as if it’s a satire on capitalism and the fast food industry. If we can make food fast and easy, why can’t we make burying people?
Instead of being in your face bizarro, this book is a deep look at the mundane existence of a middle-class man in suburban America. It’s funny, surreal, and disturbing. It’s about repression and what happens when all the feelings and emotions we repress break out. This is a dark story about what happens when a man who spends all his life getting walked on by other people decides that he has finally had enough and it’s time he does the walking. The story inside is downright unsettling. You’ll laugh at first but by the end, you will leave disturbed. By the end, you won’t even know what hit you.
There’s another aspect of this novel I found interesting, and that is the way the novel tackles sensationalism, and how people turn a blind eye for profit, or for their hobbies. In this novel, there is a serial killer on the loose, his name is The Midnight Monster. Nobody can find him. He doesn’t break into people’s homes, because the police can’t find any signs of breaking and entering. He then brutally kills the people who live inside but leaves no trace of his DNA behind. Everyone is talking about The Midnight Monster, and everyone is afraid. The way this subplot develops throughout the novel is brilliant, and its connection to the main story arc is mind-blowing. By the time everything came together my jaw dropped. This novel is a paranoid thrill ride, that’s equal parts thrilling, disturbing, and it feels all too real.
By the end of the day, Bassoff has written a novel that feels all too timely, it’s paranoid, angry, funny, disturbing, and satirical. This novel is what would happen if Kafka and Flannery O’Connor had a child, then that child grew up watching David Lynch films. The surreal and dreamlike quality is incredible, the prose is breathtaking, and the novel itself is straight up disturbing. The Drive-Thru Crematorium is a must-read when it comes out on August 1st. Add this to your list now. You won’t be disappointed.