The Drive-Thru Crematorium is strange. But you already knew that based on the title. I mean, combining a drive-thru with a mortuary is a little crazy, right?
“The drive-thru idea had been Dr. Wagner’s. This way, people could come by after work or during their lunch break and they wouldn’t need to deal with parking or making small talk with people they might have conflict with. If meals could be purchased with such convenience, why not funeral viewings?” (Bassoff, 131).
Those lines really stuck in my head. As I read more, I paused and thought of the people I work with, TV shows, news stories, and some of the social media posts I encounter. In comparison a drive-thru morgue doesn’t seem so crazy after all. In fact, in less than a decade, I’d be surprised if the first drive-thru viewing doesn’t have a grand opening in America. This book is like that. You question what the heck is going on with the characters and their motivations, but the more you read, the more you simply accept that this is the way people are. The world is kind of insane.
The book starts with Stanley Maddox arriving at his job—the same job he’s held for six years at Evergreen Lending—yet the other employees don’t recognize him today. Even his boss Mr. Elliott seems to be at a loss. He consistently calls Stanley Mr. Mallory, not Maddox, and assumes that he is the new underwriter. After a brief and awkward attempt to convince his boss otherwise, Stanley simply accepts the mistake. Mr. Elliott goes on to inform “Mr. Mallory” that unfortunately, things are very tight at the lending office and they really can’t afford to give him a salary. “However, I don’t think it’s such a rotten deal to come into the office each day even if you aren’t getting paid” (Bassoff, 10). Stanley hates confrontations, so rather than argue, he simply accepts being someone else and after six years, basically starts again as an unpaid intern hoping for a big break.
I got a Fight Club/American Psycho feel in the sense that Stanley Maddox is interchangeable and unimportant. Rather than the high-flying world of Wall Street and the mergers and acquisitions that Patrick Bateman represents in American Psycho, Stanley is the working-class equivalent—loan officers, call center support, insurance sales, etc. We may think our jobs are our identities, but we must not be that important since you can be forgotten and replaced easily.
As we follow Stanley over the next few days, things only get worse, yet we see him accept all the crap that the world throws at him with little to no argument. On the first occasion from coming home from his unpaid job; his wife Wendy lets him know that there is a rabbit running around the house leaving bloody footprints and that Stanley needs to take care of it. Within a week of “losing” his job Stanley returns home again, this time to find Wendy watching Hallmark movies with some guy who resembles a lumberjack—Wendy seems to be incapable of doing anything other than watching Hallmark movies and cooking dinner, BTW.
“Oh, this is Jeff” is all she gives as way of explanation for the man on the couch with her. Again, Stanley accepts it. Same as he accepts the fact that dinner was only made for Wendy and Jeff, and later that there’s really no room for him in the bed anymore…because Jeff is sleeping in it!
As Stanley’s life deteriorates more and more, there is another plotline of a serial killer on the loose known as The Midnight Monster. The two stories intertwine and we find that Stanley isn’t really Stanley…or maybe he is. Is Pat Bateman a killer or was it all his imagination? Remember how weird The Machinist was? Take these movies and add in a flare of David Lynch and you have Drive-Thru Crematorium. It’s awkward and disjointed like a dream. Similar to Eraserhead, which I can’t quite explain either, there’s a message in Jon’s book, but you feel it rather than articulate it.
At its core, I think Drive-thru is a look at the absurdness of modern life and what it does to people. We are more connected than ever before, yet isolated and dead inside. We have little identity despite our jobs and clothes and appearances and we hope these things make us unique individuals. We sit in Red Robin or Chili’s or Applebee’s and discuss the best paint to use for the guest room. Acrylic or alkyd? Eggshell? Semi-gloss? How about the easiest way to maintain buffalo grass for an award-winning front yard? Our conversations are so insignificant. We make mountains out of meaningless materialism and yet the mysteries of death and life are treated with little reverence.
Drive-Thru is a quick read and because of the dreamlike qualities, I suggest finishing it just a few sittings. Those who like straight horror may not like the disjointed feel. Yet hardcore bizarro fans, will not find a completely topsy-turvy world that they might be used to from authors like Carlton Mellick III. Jon Bassoff’s novella is somewhere between the two genres and I feel it’s unique enough to amass a cult following. I’m interested to see what Jon’s other stuff is like.