The Drive-Thru Crematorium by Jon Bassoff

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Publisher: Eraserhead Press | Release Date: August 1, 2019 | Pages: 168

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of the joys of reading works from small press publishers and independent authors is discovering those little caches of gold that are so far afield from your normal reading habits that you can’t help but be impressed, and it makes you want more. Back in the days of DarkFuse, I quickly became enamored with Jon Bassoff, whose works were unlike anything I’d read prior. His books are weird and dark, oftentimes pitch black, but also deeply dreamlike, occasionally hallucinogenic reads. The stories operate with their own logic, building off metaphors and surrealism, but also working to make some very particular points through narrative subtext.

The Drive-Thru Crematorium revolves around the dissolution of Stanley Maddox. He’s a living ghost, a man who blends into the fabric of people’s lives that he’s all but invisible. His coworkers at Evergreen Lending don’t know him, his boss has no recollection of his name or even that he works there. He’s a pushover, the ultimate milquetoast man. The only one who remembers him at all is the mortuary attendant at the local drive-thru crematorium and the only thing that makes Stanley stand out at all to anybody else is the strange wound on his face that seems to be growing and revealing…somebody else.

Bassoff does a terrific job exploring the concepts of identity in the modern world and the loss of one’s own self amidst all the things competing for our attention. Little exists to define Stanley outside of his sudden disfigurement, or the world he inhabits. Everything about him is cookie cutter — the subdivision he lives in where all the homes follow the same blueprint, the chain restaurants he eats at, the music he listens to. It’s all mass produced and all the same. There’s no spark of individuality, and Stanley is, literally, a shell of a man.

His story unfolds in bizarre dream-states where time has little meaning and sometimes disappears whole-cloth. People speak in elaborate and deliberately unnatural ways, as well as behave strangely as a matter of routine, sometimes jarringly so. Bassoff continually challenges us to question what’s real and to piece together particular elements of the plot to draw our own conclusions. It’s a surrealistic head-trip through an existential crisis, and one that can’t help but draw comparisons to storytellers like David Lynch and Franz Kafka. The Drive-Thru Crematorium is a puzzle box narrative, one that’s far more elaborate and twisting than it appears on the surface, where few things are as simple as they initially seem. It’s the kind of story that, much like Stanley himself, you have to pick at the dangling threads of meat and pull in order to see what lies beneath.