The Drive-Thru Crematorium by Jon Bassoff

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

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There are a ton of songs and stories about making your dreams come true. We are taught to chase after these dreams. I don’t know if I buy all of that, mainly because I have a recurring dream where I pull out all of my teeth. Not sure if I really want to chase after that one. Can you imagine actually seeing a dream? If I could, I’d bet it’d be pretty close to what Jon Bassoff shows us in The Drive-Thru Crematorium. It’s a haunting vision of a boring man living in a terrible dream, that has a lot of potential but fails to deliver.

I don’t want you to think this is a bad book, far from it. The first half of the book is a work of art. It honestly reflects what it’d be like to live in a dream. I could almost see the faded nothingness that haunts the edge of my vision while in a dream. Bassoff does a remarkable job showing how messed up dream logic can be. Time is fluid, memories can’t be trusted, words don’t make sense, you’ll swear that Bassoff entered your head and wrote a report on what he saw. This part of the book is what will draw you in, keeping you clueless at what is really happening.

The trouble comes when we start seeing pieces of the puzzle come together. Our main character, Stanley Maddox, seems to be going through an existential crisis. Everything around him is mundane. No one remembers him, his wife is cheating on him, there’s an injured rabbit wandering around his house, and he can’t do anything about it. The only exciting things in his life is the large wound on his face and the murderer loose in the city. Slowly we get little hints that something else is going with Maddox, which leads to the puzzle pieces. We see these hints and assume they are going to lead us somewhere, which in a way they sort of do, but it’s toward more questions. It goes this way until it ends and we are left unfulfilled.

Usually I look toward the ending for some sort of resolution. It doesn’t have to be wrapped up in a nice neat bow, I’m cool with the ambiguous ending. But, there still needs to be that rewarding moment that makes it worth reading. Personally, I think the ending of The Drive-Thru Crematorium has too many blank spots and leftover pieces that don’t fit the picture.

Maybe I just didn’t get it. Maybe I focused on the wrong parts, thinking that they were the ticket to understanding the dream. And maybe that was part of the point Bassoff was trying to make, that dreams don’t have to make sense.

There is a lot to enjoy in this book. I’ve already talked about the dream logic, but damn, that stuff was magic. Bassoff figured out the secret sauce to making something crazy but never going so overboard that I felt lost. Even in the most messed up section that could have took me out of it, I knew where I was. And in what I think was completely intentional, we get a section of the book that is played straight. We go from a bizarre world to a focused perspective that doesn’t waver. It’s a daring move that totally pays off. This section also delivers some satisfying moments that while gruesome, are completely justified.

Bassoff created something unique with The Drive-Thru Crematorium. Even though I thought it had some faults, I could still appreciate it as a whole. I found myself thinking about it long after I put it down, especially while driving by chain restaurants or listening to random people’s conversations. This is the type of book that will get under your skin and have you questioning what is and isn’t real.