by Owen King
I’m nothing so pretentious as a cinephile; I’m a movie-lover. So, I think, is debut novelist Owen King. But the young protagonist of Double Feature, Sam Dolan, is very much a cinephile and a freshly-minted graduate of film school. As the non-linear narrative opens, Sam is about to start filming the script that was his college thesis. The first third of the novel involves the shooting of this low-budget, indie feature film and the aftermath of that film’s creation. It affects Sam’s life in long-lasting and unexpected ways. Beyond this, Double Feature is about Sam’s complicated relationship with his father, Booth, a deeply flawed and aging B-movie actor. One passage:
“The story was undoubtedly an exaggeration if not an outright fabrication. Booth had been in the business of cheap entertainment for so long that he had gone native. In his telling, everything was a sensation, a shock, a crisis, a betrayal, amazing bad luck, or an unforeseeable confluence. When Sam was younger, his father had let him down. Now that Sam was older, his earlier self’s stupidity mortified him: how could he have expected anything else from a man who relished any opportunity to tell strangers that his infant son looked like a leper? Booth’s fallaciousness was right there all the time, as inherent as the nose on his face.”It’s bold—Bold I say!—when you’re Stephen King’s son, to publish a debut about a young artist with major daddy issues. Readers tend to read into these things. But I can’t honestly say that I believe Mr. King is working through any issues of his own. Still, he may have some insights into being the child of a celebrity that most of us don’t.
I mentioned above that the novel is non-linear. It moves in time from the opening when Sam is in his early-twenties, back to his parents’ courtship decades earlier, forward to the altered life of Sam’s early thirties, and many points in between. I’m a big fan of this type of story-telling when it’s done right. It’s an interesting way to make revelations, often with answers coming before questions are even asked. Mr. King did manage this device well, for instance, eventually supplying the additional information on Sam’s mother that as a reader I actively craved.
Double Feature is an accomplished debut, but I do have a few criticisms. I felt that both the novel’s beginning and ending were especially strong, but things slumped a bit in the tale’s middle. Further, there are plot developments that occur that are so unbelievably obvious to the reader that it’s hard to credit that Sam can’t see the big picture as easily as we can. It’s true that when you’re living in the moment, these things generally aren’t as obvious, but it still stretched my credulity.
That said, the novel’s plotting was especially impressive. King juggles quite a few literary threads and manages to bring his story full circle in a notably satisfying manner. It’s truly difficult not to develop affection for this loony cast of characters. And one more treat… Do you stay to the very end of films’ credits like I do? Sometimes there’s an “Easter egg” at the very end. This may be the first time I’ve seen a literary Easter egg after a novel’s acknowledgements, but it’s awesome. It’s the perfect way to end this tribute to the magic of movies.