April 27, 2012

Rabid Reads: "The Damned Highway" by Brian Keene and Nick Mamatas

The Damned Highway: Fear and Loathing in Arkham
by Uncle Lono (Brian Keene and Nick Mamatas)
210 pages
ISBN 9781595826855

While I do enjoy Lovecraftian horror, I've never been a fan of the author. And while I've yet to read a book written by Hunter S. Thompson, he's always struck me as a captivating character. So, all that considered, what the hell was I doing reading a book that melds the two? I'm hardly an aficionado of either subject. Honestly, I just thought it was a damned cool idea for a book.

Brian Keene and Nick Mamatas joined forces to craft a sincerely weird journey through the eyes of Hunter S. Thompson, under the guise of Uncle Lono, as he treks across America during the election season of 1968. It's treated as Thompson's attempt to further escape his own fame, while also getting up to his eyeballs in the same kind of gonzo legwork that made him famous in the first place. This time his mission is to unearth the American Nightmare, since the American Dream is dead. Boy, if he only knew.

Now, for a guy like me, my only familiarity with Hunter S. Thompson thus far has been the film adaptations of his work--the Johnny Depp stuff, basically. You would probably expect a book like this to be almost too inside or inaccessible for non-fans of Lovecraft and/or Thompson. Well, even with a vicarious hold of both men's work, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. Right from the get-go, despite no direct utterance of Thompson's actual name, the character feels instantly recognizable, not to mention genuine. And I imagine that after I read Fear and Loathing and Hell's Angels, both of which sit somewhere in my home, I'll have an even greater appreciation for all of the work Brian Keene and Nick Mamatas put into this book.

Just a straight-up tribute to the man and his work would have been enjoyable enough, I imagine, given the artful manner in which his style and mood were captured. But throwing in the Lovecraft elements, both direct and alluded to, put the story on a different plain. From stumbling upon ritualistic torture in a seedy bar, to popping mushrooms from Yuggoth in an eighteen-wheeler bound for Arkham, to watching an old companion get carnal with a giant sea creature, the psychotropic rabbit hole Uncle Lono burrows down is too surreal to properly relate to prospective readers.

If there's fault to be found in the book, it's that it is a lean, and very mean two-hundred pages. I would have been content to see the antics carried out over a longer period, but it's hard to begrudge a book that has been distilled down to such a potent proof.

An added bonus comes with the allusions to the 2012 U.S. election, as Uncle Lono opines on the status of American politics in 1968. His inevitable showdown with good ol' Tricky Dick was especially splendiferous--in a macabre kind of way.

Between this, and Ellen Datlow's Supernatural Noir (which Iread and reviewed last year), if this is the caliber of fiction Dark Horse plans to publish outside the realm of comic books, then I can't wait to read what they have in store down the road.


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