Set in 1950s rural Indiana, this debut novel is told from the first-person by Callie Anne, primarily in flash back. Now an adult, she is drawn back to the summer she turned 11. Her memories are recalled in the mindset of a child who now has an adult perspective.
Her father is the manager and projectionist at the drive-in theatre -- king of his small, dusty domain. Her mother is a agoraphobic, but determined homemaker. Their predictable if dreary lives are turned upside down when Memphis is hired to help at the theatre. Officially, he is there to do odd jobs like repair the concessions stand and repaint outbuildings. Unofficially, he befriends Callie and her mother. It quickly becomes clear to him that their living situation is an abusive and repressive one and he vows to help them escape.
One thing Reynolds is very adept at conveying is a complicated relationship. Callie Anne, still a young girl, looks up to her father, despite his temper. The two spend hours in the projection booth, watching reels and reciting lines from their favorite movies. Yet she finds his tyranny stifling. Callie Anne is as much of a parent to her mother as her mother is to her. She keeps a lid on things, for the most part, and does all the things in the outside world that her mother can't. Memphis complicates this balance, but there is no going back once he and her mother fall in love. And despite his horrid actions, the reader can't help but feel sympathetic towards Callie Anne's father. He is losing his family.
At the outset, the story reminded me a bit of To Kill A Mockingbird. A youthful narrator making observations on her own past from a more mature perspective. A rural setting. Complicated families. But about halfway in, it devolved into a soap opera. Situations become repetitive, until all that's left is "will they or won't they?". Those who like coming-of-age stories with a gossipy edge should read The Starlite Drive-In.
Many thanks to the folks at HarperCollins for the review copy.
ISBN: 9780062092649; ISBN10: 0062092642; Imprint: William Morrow Paperbacks ; On Sale: 11/22/2011; Format: Trade PB; Trimsize: 5 5/16 x 8; Pages: 336; $14.99; Ages: 18 and Up; BISAC1:FIC000000; BISAC2:FIC022000