The Starlite Drive-in by Marjorie Reynolds
Published by Harper Collins ISBN 978-0-06-209264-9
Trade paperback, $14.99
Sometimes a book evokes a time and a place so well, the reader feels like she's been dropped into it. That is the feeling I had reading Marjorie Reynold's The Starlite Drive-in.
Set in the hot, dusty summer of 1956 in a small Indiana town, I felt like I had to turn on the air conditioning to cool off, even though it was a cold winter day in New York City where I was reading the novel.
The book opens in the 1990s, where human remains are found at the old drive-in that Callie Anne's dad ran in the 1950s. Callie Anne, her dad Claude, and her mom Teal lived in a house on the drive-in property, and practically their entire lives revolved around around the drive-in.
For Teal, her entire life revolved around her house. Something happened to Teal a few years back; she became severely agoraphobic, unable to leave her home. This also meant that Claude and Callie Anne were stuck there too, something for which Claude resented Teal. He treated his wife and daughter poorly, yelling at them, talking down to them, calling them names; they walked on eggshells around Claude.
One day, a drifter named Memphis got a job working at the drive-in. Callie Anne, just beginning adolescence, fell hard for the good-looking, mysterious man. Memphis was a quiet man, but he had a connection with Teal. He didn't like the way Claude treated Teal, and began to fall in love with her. His presence at the drive-in changed everything for Callie Anne's family that summer.
Reynold's novel cast a spell on the reader. The characters are fleshed out and interesting, from the major ones like Callie, Memphis, Teal and Claude to the minor ones, like Teal's strong-willed sister Bliss, and Virgil, the young man who worked at the drive-in and with whom Callie begins a tender relationship. I liked how most of the characters were good at heart, but people with flaws, desires and hopes.
Although the story is told from Callie Anne's point of view, it was Teal's journey that moved me most. She went from a timid, lonely woman to someone who blossomed as she attempted to overcome her agoraphobia and open herself up to love. I loved her inner strength.
There is some action in the book, even a few scenes that will make you hold your breath. The story reminded me of The Last Picture Show (the movie, as I have never read the book), even down to the movie reference in the titles. It has a small 1950s town, characters with secrets, illicit love and a languid pace.
I think Callie summed it all up best when she said "I didn't know how to express what was really bothering me. It was tied up with loving Charlie Memphis and losing a dream and thinking life was too complicated and hard on people. There was even something to do with responsibility, but I couldn't make sense of it."
Life was hard on the people on The Starlite Drive-in, just like it is on many people. I have a feeling I won't soon forget them.
rating 4 of 5 stars