Reading “The Last Days of Video”

hawkins

When I saw this book at my local library, I immediately knew I was going to love it. The VHS tape cover art combined with the title’s reference to the seminal film “The Last Days of Disco” kicked my nostalgia senses into overdrive. This book grabbed me and said to me over and over “Be Kind Rewind“. If it were a popular movie or television program, I would be screaming “No Spoilers!!!” but spoilers have seldom spoiled my enjoyment of films (except for that boring Tom Cruise movie where he’s wearing an eyepatch and leading a group of men on a daring mission to assassinate Hitler).

WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD!

They don’t kill Hitler. Also, I left about 10 minutes in, so how would I know? Plus, it’s historical fiction, and if I’ve learned anything from historical fiction movies, it’s that it always follows real life. Except, of course, when there is a Bear-Jew involved.

Now having said all that, you will permit me a minor spoiler.

Ahem.

Hitler is not killed in this book. Of course, this could be because it is not set in 1945 Nazi Germany. Therefore, there is no way Hitler could be in this book, THEY SAVED HIS BRAIN!

It is set in 2007, a time in our not so distant past when many of us still went to local video stores and picked up the latest DVD releases. A time when we would argue over whether Div-X or Blu-Ray would be the next dominant movie-watching technology. The wisp of a plot, such as it is, centers on a Blockbuster Video opening less than 50 yards away from the independent video store of your ’90’s and ’00’s dreams, where the employees took pride in knowing every movie backwards and forwards. The Blockbuster represents impending doom for the store and gives our characters a foil to battle with in what will ultimately prove to be ************spoilers have been removed for your protection… but let’s just say that the title has strong implications.

Before I mention anything else about the plot, characters, and everything else driving this book, I should say that this story stayed with me much longer than many of the other disposable entertainment that clogs Facebook feeds today. It’s likely this feeling arose from the author, Jeremy Hawkins, being so heavily invested in it due to his actually working at a video store for many years before writing the book. I had several Twitter conversations with him and was able to share some of my reactions to his story in real time as I progressed through the pages. As a fellow self-professed movie nerd, I reveled in the book’s many somewhat obscure references to films and television shows. It grounded the story for me, and I felt that the author’s choice to write it this way was less about playing “spot the reference” and more about adding layer upon layer of detail to the obsessive nature of the kinds of characters who would work in such a video store. Approximately 6 pages in, after “Run, Lola, Run” and “Touch of Evil” were referenced, I settled in and fell in love with this book.

Hawkins’ movie references were so extensive and specific, it felt like he lent his personality and soul to the 2 male protagonists of our tale. The first character we meet, Waring Wax, is the depressed drunk, failed actor who owns of the Star Video video store from the title. We discover he gave up his life in New York and convinced himself that all he ever wanted to do was to own a video store. Waring is, to quote Seinfeld, “the master of his domain,” spending most of his time drinking and watching movies in the store loft that he has named “The African Queen” after the popular Humphrey Bogart movie of the same name. When he does deal with customers, he’s frequently rude with little patience for people of questionable taste in film. He’s a pompous, disrespectful jerk, but when it comes to movies, he knows what he’s talking about.

Jeff is Waring’s new employee, who was brought up in a conservative religious background. The passages describing the censorship he grew up with had me in tears. Both of these characters, in less caring hands, could have ended up as poorly written caricatures, but Jeremy Hawkins writes them like he has known them their whole lives – their fears, their failures, their willingness to take risks for the people they care about and to defend the movies that they love passionately.

One of the people they both care about is the third major character in the book – Alaura. Alaura has worked at Star Video since graduation from college and is about to turn 30. She is the manager of the store and the one who really runs the place, as Waring is often incapacitated. A character full of sass and wit, she nevertheless struggles with her identity, frequently shuffling through boyfriends and religions. She turns to watching movies in times of depression, going through title after title. The video store, while functioning as a dream world for all 3 of them, seems to hold her down the most – it’s her escape from real life and having to move on to get a better job or start a family.

These 3 characters form the crux of this great book and hold everything together. Some of the other situations and plot lines stretched a little thin, and the ending was a bit of creative wish-fulfillment, but reading about Waring, Jeff, and Alaura trying to save their beloved Star Video from certain extinction brought a smile to my face throughout the novel. The interplay between the characters, humor, and the depth of feeling that they have for one other and for film stuck with me after finishing the book. If you love talking about movies and collecting things, find yourself obsessing over little details that you care about but no one else does, or have a big nostalgia-fueled heart, you will probably adore The Last Days of Video by Jeremy Hawkins.