Last Days of Video by Jeremy Hawkins (4 out of 5)
You can see why this book attracted me. Look at that glorious cover! The heady, woebegone days of videotapes! Beta and VHS. Sigh. I will never be unstuck in the 1980’s, people. You have been warned. You will likely see a number of posts about books that are from the decade of excess. Don’t be surprised- tell your friends to read them. Or better yet, you read them! 🙂
This one came in, I think, because my former coworker ordered it in. Or I ordered it in. No idea. Soft Skull Press is the publisher, and that’s not normally a publisher we’ve gotten a ton of books in from, so I think it was myself or the former merchandiser who did it. Plus, it’s a novel that smacks of independent, small businesses trying to triumph over the evil corporate big box names that now litter our corners (although in a nod to all things in business being cyclical, Blockbuster is no longer around, having been ousted by Netflix, Hulu, Redbox, and a litany of streaming services online that make it easier to obtain and watch movies, minus those people behind the counters who sweat their balls off for their passion). In case you weren’t aware, I manage an independent bookstore. We’ve been successful in the years we’ve been there, despite hearing those filthy words (Barnes & Noble, Amazon) multiple times a day for years now. They’re opening another independent bookstore about 15 minutes away from my store, in the next few months. It’s an independent bookstore that is well established, so of course we’re nervous. Not nervous enough to not fight like hell to stay in business! And that’s why this book struck such a chord with me.
Waring Wax is the owner of Star Video, the little neighborhood video store in a college town. Things have been dire for awhile, but things get downright fucked when the evil blue signed demon opens up down the block: Blockbuster. Before long, sales dip lower than the spirits of Waring and his weary staff. Their distributor pulls their deal, so they will have to buy their videotapes from Walmart and whatever other entity they can utilize. Waring’s usually too drunk to care, but something about this time seems final. His staff= Aulara and Jeff, do their best to keep things trucking along. In fact, they decide it’s all-out war. This is where the book gets fun. The attempts to keep the business going are pretty hilarious. There’s also a movie filming in town, and the star of that movie gets mixed in with the ongoing business crisis at Star Video. The lives of these three people- Waring, Aulara, and Jeff, are so entwined with their jobs that it really hits the nail on the head of those who “live with the business, die with the business”. A funny, heartwarming little book about fighting the good fight and trying to save your passion from being swallowed up by a corporate puppet. Something most of us have been through, even in small measure.
I’m going to tell you that I really liked the book. I did. I’m going to say it is somewhat like High Fidelity for video stores, except it’s more about love of the business and less about Waring’s love life (or lack thereof, actually) than High Fidelity was. The only thing I will tell you I didn’t like was the wind-up and eventual end of the book. Obviously, no one wants a good book to end…but I mean that in a literal sense. The last 40 pages are a real strange place for this reader to reconcile with the awesome that was the rest of the novel. The one thing I can say- I HOPE that Hawkins finds a way to put Waring into another novel in the future. I liked that drunk, cynical son of a bitch! So, yes, if you like a good story about the little guys fighting to save their livelihood, you’ll love this book. Just don’t be invested too much in the ending, because it’s a little odd.