Coming-of-age stories about young men trying to find their purpose in life can make readers cringe before they’ve even read the first page—such stories are often assumed to be nothing more than solipsistic exercises in pretension with no real plot. But as Owen King’s powerfully insightful and often devastatingly funny debut novel proves, those assumptions are often very, very wrong.

King’s hero is Sam Dolan, an aspiring filmmaker who must juggle a broken family, a collection of very odd friends and his own attempts at establishing a creative vision as he tries to find his place in the world as an artist, a lover and even a son. His father, Booth, is a B-movie actor whose views on cinema and life are vastly different from his son’s. His mother, Allie, is only a beautiful and bittersweet memory. Sam’s friends range from an ex who won’t stop texting him for phone sex to his unpredictable roommate to his godfather, a contractor whose ever-expanding mansion of a house stands in sharp contrast to Sam’s own fragmented, tenuous creative career.

King follows Sam and the often bizarre cast that surrounds him through creative triumphs and blunders, sexual awkwardness and glimpses of real love, familial strife and fleeting moments of what could have been lasting happiness had things gone just a little differently. Double Feature constantly walks the line between tragedy and comedy, between love and loathing, between friendship and strained codependency, between art and what’s only posing as art.

Stories that attempt such delicate thematic juggling can become mired in the muck of their own intellectual ambition. King overcomes this with witty and tightly paced prose, and the novel breezes by in spite of (and even because of) its depth.

King first caught the attention of readers with his 2005 short story collection, We’re All in This Together. He is equally—perhaps even more—adept at long-form writing, and this novel heralds a new phase in an already promising literary career.

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