Gil’s All Fright Diner by A. Lee Martinez

January 2, 2008 at 5:06 pm (A. Lee Martinez, Reviews)

A. Lee Martinez - Gil's All Fright DinerI picked up A. Lee Martinez’s debut novel, Gil’s All Fright Diner, as an impulse buy. It looked quirky and fun; a nice light read to recharge between epics. I’m a sucker for quirky fun. Well, I got quirky. But fun on the other hand… not so much.

This book serves best as an example of why I distrust trust “professional” reviewers. Boasting blurbs like:

“[A] terrific debut. Fans of Douglas Adams will happily sink their teeth into this combo platter of raunchy laughs and ectoplasmic ecstasy.” – Publishers Weekly

“[A]promising launch for a buddy horror series.” – Krikus

“Delightfully droll, this comic romp will be a crowd pleaser.” – Booklist

And there’s a fairly sizable list of others. Admittedly, the rest of the review that goes with those lines might not be as flattering, but I don’t care enough to hunt them down and find out. I can only hope that those remarks were meant as sarcastically as my own.

Gil’s All Fright Diner is, like one of the above blurbs mentions, a buddy comedy. It’s the story of wanderlusts Duke, an overweight werewolf, and Earl, a scrawny vampire with a comb-over, in their aimlessly trek in their beat up old pickup. Almost out of gas, they come upon the small town of Rockwood, and, more specifically, Gil’s All Night Diner. We come to find out that Rockwood has a long history of supernatural activity, the least of which being frequent zombie attacks on Gil’s Diner, now operated by Loretta, a large women who fancies inappropriately tight clothing.

Duke and Earl, with a little help from Loretta and local police chief Marshall Kopp (oh, the delicious irony!) spend the book bumbling around town, trying to solve the mystery of who is behind these attacks. We soon find out that it is a sexy local teen, Tammy, who likes to be called Mistress Lilith, and her cult, what’s only member is her horny boyfriend Chad. It’s all a part of her sinister plan to unleash the old gods and destroy the world.

Gil’s offers such devices as a haunted magic 8-ball, a tentacle monster in the freezer, zombie-cows, a love affair between a ghost and a vampire, and pig-Latin as the secret language of the gods.

The biggest problem was the comedy. I was, for some reason, expecting clever satire, but what I got was a couple of rednecks drinking beer, ogling a teenage girl and calling each other ass-holes. The only thing missing was fart jokes.

Besides the inherent lack of wit, Gil’s All Fright Diner is thinly written. Martinez doesn’t bother to internalize the narrative. In fact, he can’t even decide who the narrator is; the PoV just hops around randomly, now on Earl, now on Tammy, now on a dog. Anybody is fair game, and he doesn’t give so much as a warning.

Outside of the occasional infodump, the bulk of the story is dialogue. Bad redneck dialogue. Often with conversations between three characters, with nary a speaker-tag in sight to let us keep track of who is saying what. Good think that Duke and Earl are essentially the same character (excepting that Earl is a little more cowardly), so it doesn’t really matter who’s talking. And on top of that, it’s all written in dialect. Bad redneck dialect.

To illustrate my points:

     “’Did you check out the cemetery?” he asked, wiping crumbs from his chin.
     Earl nodded.
     Duke popped open a Coke and took a long draught. He smacked his lips and took another bite.
     ‘And?’
     ‘I’m handling it, Duke.’
     ‘You talk to the guardian?’
     Earl tossed Duke an annoyed glance.  

     ‘’Course I talked to the guardian.’
     ‘And?’
     ‘And I’m handling it, you dipshit.’
     The kitchen door swung open. Loretta entered with two teenagers in tow. The boy was tall, athletic, with sand blonde hair. The girl was a petite Asian in short shorts and a blue tank top.”
– page 39-40

And that was the briefest occasion of name-calling between Duke and Earl. I can flip to any random page an come up with similar passages. In fact:

     “’We’re talking about a cult or sumthin’?’
     They nodded again.
     ‘In Rockwood? But we don’t even got a move theater.’
     ‘That’s how it usually works. People who got stuff to do don’t usually sign up with the minions of darkness. It’s the folks with lots’a time to kill that you gotta watch out for.”
     ‘Idle hands,’ Duke agreed.
     ‘So you’ve seen this kind of thing before?’
     ‘All the time,’ Earl replied, ‘especially in isolated, quiet little places like this.’ He leaned closer. ‘If you’re ever in New Mexico, don’t pick up any hitchhikers. Better than fifty-fifty chance you’ll wind up strapped to an altar.’
     ‘You’re making that up.’
     ‘Happened to me twice. Swear to God.’
     She snorted skeptically and returned to the original subject. ‘You figure Gil’s disappearance is related to all this?’
     ‘I got that feeling.’”
– page 80-81

And another:

     “Earl wore threadbare overalls that were at least as old as he was. (Which for the record, was much older than he looked, but still not all that old for a vampire.) Duke wore denim jeans, a leather jacket, and a T-shirt emblazoned with the slogan NO FAT CHICKS.
     ‘Next chance we get, Duke, we should get some new tires, too.’
     ‘Tires are fine.’
     ‘This one’s ready to blow.’
     ‘No it ain’t.’
     ‘What the fuck do you know about tires, dipshit?’
     ‘I know it ain’t going to blow.’
     ‘Fine, but when it does, you’re changing it.’
     ‘Fine.’
     Duke didn’t bother to point out the truck was currently riding on its spare.”
– page 11

If that didn’t make you want to vomit, then maybe Martinez is for you. Maybe it really is funny, and I just don’t “get” blue-collar comedy.

Gil’s All Fright Diner was, for me, the literary equivalent of The Mullets.  The only thing that compelled me to the end was the thought that, once it was finished, I could start something better.

Overall Impression: Poor.

Final Thoughts: Gil’s All Fright Diner had a couple of decent ideas, but they were buried beneath thin writing and sophomoric humor.

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