Written by Tim Waggoner
Published by Leisure Books
The first Tim Waggoner book released by Leisure, Like Death, was filled with some of the most original concepts I had read in years, so needless to say when his latest novel showed up on my doorstep I couldn’t wait to dig into it.
The action in Pandora Drive gets weird right away. We meet Damara, a girl of 11, who has snuck out of her house one night to visit the abandoned amusement park hidden in the woods behind her home. Aside from the obvious reasons why an 11 year old girl shouldn’t be wandering around condemned property, it’s hinted at that her parents have even more reason to make sure Damara stays at home; something to do with her younger brother, Jason, who is now gone. It’s never said he’s dead just… gone.
At first it looks as if she got out undetected, but then her father shows up to try and get her back to the house. He’s not mad, just concerned, so when he sees her flee into the disused house of mirrors he reluctantly follows. Seems he had a bad experience in the attraction when he was younger, and unfortunately his imagination runs away with him as he enters. He never comes out again.
17 years later, Damara is a recluse. She’s voluntarily committed herself to virtual house arrest, living with her mother and fearing what problems her “gift” would cause if she were out amongst society. What is this gift, you ask? She possesses the unique ability to make peoples fantasies come to life. While this sounds like it might be a cool trick with the right set of fantasies, in truth it’s what caused her brother to be sucked down the bathtub drain when he was five by a storybook creature called Jack Sharp, and led to her father never reemerging from the house of mirrors. Needless to say, Damara has some guilt to deal with.
Unfortunately it seems as if she’s kept her ability under wraps for too long, trying to suppress it her entire life instead of learning to control it. When a childhood boyfriend, Tristan, returns for his mother’s funeral, Damara’s emotions run wild and the residents of Pandora Drive start to see their own deepest, darkest fantasies come to life.
In Like Death, Waggoner established himself as a horror author with both a strong connection to his characters and a very, very sick imagination. This becomes even more evident in Pandora Drive, mainly through the actions of dirty old man Kenneth, whose prostate surgery a few years earlier killed his ability to get an erection. As Damara’s power leaks out, not only is Kenneth able to stand at attention once again, he soon finds out that his member is a deadly weapon. Already most of the way to insane at the start of the story, Kenneth goes way off the deep end and commits all manner of horrific deeds with his newly invigorated organ. This is where Waggoner’s twisted psyche really shines through and reminds me why I said Like Death reminded me of a story Ed Lee would write on his very, very best day.
Somehow, despite how disgusting things get in Pandora Drive (and trust me they get pretty bad, especially when Kenneth’s wife looses her mind, as well) Tim manages to keep the story about the characters rather than their actions, which helps elevate it above and beyond simple gross-out gore for the sake of gross-out gore. That being said, I would recommend you work on your intestinal fortitude before you embark on Pandora Drive, because you’re going to need the strongest stomach you can get for this one.
This is one of those rare books that had me thinking about it even when it wasn’t open in front of me; wondering what was really going on, trying to figure out the plot before I actually read it, and that’s something that almost never happens especially when you consider how much I read nowadays. All that came to a screeching halt, unfortunately, during the book’s final 90 pages.
Up until then there were mysteries to be solved and questions to be puzzled over. All of a sudden there’s a large confrontation between the main characters, both good and bad, and just when the action should pick up and run until the last pages, the exposition machine kicks into full gear. Suddenly there are characters that know everything that is going on and Damara and Tristan are more than happy to stand around and listen to said explanation, despite the fact that they’ve followed the evil neighbor lady back to the abandoned amusement park to save Damara’s only other friend, a young girl named Autumn. Pages and pages of exposition pass before Damara or Tristan finally remark, “We have to save Autumn!” and run off.
And this just goes on and on until the book’s conclusion. It seemed like all of a sudden Waggoner realized he had to explain everything before the book’s end (which I don’t think he did, mysteries help keep the reader thinking after the book is done), and shoved it all in the final pages in the clumsiest, most unwieldy way possible. It’s a real shame, too, because literally everything up until that point was just fantastic reading.
As hard as it is to not give the score major deductions because of this unskillful ending, I can’t judge the whole book by the final fourth. Pandora Drive is still a damn good story, original and perverse at the same time, and perhaps if you go in prepared for the last bit unlike I was, you’ll be able to enjoy it more. Waggoner is in possession of a talent that should be taken seriously, and I can’t wait for his next book. I just hope he has it planned out better next time around.
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