The Starlite Drive-in is a novel by Marjorie Reynolds about a very small town in Indiana in the mid-1950s. The narrator is a twelve year-old named Callie Anne who lives in a small house on the grounds of a drive-in. Her father, Claude Junior, is the manager of the drive-in, and her mother, Teal, is an agoraphobic who hasn’t left the house in 5 years. The Starlite Drive-in takes place over the course of one hot summer when her father hires a drifter named Charlie to help him with odd jobs around the drive-in. Charlie’s presence has an indelible effect on Callie Anne and her mother, and ultimately on her volatile, bitter father as well. The book is all about that pivotal summer and how each of their lives changed as a result.
I liked The Starlite Drive-in. I enjoyed the setting (geographic and time period), and I liked Callie Anne as a narrator. She came of age that summer, confronting truths about her parents that were extremely painful and learning more about herself in the process. There’s a growing sense of dread throughout the book (starting with the first chapter, when human bones are found at the drive-in 30 years after the summer in question), which propels the action forward. That said, I didn’t have a hard time putting the book down for a day or two at a time. I could see where it was heading, and for some reason, it didn’t grab me as much as I would have liked. Perhaps it was competing with too much else going on in my life – I focused more on it over the last two days and finished it quickly.
I’ve read some reviews that laud The Starlite Drive-in‘s use of detail to create a very tangible setting – midwest America in the 50s – and I agree. Reynolds does a great job of transporting her readers to another time and place. It’s a bit claustrophobic, in fact – all of the action takes place in a very small part of a very small town – but I think that was intentional. Callie Anne’s life was so circumscribed – as were her parents’ lives – that the events that happened over the course of that relentlessly hot summer seemed almost inevitable.
I received this book as a review copy from HarperCollins (hi FTC!) and thought it was a new book, but it came out in 1997. I think it was re-printed in November 2011.