"The Damned Highway: Fear and Loathing in Arkham" Book Review
Written by Brian Keene and Nick Mamatas
2011, 208 Pages, Fiction
Book released on July 20th, 2011
It's safe to say that just about everyone has at least heard of Hunter S. Thompson. Whether it's because of the movie Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas or Uncle Duke in the Doonesbury comic strip, everyone should have an idea of who the gonzo journalist was. He wrote a series of articles in the early ‘70s focusing on the Democratic campaign for president which was later collected into a book called Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72. Authors Brian Keene and Nick Mamatas have "unearthed" ten lost chapters from the book that shows a very different view of the historic election as Richard Nixon won his second consecutive term, one that involves Cthulhu, Moloch, mind-swapping and more. It's been released as The Damned Highway: Fear and Loathing in Arkham.
First off, Arkham should not be confused with the popular, yet lax asylum of the same name seen in the Batman comics. This is a town in the state of Massachusetts. Thompson is on his way there throughout the book. Although The Damned Highway is written with his voice, the name "Hunter S. Thompson" is never used outside of the back cover. The narrator insists on being addressed as Uncle Lono, using a pseudonym in an effort to cross the country unnoticed.
The supernatural elements of the book are slow to appear, coming in subtly at first before taking over as the focus of the story. They begin with a lonely man at the bus station casually mentioning Cthulhu and the land of Yuggoth. Lono dismisses it, but then Moloch is brought up as he talks politics with a six-fingered Cannock at a truck stop. Then, as he's flying to Massachusetts, he learns of an ancient book called Unspeakable Cults that hints at the greater battle underway. The events of recent years such as the Vietnam War, Charles Manson, and the Kent State shootings are all part of the stars aligning for the rise of Cthulhu and lost city of Ry'leh. Nixon needs to win the election with all fifty states in order to call forth the entity and usher in a new age in the world. Lono realizes he must stop this plan at any cost.
While I haven't read Thompson's work, I have seen Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and I've read Transmetropolitan, whose main character, Spider Jerusalem, is an homage to him. Keene and Mamatas capture what I think is Thompson's voice very well. He has a take-no-prisoners attitude and barrels through anyone he encounters, all the while his narration is constantly flowing in a never-ending, drug-fueled rush. It makes for a very interesting read; one that is tough to put down.
Fans of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas will feel right at home with The Damned Highway. It's an easy transition and everything you loved about Thompsons' character is portrayed here. His brown buffalo of an attorney makes an appearance as well. The book is incredibly entertaining and, aside from a strange turn towards the end, is a great trip through a fictional history of the 1972 presidential elections.