“That was Alaura’s talent: hiring certifiable cinephiles, those crackbrained personalities for whom the flickering screen was better than sex.”
It’s 2007, and for the last ten years, Waring Wax has been operating Star Video in the small North Carolina college town of West Appleton. For the most part, Waring is too busy drinking and watching classic movies to actually run his store; that task falls to Alaura, the twenty-nine-year-old manager who is simultaneously Waring’s protégé, his best friend, and the object of his lust. The newest employee on Star Video’s small staff is Jeff, a wide-eyed college freshman with an overprotective mother and a secret passion for science fiction and anime. The three of them must band together to try to save Star Video when a new Blockbuster opens for business across the street.
I have to admit that I picked up this novel primarily for nostalgic appeal. In 2007, I was Jeff, working part-time in a video store (albeit a Canadian chain more similar to Blockbuster than Star Video) and finishing my first year of university. Thus The Last Days of Video is set on the cusp of a sea-change in home entertainment that I witnessed personally; Bluray and HD DVD were battling it out to be the physical media of the future, even as DVD-by-mail services and Redbox were changing how physical media was delivered, and Netflix was evolving into the streaming service that would largely supplant physical media in the rental space. The Last Days of Video reflects these changes, and is also packed with film references and a certifiable love of cinema.
In some ways, however, Star Video is simply the backdrop for three characters trying to sort out their mixed-up lives. For Waring and Alaura, the demise of Star Video forces them to reassess their livelihoods and career paths, as well as their unusual codependent relationship. For Jeff, who has struggled to fit in at school, and fears flunking out and returning to his small town a failure, it forces him to figure out what he really likes, and what he really wants from his education. Their character development is painful and occasionally contrived, and it becomes tiresome to watch Waring and Jeff both lusting after Alaura all the time. The shenanigans become increasingly convoluted, culminating in a subplot that involves a film crew coming to West Appleton. While in many ways the typical, quirky underdog story, Jeremy Hawkins at least has the guts to not take the easy ending, but that doesn’t save The Last Days of Video from being more nostalgia than substance.