Review: “Body Rides,” Richard Laymon

Rating: 2 out of 5

Richard Laymon’s Body Rides has an intriguing premise. Neal Darden goes out at night to return a couple of video tapes to the store (it’s 1995), and ends up foiling a torture/murder. He responds to screams for help, shoots the guy, and gets Elise home. She rewards him by giving him a bracelet that allows the wearer to leave their body and enter the body of another person–as a passenger, unable to affect things or communicate in any way. Unfortunately, when Neal drives back past the site where he killed the bad guy, he sees that the culprit’s van is gone. And so is his body. It seems he isn’t as dead as Neal thought he was–and now he’s angry.

Reading this book is a lot like watching a movie that has no music in it. It’s very arresting, very dialogue-heavy at times, and encourages you to hear and take note of every detail. But whenever it isn’t in the middle of an action scene, things feel slow and flat. My guess is that Laymon was writing it to produce the same feeling in the reader that you might get while being a passenger in someone else’s body–wide awake, noticing every detail as though it’s shiny and new. If so, I’m not sure it was worth it. It just has too much of a negative effect on the pacing for much of the book.

The bracelet is an interesting item, and it’s used well in this book. The wearer’s body is nearly in a coma–unaware and unprotected–until they get back to their body. Elise opines that one should never step into the head of someone you’re close to, because there will be things you don’t want to hear (you can hear much of a person’s thoughts when you “ride” them). And she also believes that being in someone else’s head when they die could go… badly.

I’m annoyed by the fact that every woman who comes in contact with Neal falls in love with him, especially since he isn’t an entirely likable guy. Elise states that since he saved her life, she and everything she owns now belong to him. It’s rare to see a woman objectify herself, and I very much do not like it. Then there’s Marta, Neal’s entirely-too-understanding flight attendant girlfriend. At one point he decides to hide out of town, and picks up a beautiful 18-year-old girl (he’s 28) who also falls in love with him (yes, he also fell in love with Elise and said 18-year-old; apparently love is an instantaneous thing). Then there’s the girl he scares half to death while he’s exploring with the bracelet, because he decides that he should actually go to her apartment and do… I’m not sure what, exactly. But despite his re-traumatizing her about a past incident, she too ends up falling for him. Don’t get me wrong–I think polyamorous relationships can be fine–but this is not something Marta actually agreed to before he decided to sleep with someone else, and I really feel like she should care more about that betrayal.

The female characters put up an air of strength, but they all get undermined by the author. There’s the previously-mentioned part where Elise objectifies herself and all but declares herself to be Neal’s slave. There’s nothing strong at all about the traumatized girl he approaches. Sue, the waitress he picks up, has the stereotypical “I don’t like my own gender” thing going on. Both Elise and Sue are happy to offer Neal sex despite knowing he has a girlfriend. And Neal’s thoughts upon seeing two of his partners meet up is “just be thankful they haven’t turned into raving, jealous dogs.” Ugh. What a great way to think about two women you supposedly love.

Laymon expertly explores the ins and outs of the bracelet, making use of it in innovative ways. The basic story was great, but the treatment of women and the exasperating pacing really brought it down.

Content note for sex (mf, mff, ff-sorta), torture, sexual assault.

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