Books: Come Out Tonight by Richard Laymon

Richard Laymon, who passed away in 2001, was a prolific writer of “splatterpunk” novels, a couple of which were put out by Leisure Books in the 1990s. Along with other contemporary writers like Jack Ketchum and Edward Lee, Laymon laced his stories with extreme violence and gore, as well as graphic sexual content that verged on the pornographic. There was a time in the mid-1990s when I was buying a lot of Leisure paperbacks by all the aforementioned authors, as well as other ones like Douglas Clegg and Simon Clark. So when I was browsing a used bookstore a while back and came across Richard Laymon’s 1999 novel Come Out Tonight, I picked it up, since I had read a couple of his other books (To Wake the Dead and Endless Night are the ones I remember), but hadn’t yet read this one.

Now, if you’re not down with the splatterpunk genre (which I think is more often called extreme horror nowadays), then run as far away from this book as possible. It’s intensely smutty, super violent, super gory, and super rapey. This kinda stuff doesn’t usually bother me or I wouldn’t be reading it, but I just wanted to put that out there, because I know a lot of people’s tastes don’t run in that direction, and that’s okay.

As I mentioned, I had read a couple of Laymon’s books before, so I knew what to expect. I will say that I don’t think Laymon was as good a writer as Jack Ketchum (well, very few people are as good as Jack Ketchum) or Edward Lee, but his books are usually fast-paced and action-packed, with lots of blood and sleaze, which is sometimes all we want out of life.

That said, though I did enjoy the outrageous roller-coaster ride of this book, I felt it was hampered somewhat by an extremely adolescent outlook (I’ll go more in depth about that later) and characters that were all some combination of shitty, irredeemably shitty, and dumb as a box of rocks.

The story of Come Out Tonight is set in Los Angeles during a sweltering summer night, with wildfires raging in the distance. Our main protagonist, Sherry Gates, has been dating a new guy named Duane, and they’ve decided that tonight’s the night that they’re finally gonna do the sex. So they’re at Sherry’s apartment getting down and dirty, when all of a sudden, Duane’s condom pulls a Kenickie and breaks. There’s an exchange where Sherry is almost like “Fuck it, let’s do it anyway, I already set up all these candles and shit,” but finally they come to the conclusion that no one wants an STD or worse, a baby. So Duane tells her to hold onto her clitoris and he’s gonna pop down to the convenience store for a box of jimmies.

Even though the store is only two blocks away and Duane was driving there, he’s gone for a suspiciously long time. Sherry worries about what to do, hemming and hawing for about an hour and a half before at last making the first of many idiotic decisions; i.e., rather than calling the cops, she vows to go down to the store alone, at like eleven p.m. in a sketchy neighborhood in LA, to see if she can find him.

At the store, the clerk says that Duane did come in there and purchased a box of condoms and a soda, but that was a while ago, and he doesn’t know where he went after that. Strange thing is, though, Duane’s van is still parked behind the store, and Duane ain’t in it.

At this point, a confused Sherry is sort of hanging out, at a loss as to what her next move should be, when a seventeen-year-old kid rolls up in his car. His name is Toby Bones, and he says he goes to the local high school where Sherry is a substitute teacher, so he recognized her. She sorta remembers him too, especially because of his weird-ass name.

He seems friendly, and Sherry tells him what’s going on with her boyfriend. At this point, Toby says that she saw a guy matching Duane’s description heading down the street, hand in hand with another guy. Sherry doesn’t quite believe this, but she doesn’t disbelieve it either, since she doesn’t know Duane all that well. Sherry, as we’ll discover, isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed.

Toby then tells her that he didn’t actually see Duane walk off with another guy, that was just a joke, but for real, he did see Duane meet a hot chick that Toby heard him call Grace in front of the convenience store, and then the pair of them went back to Duane’s van to bang. Sherry buys this too, because she is a dimbulb.

Then Toby says, no, seriously, I did see him walk off in that direction, and if you want, you can get in my car and I’ll drive you around and help you look for him. Even though any actual woman in her right mind would spot a red flag so big it could be seen from space, she agrees to this disastrously unwise plan. I’m not blaming the victim here, just to be clear; I’m just making the point that a normal woman—which Sherry is presumably supposed to be—would absolutely not do this.

As you might expect—and this is somewhat spoilery, though this part of the plot only comprises the first half or so of the book—Toby Bones is a psychopath who proceeds to rape and torture Sherry in multiple horrific ways. He then thinks he kills her, and dumps her naked, bleeding body off an overpass.

At this point, we are introduced to the “good guys” of the story, a pair of teenage boys named Jeff and Pete who live near the overpass and find what they think is Sherry’s corpse. I put “good guys” in quotes, because even though these kids do help Sherry and are painted as heroic, they are also teenage boys, with all of the shittiness that entails. For example, the first thing they think of, when they find what they think is Sherry’s dead body, is to turn the corpse over so they can look at her tits, and then speculate as to whether they should stick their fingers up her snatch. And then, once she wakes up, they offer to take her back to their house to get her some clothes, and one of the boys agonizes over whether he should just take her a skimpy bikini and tell her that’s all he could find. Both boys also take a great deal of time to argue with one another over whether they should call an ambulance, even though this woman has been repeatedly raped and beaten up, because if they call an ambulance, then the hot naked lady will be taken away.

It’s all good, though, because Sherry isn’t creeped out by them at all, and in fact, admonishes them NOT to call an ambulance, because she wants to deal with Toby herself. As I said, the boys are not evil, but their thought processes are intensely creepy, so when I first read this, I thought the story was going to go in an “out of the frying pan, into the fire” type direction, where Sherry escapes from one lunatic, only to fall into the clutches of two other ones. Which would have been pretty entertaining, now that I think of it.

That’s not how it goes, though, and Sherry seems unbelievably charmed by these two miscreants, who proceed to white knight her and tell her that they’re going to protect her and go out and kill this Toby person for her, even though they are both scrawny teenagers who have never killed a person in their lives, and Toby is a cunning, ruthless maniac who slaughters multiple people over the course of the book.

So the second half of the story is basically Sherry and the two boys trying to find and get revenge on Toby. At no point does anyone call the police, even when someone gets beheaded in the hallway of an apartment building in full view of several tenants. Just keep in mind, though, that this book is really just intended to be a sick, fun, fucked-up ride, so don’t get too bogged down in the details, or it’s just going to piss you off. It’s definitely a “turn off your brain and watch the smut and savagery” situation.

On a related note, the character of Sherry is actually a source of high hilarity; she makes extremely questionable decisions at almost every turn, and is seemingly not traumatized or even bothered at all by her horrific ordeal, or the constantly leering teenage boys who are helping her exact her vengeance. I’m always kind of morbidly amused by the way some male authors write female characters—they apparently think that women are as constantly obsessed with their own nipples as straight men are—and some of that comes into play here, though thankfully no one walks “boobily” into a room or anything like that. This definitely does seem as though it was written by an adolescent boy as a fantasy, though, so how you feel about that tone is going to largely determine how you feel about the book as a whole.

Jumping off from that point, there was a possibility that occurred to me regarding the adolescent slant of the novel in general, although I’m not sure if the story is actually this clever. Because the character of Pete is set up as wanting to be a writer and being a big fan of Hemingway, I almost wanted to believe that this book was actually entirely written from Pete’s perspective; as in, he was writing a novel based on the story that Sherry told him, and because he’s a teenage boy, his natural proclivities in that direction seeped into the narrative. Maybe I’m giving the book too much credit, though.

One other criticism I will note is that some scenes—particularly scenes of introspection where someone was deciding to do something, or conversations between characters where they were working out a plan—went on for way too long and got repetitive, as sometimes the characters would just talk in circles, and I’d be there going, “Get on with it already.” So I feel like the book could have been trimmed down from its 434 pages to something more streamlined.

It sort of sounds like I’m shitting on this book, and I’m really not (much); it’s a wild, entertaining ride that runs at a breakneck pace, and as long as you can suspend your disbelief and suppress your eyerolls at some of the stupid shit the characters do, then it’s a big, dumb, bloody good time. It’s not for the squeamish, but if you’re just looking for something that’s diverting and stuffed full of tits and gore, then you could certainly do worse.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s