Photo by Lludo used under a Creative Commons license.
Stewart O’Nan, The Speed Queen (Ballantine Books, 1998).
The narrator of O’Nan’s novel is Marjorie Standiford, an Oklahoma girl gone bad, and she tells her tale in the last evening before her scheduled execution, recording her answers to 114 questions put to her by Stephen King,* whose payment is one of the final things she can leave her son. The other is this story. Knowing how she ends up, one searches Standiford’s life on the margins of Oklahoma City — working at a Conoco station, marrying a mechanic named Lamont, living in a run-down apartment complex, even an ill-fated love triangle born in prison — for the reasons that it erupts in the murder spree that leads to Death Row. But her path is banal rather than foreboding. Even when her explanations are done, her tale remains largely inexplicable. Standiford is fueled by pot and vodka, “downs” and speed, but so are many people who aren’t murderers. In other words, O’Nan does a better job painting the gas stations and drive-ins of Oklahoma than the psychology of a murderer (though who am I to say?).
* O’Nan originally titled the book, Dear Stephen King, but apparently lawyers forced a change. A few years later, O’Nan and King wrote a book together about the 2004 Red Sox. More about that here. I also infer that in later editions of the book, O’Nan was forced to change the name of a fast-food restaurant where killings occur.
Here is Google Book Search, with an excerpt and links to reviews. Here is O’Nan’s site, and here is a bio. Here are reviews from George Stade (The New York Times), Megan Harlan (Entertainment Weekly), Orrin Judd, 2Things@Once, Andrew Wheeler, beebarf, Vicky, and mardhiah hamid. The novel was a finalist for the 1998 Oklahoma Book Award in the Fiction category. Ron Hogan interviewed O’Nan about the book. Here are links to a podcast of a reading by O’Nan and a Q&A at Colgate. Anne Stockton adapted the novel into a play.