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The Vampire Fan(g) Guide

As you get ready to don your witch’s hat and fangs for Halloween this year, you might feel the strange urge to dive into the guilty pleasure that has been taking America by storm lately, namely the pop vampire novel.

Lately? Yes, yes, those of you who faithfully attend The Vampire’s Ball every year will scold, “Wait! Vampire lore has been around for oodles of decades! What d’ya mean, lately?” All right, okay, agreed, Byron, Stoker, Murnau, and Matheson have obviously stalked through vamp territory, but for the last few months vampires have been hitting shelves and blipping on the cultural radar screen in a way that hasn’t been seen since the heyday of Anne Rice.

Why? Well, I have a pet theory that anyone who saw Tom Cruise’s Lestat in 1994 or even a few episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer from 1997-2003 (meaning almost every American currently between the ages of 23 and 37) has been primed to drink up vamp fiction anytime, anywhere, anyway, but my testing and polling are still in the early stages. And I believe that a majority of teenagers today were turned into soulless vampires by rogue government agents working on behalf of the CW, and so their intense interest in the genre is perfectly understandable.

To aid your descent to the dark side this October, I have written a small guide that details everything from the sanguine head-rushes to the coagulated gore found in some recent offerings. I am a slave to the zeitgeist (as well as to my dark master), and so I cover the most popular books even if they have proven unworthy of the vampire tradition; however, I have also discovered some delectable, rare morsels for those with delicate palates. Confronted with such a glut of material, I’m afraid I can’t provide a comprehensive guide; nevertheless, I cover enough deadly ground that I have needed to devise a quick “one-to-five fang” rating system:

Five fangs = You rule, Nosferatu!
Four fangs = Drink my blood anytime
Three fangs = Are you B positive?
Two fangs = Renfield, get me outta here
One fang = Sucks

Armed with this rating system and loads of garlic, I go forward to tame the beast. Since most people read guides to find out whether they should really check out that book that everyone else is reading, I begin with the most popular suspects first, but read on to unearth a couple juicy alternative vampire tales that will make you look bloody cool at the annual bobbin’-for-apples cocktail party.

1.
Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. Little, Brown Young Readers, 2005
(Four fangs)
New Moon by Stephenie Meyer. Little, Brown Young Readers, 2006
(Three fangs)
Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer. Little, Brown Young Readers, 2007
(Two fangs)
Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer. Little, Brown Young Readers, 2008
(One fang)

Around the beginning of August, you probably heard about the Twilight phenomenon, or maybe you just tripped over some 12-year-old girls decked out in white-face makeup and fishnets on the way to the midnight release of the final novel, Breaking Dawn, as you were trudging home after putting in some extra hours at work. In any event, unless you’ve been buried alive, Bella Swan and her vampire love-crush Edward Cullen have probably entered your consciousness in one form or another –there’s even a movie coming out on November 21st for those who enjoy sucking the marrow out of life around Thanksgiving.

So should you read the books? Yes and no. The first installment Twilight is quite charming in a sappy “I’m a lovestruck 17-year-old girl” way, and despite the shaky writing, I couldn’t put down the story of the star-crossed lovers, Bella (a mortal) and Edward (the vampire who wants to eat…no, love her). Part of the allure rests in Meyer’s ingratiating tone – Bella is just a confused teenager who moves from Arizona to Forks, Washington, changes schools, and tries to fit in. She frets,

I didn’t relate well to people my age. Maybe the truth was that I didn’t relate well to people, period. Even my mother who I was closer to than anyone else on the planet, was never in harmony with me, never on exactly the same page. Sometimes I wondered if I was seeing the same things through my eyes that the rest of the world was seeing through theirs. Maybe there was a glitch in my brain.

Bella is basically Molly Ringwald for a new generation, but instead of the soft-spoken hunk Jake from Sixteen Candles, Stephenie Meyer serves up one of the tastiest female fantasies ever put to print: a sensitive, auburn-haired, dazzlingly handsome, highly intelligent, rich, musically-inclined, telepathic, 90 year-old (in the physical body of a 17-year-old lad) with superpowers. If you like older men, Edward’s the guy for you. If you like jailbait, Edward’s the guy for you. If you like superheroes, Edward’s the guy for you. There’s only one small thing keeping the young (and young-looking) sweethearts apart— Edward desperately wants to drink Bella’s tasty-smelling blood. Oh, high school.

So many of the 2,560 pages of Meyer’s four novel saga are devoted to Edward’s perfection and Bella’s mooning that it’s difficult to pick just one example, but when Bella waxes,

I couldn’t get used to it, though I’d been staring at him all afternoon. His skin, white despite the faint flush from yesterday’s hunting trip, literally sparkled, like thousands of tiny diamonds were embedded in the surface. He lay perfectly still in the grass, his shirt open over his sculpted, incandescent chest, his scintillating arms bare. His glistening pale lavender lids were shut, though of course he didn’t sleep. A perfect statue, carved in some unknown stone, smooth like marble, glittering like crystal,

you realize that there is going to be a entire generation of young girls looking for boys with sparkling skin, incandescent chests, scintillating arms, and glistening eyelids. A bit like Glinda the Good Witch of the South, but male. Good luck ladies.

As the series lurches past the first novel’s amusing reimagining of high school angst and romance, Bella and Edward part unwillingly, and our heroine finds comfort in the friendly (and occasionally lustful) paws of Jacob Black, an attractive Native American werewolf who doggedly competes for Bella’s affections. Who will she pick? The vampire who obsesses over her, or the werewolf who obsesses over her? It’s quite clear even when Edward departs for long stretches of the second novel that human/vampire love will never be thwarted, but Meyer drags out this “conflict” for over a thousand pages. And so here’s my Twilight warning: if you ever had a crush on either ‘70s-era David Bowie, Glinda, Michelangelo’s David, or the vampire Lestat, you will be hooked by the first novel. You’ll ignore the weak writing and lap up the fantasy man. But your zombie-like devotion will lead you down a dark path indeed –you will be compelled to read through thousands of pages of plotless, humorless melodrama, which will be topped off by a truly horrific experience – Breaking Dawn (shudder).

As someone who sincerely loved Bowie when he performed as the Thin White Duke, I simply could not resist Edward Cullen. The fourth book of the series, however, made me wish that I had never picked up any of those fashionable Twilight covers. (Spoilers ahead to those who care.) At the beginning of the fourth book, Edward and Bella finally get married because the vampire refuses to have sex with poor, horny Bella until their wedding night. A vampire refusing to have sex or drink human blood is a bit like a regular person refusing to breathe or blink his lavender eyelids, but Meyer dares to give us a celibate, “vegetarian” vamp who only feeds upon non-human animals. (Not PETA-friendly, I suppose, but quite tame compared to Dracula.) As I explained this particular plot development to an uninitiated group at a dinner party, my friend commented, “The Ninety Year-Old Virgin”? It really does take the abstinence movement to an entirely different level.

Well, after three books of waiting, Bella and Edward do “make love” in a blacked-out, PG-13 manner, but I can’t believe that the events that follow wouldn’t shock a normal reader more than the raunchiest Cinemax sex scene. Bella, first a teenage bride and then a teenage pregnancy, becomes pregnant with a vampire-human hybrid. Completely eschewing all the opportunities available to modern women like college, independence, free-thinking, book deals, or birth control, Bella decides to have the baby despite the fact that it drinks most of her blood (from inside the womb), splits her ribs during the third trimester, and grotesquely kills her during the last push down the birth canal. An abortion isn’t necessary because Edward quite handily turns her into a vampire – well, there’s an idea for the Christian Right.

I tried to put the book down at that point, but I’d already read 368 pages. I figured it couldn’t get much worse. It did. Meyer eliminates the Edward-Bella-Jacob love triangle with a particularly creepy plot device; a minute or two after the baby’s disgusting birth, Jacob (due to some weird werewolf instinct or something) suddenly “imprints,” or forms an insoluble romantic attachment, to the baby (who is named Renesmee, not Rosemary, even though that name would pay homage to Ira Levin’s obviously inspirational classic). So yes, Jacob forgets Bella because he has the hots for her newborn baby…um….

And then it seems as though the bad-ass vampire world patrol (named the Volturi Guard) is going to attack the little family for siring hybrid offspring, but they don’t because Bella shields her loved ones with some strong vampire voodoo. I should mention that Meyer builds up the prospective battle between the Cullen Clan and the Disapproving Volturi for three hundred pages before she gives us…nothing. No battle scene. Not a single severed head. Instead, Edward and Bella go about their business whispering sweet nothings to each other in a woodland cottage: “And then we continued blissfully into this small but perfect piece of our forever.” Let’s hope that their bliss doesn’t result in any more freaky spawn (or sequels).

Meyer has promised that the “saga” is over, and one can only hope. The novels kept bloating to longer and longer lengths, and the writing became worse and worse. What terrors would a fifth book bring? And, by the way, what forces bear a monster like Breaking Dawn into the world? Did Meyer’s editors run away screaming? Did the author (puffed up by her giant, trusting fan base) lose all reason and taste? Frightening. As a happy side note, some intrepid literature lover leaked Meyer’s latest book to the web, and the author has refused to finish it because she’s in a snit about her writerly rights (and enormous paychecks) being abused. Ah, too bad.

2.

Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris. Ace Books, 2001
(Two Fangs)
Living Dead in Dallas by Charlaine Harris. Ace Books, 2002
(Three Fangs)
Club Dead by Charlaine Harris. Ace Books, 2003
(Four Fangs)
Dead to the World by Charlaine Harris. Ace Books, 2004
(Three Fangs)
Dead as a Doornail by Charlaine Harris. Ace Books, 2005
(Three Fangs)
Definitely Dead by Charlaine Harris. Ace Books, 2006
(Three Fangs)
All Together Dead by Charlaine Harris. Ace Books, 2007
(Four Fangs)
From Dead to Worse by Charlaine Harris. Ace Books, 2008
(Three Fangs)

The Sookie Stackhouse Southern Vampire novels combine the gooey-eyed carnality of pulpy romance novels with the spooky bloodshed of a descent mystery—and they’re funny too. In preparation for the TV show True Blood, I read all eight books of the series. Sadly, the first book is the worst, which makes it frustrating to recommend them since I know that my nearest and dearest will only recognize that I’m not crazy partway through book three. The series begins with a fairly conventional romance (for vamp fiction) between a special blond mortal (who happens to be a telepath, not a vampire slayer, in this instance) and a brooding, dark-haired vampire—telepathic Sookie falls in love with the former Civil War soldier and vampire Bill Compton. Aw.

In the series’ version of 21st-century Louisiana, vampires have just “come out of the coffin.” Not only does this premise give rise to an amusing gambit, “what if vampires had mortgage payments and iPods like the rest of us?” but it also jumpstarts Sookie’s love-life—the only beings whose minds she can’t read are vampires. As Harris delicately puts it,

Can you imagine knowing everything your sex partner is thinking? Right. Along the order of “Gosh, look at that mole…her butt is a little big…wish she’d move to the right a little…why doesn’t she take the hint and…?” You get the idea. It’s chilling to the emotions, believe me.

Bill’s mental silence is Sookie’s greatest turn-on; however, the embarrassingly Harlequinesque sex scenes suggest that Bill has several appealing attributes:

He slid directly into me as if he were trying to reach through me to the soil…My hands, gripping the flesh of his back, felt the rain pelting down and the blood under my nails, and his relentless movement. I thought I would be plowed into this mud, into my grave. His fangs sank into my neck.

When I encountered that muddy, yet “grave” nookie, I couldn’t decide whether to laugh, roll my eyes, or throw the book across the room. Even now, I’m a bit abashed that I kept reading for seven more books, but they kept improving! I swear! I am not a vamp addict! Although the first book focuses on this one relationship for its entirety (even ending happily, which is unusual for the series as a whole), the romance between Sookie and Bill turns out to be the least interesting development in Sookie Stackhouse’s eight book lifespan.

Even a telepathic twenty-something gets dumped and dates around. Once the books reject the idea that Sookie will fall in love happily with her first vampire boyfriend, all sorts of fantastical romantic prospects fill Sookie’s life. By book six, Sookie has opportunities to date and have unusual sex with vampires (of course), werewolves, were-tigers, shape-shifters, and were-panthers. (Fairies also enjoy flirting with her.) In classic romance-novel fashion, the heroine attracts every male within a 20 mile radius—supernatural men (and some women) find Sookie particularly enticing due to her paranormal mental gift as well as her breasts, which warrant pages of adulation. (I believe that Sookie at 5’6” and a size 10 is supposed to look something like a long-haired Marilyn Monroe.) There are steamy (and mud-spattered and shape-shifting) sex scenes halfway through almost every novel, and the reader has fun guessing which of the suitors will broaden Sookie’s horizons this time. Plus, these novels afford readers the singular entertainment of figuring out perplexing relationship problems—would a werewolf seriously pursue a long-term relationship with a girl who can’t run through the woods with him at the full moon? Dating can be so tricky. And most importantly, each of Sookie’s suitors leads the reader further and further into the alternative supernatural world that Harris creates in great political and social detail. Did you know that there is a 1,000-something year-old vampire queen of Louisiana who splits up the state into vampire-sheriff precincts? Did you know that Elvis is walking the earth as a vampire nicknamed Bubba? You do now.

On the mystery side, Sookie becomes a more competent detective and fighter from book to book—after Bill introduces her to the netherworld of “supes,” supernatural creatures in the series’ universe, she delves more deeply into its dangers and surprises. A body never fails to turn up. For a heroine who begins the series as a down-to-earth blond barmaid, Sookie ends up being a shotgun-shooting, sharp-witted, crime-solving force that even ancient vampires and biker-werewolves respect. Also, Sookie becomes an increasingly believable and (dare I say it?) nuanced character as the series continues—experience matures and wearies her. While Sookie almost always makes good decisions (using homespun commonsense and pluck), she eventually begins to dump good boyfriends for selfish (if understandable) reasons. And as she enters into increasingly violent confrontations with supe enemies, she commits acts with that trouble her conscience. Although she’s capable of protecting herself and others, violence disturbs her. Eventually she realizes that this sensitivity makes her human and distinguishes her from her vampire and were- lovers, which again begs the question of whether it’s wise for a human to love and mate with a different species. I’ll certainly think twice.

3.

Bloodsucking Fiends: A Love Story by Christopher Moore. Perennial, 1995
(Four fangs)
You Suck: A Love Story by Christopher Moore. Harper, 2007
(Two fangs)

Sitting in my lair and pondering the state of vampire fiction today, I’m struck by the fact that the most popular titles target female readers. In fact, nearly 25 percent of the books in the romance section appear to have hunky vamp men lounging on their covers. Not only do Meyer and Harris dream up some particularly succulent straight male vampires, but the books approach dating, child-bearing (ick), and sex from a purely female perspective. I’m not saying that men won’t enjoy them, but I haven’t recommended these vampy romances to my three brothers either. Christopher Moore’s Bloodsucking Fiends, on the other hand, I would recommend to anyone. First, it’s hilarious. And second, instead of having a human female protagonist who dreamily crushes on a male vampire, Moore introduces Jody Stroud, a 26 year-old newbie vampire, who scares and titillates everyone around her. (She’s also brilliant at delivering sarcastic zingers.)

Walking home from work in San Francisco, Jody experiences one of the most bizarre muggings ever:

A man attacked me, choked me, bit my neck, burned my hand, then stuffed my shirt full of money and put a dumpster on me and now I can see heat and hear fog. I’ve won Satan’s lottery.

Quickly figuring out that she can no longer stand in sunshine without being burned to death, Jody realizes she needs a new apartment that has a bedroom without windows. (With hotels, she runs the risk of the cleaning staff inadvertently incinerating her.) Chucking her insensitive stock-broker boyfriend aside with her newfound powers, Jody goes off in search of a minion. She finds C. Thomas Flood.

19-year-old Tommy has just arrived to San Francisco from Indiana – he only has a place (bunking with five Chinese illegal immigrants) because a sympathetic bystander took pity on him:

Wong looked at Tommy, standing there next to his burning car with a suitcase and a typewriter case. He looked at Tommy’s open, hopeful smile, his thin face and mop of dark hair, and the English word, “victim” rose in his mind in twenty-point type—part of an item on page 3 of The Chronicle: ‘Victim Found in Tenderloin, Beaten to Death With Typewriter.’ Wong sighed heavily. He liked reading The Chronicle each day, and he didn’t want to skip page 3 until the tragedy had passed.

Luck, in the form of the Emperor of San Francisco (a hugely personable homeless man with two dogs), also leads Tommy to find a job as the nighttime manager of a Safeway; the work appeals to him because he dreams of spending his daylight hours becoming a famous writer. Also, the nighttime crew, “The Animals,” fully appreciates Tommy’s superior turkey bowling skills. (Read the book to discover the wild world of turkey bowling.)

By chance, Jody walks into the Safeway and finds the perfect minion and bedfellow. The beautiful redhead immediately asks Tommy to move in with her, and the young Indiana boy can’t believe his good fortune:

Tommy was stunned. No woman had ever said anything like that to him before. In just a few minutes she had come to trust him enough to lay herself open to total rejection. Women didn’t do that, did they? Maybe she was nuts. Well, that would be okay; she could be Zelda to his F. Scott.

The next day, Tommy finds an apartment—and that very night, the somewhat inexperienced Tommy has his first taste of explosive vampire sex. And then, reality settles in:

They took their shoes off and did it again. The second time was less urgent and they tried to impress each other with their respective repertoires of mattress tricks. Jody was careful not to appear too experienced and Tommy pulled on everything he had ever read, from Penthouse to National Geographic, trying not to appear too naïve, while fighting the urge to shout “Gee whiz” with her every move. There was entirely too much thinking involved on both their parts and they finished thinking, Well, that was pretty okay. Jody’s fangs stayed safely sheathed behind her canines.

So begins the love story, and the couple quarrels over who should buy the toilet paper (him), who should do the laundry (her), and who should dispatch of the mysteriously blood-drained body left outside their front door. This body and many others begin littering San Francisco’s streets because Jody’s vampire maker, Elijah Ben Sapir, is amusing himself by framing, taunting, and generally annoying the fledgling vampire. The young couple, therefore, is plunged into a farcical chase—the homicide detectives Rivera and Cavuto suspect the feckless Tommy because cadavers keep piling up around him, but he just doesn’t seem like a killer…. Will Jody and Tommy be able to stop Elijah’s killing spree? Will they ever find a way to work through their household arrangements? Moore answers all of these questions with good humor, and the book ends with a very satisfying bang.

It really is a shame that the author decided to write the inferior sequel, You Suck—talk about an appropriate title. Bloodsucking Fiends is filled with clever, funny touches while You Suck subjects Jody, Tommy, and the reader to tedious sidekicks and stale plotlines. In every way, the sequel feels like Moore cashing a paycheck. For example, did he really need to develop the irritating character of Abby Normal? Yes, Jody turns Tommy into a vampire, hence necessitating the search and training of a new minion (Abby), but who on earth wants to read the unbelievable, bloggy “diary entries” of 16-year-old goth girl for pages on end? Just to give you a taste: “OMFG-W00T! I have failed, left my duty undone, like so much dog poop on the gloaming sidewalk of the tragedy that is my life.” Instead of developing a satisfying, twisty plotline or delivering more light-footed parody, Moore assumes the voice of a whiny adolescent. Why? Could Stephenie Meyer and her adolescent hordes really have this much influence over the publishing industry and its money-grubbing authors? Oh dear. No, Christopher Moore, no! Resist the tide!

The other new player that Moore inserts into Jody’s San Francisco is a hard-edged, greedy, unlikeable prostitute with dyed-blue skin (named Blue) – she attracts clients who “really [want] to bone a Smurf.” Faced with a lifetime of selling herself as a faux Smurfette, Blue decides she wants to be a vampire instead. (It would take me several pages to explain how Blue fits into the plot, but it’s not really particularly interesting anyway. Don’t worry about it.) About 200 pages into the novel, at least four characters make a variation on the joke, “Nobody likes a dead whore.” I acknowledge that I’m not really one for “dead whore” jokes, but isn’t there a point at which any joke goes from being funny (kind of) to being either lame or offensive? Moreover, why did Moore decide to abandon the female empowerment theme from Bloodsucking Fiends in favor of stupid frat-boy humor? I just don’t get it. Could one writer really change that much in twelve years? I cannot imagine why two books that share the same characters have such different tones, especially since Moore presents You Suck as a continuation of the earlier story. It’s clear that some things shouldn’t be resurrected.

4.

The Vampire Tapestry by Suzy McKee Charnas. Orb, 2008 (originally published in 1980)
(Five fangs)

Any fan of the vampire genre will tell you that some authors write good vamp books while other authors write good books that happen to include vampires. The difference is that good vamp books lure readers who have already sold their souls to the night, and good books appeal to everyone. The Vampire Tapestry, quite simply, is a good (and sometimes great) book – not only is it incredibly well-written, but its themes and observations will interest people who don’t spend all of their time fantasizing about tall, dark, and handsome blood-drinkers…which is not to say that it doesn’t include a tall, dark, and handsome blood-drinker, but this novel has much more than romance on its substantial mind. A tapestry divided into five complementary panels, the novel’s central motif arises in the arresting form of Dr. Edward Weyland, anthropologist and ancient vampire.

A different narrator relates his or her experience in each of the five parts—human storytellers describe their encounters with the enigmatic and fascinating Dr. Weyland, who in turn observes his human prey with wry detachment. In the first part, “The Ancient Mind at Work,” Katje, a maid who works in the Faculty House of Cayslin College, a liberal arts school tucked in somewhere along the east coast, enters a deadly game of hunter and hunted with Dr. Weyland. In a brilliant satire of academia, the vampire has become a renowned professor of anthropology who specializes in dream studies. (Weyland finds sleep studies an especially expeditious way to collect blood from woozy victims.) Not only does the novel suggest that only an individual completely divorced from human feeling could make the ideal academic, but it has fun poking at an academic community so insular and self-congratulatory that it doesn’t suspect that its superstar is maiming and killing people for their blood. Only Katje, an outsider partially due to the fact that she’s an African immigrant and partially because she cleans up the others’ messes, recognizes the threat Weyland poses.

One of the best scenes happens when Weyland toys with his students and colleagues by “speculating” what an actual vampire would look like:

“In the sparsely settled early world he would be bound to a town or village to assure his food supply. He would learn to live on as little as he could—perhaps a half liter of blood per day—since he could hardly leave a trail of drained corpses and remain unnoticed.” … Katje listened intently. His daring in speaking this way excited her. She could see he was beginning to enjoy the game, growing more at ease on the podium as he warmed to his subject. He abandoned the lectern, put his hands casually into his pockets, and surveyed his listeners with a lofty glance. It seemed to Katje that he mocked them.”

This tone of cold mockery typifies these early scenes, and it’s only when Katje successfully wounds Weyland that the vampire realizes he has grown soft during his tenure.

Katje’s violent act sets the rest of the plot into motion, and Dr. Weyland slowly comes to realize that he has grown dependent upon these human creatures for more than blood. The third part, “Unicorn Tapestry,” won the Hugo Award in 1980 for “Best Novella,” and I’m grateful to the recent vampire fad for encouraging Orb to reprint the story in a new paperback. In this portion of the novel, Weyland undergoes analysis:

“Hold on,” Floria said. “I know what you’re going to say: I agreed not to take any new clients for a while. But wait till I tell you—you’re not going to believe this—first phone call, setting up an initial appointment, he comes out with what his problem is: ‘I seem to have fallen victim to a delusion of being a vampire.’”

Floria gradually comes to understand that Weyland is, in fact, a vampire, and he only wants to overcome his “delusion” and more importantly obtain her professional reference so that he can resume his position at Cayslin. The various revelations and breakthroughs that occur in their sessions together are unexpected and subtle, and I urge you to pick up this book for yourself. I won’t spoil the surprises.

After therapy ends, Weyland transfers to a university in Santa Fe—he cannot safely hunt on the east coast anymore. In part four, “A Musical Interlude,” the vampire discovers that he has a capacity to appreciate humans’ creations as well as their destruction. For Weyland, responding to the strains of Tosca is like a person hearkening sympathetically to the lowing of cows, but the vampire cannot deny the emotional connection he feels:

Why? Art should not matter. Yet he responded—first to the ballet, back in New York, and now to this. He was disturbed by a sense of something new in himself, as if recent events had exposed an unexpected weakness.

Needless to say, Weyland’s perturbation leads to a singularly bloody night at the opera.

Each part offers its own thrills and horrors, but all together The Vampire Tapestry glances at humanity from an alien, monstrous, and, yes, anthropological viewpoint—Weyland is the cold, white laboratory light that exposes the human species:

At times like these he speculated gloomily that on his next waking he might well find the world reduced to muscle, wind, and water power, if not actually to postnuclear devastation. He was no longer sure that he had achieved the prime requirement of a successfully specialized predator: choice of an equally successful prey. He chafed at the thought of how own existence dependent on the feeble and undisciplined will of humankind.

His dependence upon humans, however, forces the predator to become somewhat human himself. In his slow, painful transformation, Weyland reveals the attributes that distinguish humans from animals who tread at night.

5.

Reading fifteen vampire novels results in a period of contemplation and backlash. Immediately upon completing this review, I found myself wondering why people so desperately wish for a dark stranger to sweep them up and suck their blood. Sure, vampires are snappy dressers, but isn’t it kinda weird that hoards of women and men regardless of age or social background foster romantic fantasies about a sympathetic serial killer? Wait a minute…this review isn’t on Dexter is it?

Ever since Dark Shadows (1966-1971) and Anne Rice refined the concept of the guilt-ridden, morally ambiguous vampire, this romance has become more and more popular in books, TV, and movies. Teenage girls don’t care about the homecoming anymore, they just want a mysterious older boy to introduce them to extreme necking. And it’s not just kids – lots of adults respond to these books (look over Twilight’s Amazon.com page if you doubt me), and few can resist a man who feels terrible about his constant temptation to feast upon innocent high schoolers. One can’t deny that the ethical dilemmas of the undead are decidedly more exotic than those of the average romantic hero.

Sometimes when I’m tearing into a rare steak or re-watching Fight Club, I understand why everybody wants a little bloodlust from their paramours. And even if you’re a vegan saint, vampire fiction provides a nice, safe release from the least kinky parts of your day. Still I find the sheer number of vampire offerings and acolytes perplexing – I didn’t even scratch the surface in this review. I haven’t mentioned the works of L.A. Banks, Andrew Fox, Laurell K. Hamilton, Annette Curtis Klause, Elizabeth Kostova, Kim Newman, or Ellen Schreiber, and even if I did review all of their books, some of which are good fun, I still wouldn’t be close to providing a comprehensive glimpse of vampires today. Not only are contemporary authors churning out vampire tales as if they actually believe there’s no tomorrow and someone’s coming to drain them dry, but publishers have started reprinting deluxe editions of older classics. I’m definitely planning to pick up The New Annotated Dracula with its introduction by Neil Gaiman on October 13th, and Broadview Press has reprinted John Polidori’s The Vampyre for readers curious about that fateful stormy night when he, Byron, and the Shelleys hung out telling ghost stories.

Even though there is quality to be found in this rushing flood of vampire fiction (see The Vampire Tapestry), there are just as many books (like Breaking Dawn and You Suck) that are only trying to profit from the public’s seemingly insatiable craving for men with fangs. As with any fad or genre, the bad novels outnumber the good ones. And so I’m done with vampires… at least until this Sunday’s episode of True Blood. While these semi-evil honeys are as tempting as ever, I’m switching over to another kind of literature that won’t test my taste standards quite so strenuously. Fitzgerald? Heinlein? Twain? Sure, there won’t be any dangerous yet alluring rogues waiting in a nearby alley, but I’ve had enough until the 31st.

___
Sharon Fulton is a PhD candidate in English literature at Columbia University. She is working on a dissertation about the role of animals in the literary dream-visions of the late fourteenth-century.

One Comment »

  • Suzy Charnas says:

    Hi, there, Sharon –

    Thanks for the great review of “Tapestry”! It’s taken some work to keep the book in print, more or less solidly, since 1981, and it’s always a pleasure to see it taken note of by someone who gets it, likes it, and is happy to tell the world about it.

    As to why writers keep writing about vampires, the question is really about why readers want so much to keep reading about them. I’ve been asked by editors to write three short stories on dark themes over the past couple of years, and two out of three have specified vampirism as a theme — because publishers eagerly shell out money for anthologies that they *know* they can sell. As a writer, I always answer, “Maybe”, because I just might finally be as done with vamps as you feel right now; but if there *is* something still out there, an idea will pop into my head not long after, and away we go! If there is a ride, it’s always fun — just to see what *else* can possibly be done here that’s interesting enough to bother with, as writer or reader.

    And let me add something about Harris’s series: what’s made those books interesting to me is the solid grounding of even the most fantastic characters in a keenly observed rural southern setting that’s unusual in this vein (oops) of literature. Harris knows, likes, and respects her characters, and that makes them refreshing to spend reading-time with.

    I watch the TV series too, but I have to admit that for me, the cranking up of the sex-and-violence level is pretty annoying. Still watching, though, because I like Sookie, a young woman who clings to her southern manners (“always say whatever will make the people in the room the most comfortable”), and the code of ethics her gramma taught her, as she makes her way through an increasingly complex and cold-hearted world.

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