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By Karen Marie Moning
Delacorte, 2009

Dreamfever is a fantasy romance novel that has baffled me for the entire month I’ve spent with it. It is the story of a young woman named MacKayla Lane who must battle a powerful supernatural figure who forces her to have constant sexual cravings for two other men in an alternate universe Dublin. So, Twilight plus Ulysses, right? Well, sort of. It is almost incomprehensibly dense, and I think there are vampires, or something like vampires. It smashes together writing of wildly different registers, hitting the low notes of gothic doom and the trills of high-end clothing envy, often on the same page—just like Molly Bloom. The author of Dreamfever, Karen Marie Moning, has a killer website, with a soundtrack, games, illustrations, and deleted scenes, just like James Joyce would have had if they’d had the Internet back in his day. All kidding aside, Joyce actually would have agreed with her advice to young writers: “Write like there are no critics.”  

Well, as Jesus once said, the critics will always be with us. And, frankly, Moning seems to have taken her own advice a step too far and decided to write like there are no readers. But she has a lot of them anyway, and they seem to be very involved in the world Moning has created over the course of four Fever novels and seven Highlander novels. For proof one need only look to the extremely busy message boards on her site, which are filled with emoticons and inside baseball comments like “I think Barrons is the UK and Mac is his mortal lover reborn.” Obviously, something is happening in these books, but I’m pretty unsure what it is.

I do know that Dreamfever starts on a surprisingly dark note. The opening words of the prologue are from the perspective of our heroine Mac, and they are uncompromising and clearly inspired by Beckett: “Death. Famine. Pestilence.” Heavy. Then: “They surround me, my lovers, the terrifying Unseelie princes.” Already I am in over my head, but this is probably the moment when I felt the most in command of the basic action of the book. Mac is a captive of the Lord Master, and in danger of turning into a “pri-ya, a Fae sex addict.” Thus she’s a bit of a downer.

The first proper chapter livens things up exponentially. “Hey, it’s me—Dani. I’m gonna be taking over for a while. Fecking good thing too, ‘cause Mac’s in serious trouble.” She’s a teenager, which would make her difficult enough to understand without her talking about the Orb and Shades and a Sword of Light. She and her crew are sidhe-seers, who fight Faes. Their numbers are dwindling, like Jedi. Dani says things like, “Duh, I’m superfast.”

I suppose it was foolish of me to enter the Fever universe on Book 4 and expect to understand what was going on (her other books include Darkfever, Bloodfever, and the hopefully forthcoming Swinefever). Moning has no interest in writing for casual readers who wander into bookstores hoping to buy whatever is number 3 on the New York Times Bestseller list. Her project is not a mainstream, Twilight-craze hopping one. It is for a hardcore audience that knows what it is getting into, like anime
obsessives or Robert Pollard fans. The writing is boldly atrocious and seemingly unedited. This is the way it should be—an editor might have felt the need to mess with lines like “The raw sex they’re throwing off blasts me, but it’s not like V’lane, who I’m gonna give my virginity to one day.”

I had trouble staying focused on the plot of Dreamfever so I’m certainly not a reliable guide to the contours of its map or the intricacies of its mythology. At some point the Lord Master goes to Georgia and captures Mac’s parents while she is stuck in the Hall of All Time. There is a scary encounter with a monster who urinates a circle around Mac to keep away the other monsters in the forest. It’s difficult to keep track of the monsters that exist in Moning’s universe. The glossary just complicated things for me, but it was a blast in its own right. For example, the definition of “See You in Faery!” is “Catch phrase for sycophantic human sex kittens who will trade anything and everything for the high of eating Unseelie flesh.” The glossary is followed by recipes for Irish Soda Bread and Shepherd’s Pie, among other dishes. Why not?

I come here not to bury Dreamfever but to wonder at it. Who exactly is reading it and its earlier iterations? My mother, who consumes trashy hardcover bestsellers on a daily basis, declared it too junky “even for her.” It seems too weird and complicated to appeal to love-starved teenagers, but too cheesy and self-consciously “erotic” to appeal to the super-geeky ones. The recipes force me to assume the target audience is very strange housewives. Apparently it’s been optioned by 20th Century Fox—Moning mentions this a lot on the website—so maybe its fans will emerge into the light if a film adaptation comes around. Presumably the studio will start with the first book, and maybe the director of the film will be slightly clearer about what exactly is happening in Dublin.

Andrew Martin is on the editorial staff of the New York Review of Books. He contributes frequently to interviewmagazine.com and occasionally performs monologues in New York City.

On to #4, The Help by Kathryn Stockett

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