Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Fat Vampire

Am I just a grouch lately, or are the books I'm reading really that bad? I think it's the latter; you decide.

I read not one but two novels by Mary Alice Monroe, mostly because she was recommended to me as a local Charleston, SC author. The first one, Time Is a River, wasn't set in South Carolina, so I set my negative reaction to it aside and read another one, Last Light Over Carolina. I hated it less is about all I can say. Both novels take a facile approach to complicated issues like infidelity and reputation. At one point in Last Light Over Carolina, the wife tries to head off a situation that could lead to infidelity by talking to her husband:

"You know what? Tonight there were a lot of guys at that school who took time off the boat to be there for their kids. So don't give me that old line about being a shrimper."
"It is what it is."
"Maybe that's the problem."
"What's that?"
"Just that things aren't the same now as they were when we got married. We have a child now. That makes things different."
She saw his big shoulders bow up in defense, and she felt suddenly weary of this old, pointless argument. They'd both thrown the same hurtful lines back and forth so often that they no longer heard the words. It was just annoying, like his mess strewn across the room."

And no, whatever "mess" she blames him for is never specified; it's just a generality thrown out there in a lazy kind of way.

Then I read the new Yann Martel novel, Beatrice and Virgil, and a more self-indulgent piece of fiction is hard to imagine. For the first 190 pages it follows a thinly disguised Martel figure through an odd relationship with a playwriting taxidermist, and then suddenly the relationship, the taxidermist's shop, and what the autobiographical character thought he was doing are all blown up in his face, leaving him with a manuscript that has (surprise!) the same title as the novel you're holding in your hands, which ends with another "manuscript" posing questions familiar to anyone who has known a moderately morose sixth-grader. For instance:
"Your daughter is clearly dead. If you step on her head, you can reach higher, where the air is better. Do you step on your daughter's head?"
All I can say is, thank goodness I got this out of the library, rather than buying it because I liked Life of Pi, which is what Martel must be counting on to sell any copies of this sorry sucker.

So finally I picked up a new YA novel--Fat Vampire, by Adam Rex--because you know my daughter and I still have a passing interest in vampire parodies. Also I loved Rex's first YA novel, The True Meaning of Smekday. What I found is that Fat Vampire is the best of a bad lot. It has some funny bits--like that a kid who gets addicted to the internet has a disease called "the google," and that a vampire who doesn't want to be evil not only has to refrain from drinking human blood, but should use his superhuman powers to foil convenience-store robberies and such.

It has some funny lines, like when the vampires have a meeting and tell the newly-made ones that "discretion is paramount. You tell no one what you are. You speak to no one of our concerns" and the fat vampire, 15-year-old Doug, thinks "First rule of bite club: you do not talk about bite club."

It has some moderately funny descriptions, like this one: "If there had been a fourth Little Pig who'd elected to build his house out of cigarette butts it might have looked and smelled something like this place."

It also has some good dialogue:
"I guess--I guess the real question," said Doug, "is why would any vampire make another?"
"Why?" Stephin repeated. "Loneliness, of course."
"But I mean. . . why would a vampire create a younger vampire if there was a possibility the young one might end up destroying the old one?"
Stephin stared. "If you can explain to me how this is different from parenting in general I might know how to answer that."

The ending of the novel gets too heavy-handed, though. The metaphor of the "fat vampire" becomes explicit, as though Rex doesn't trust his intended audience to be able to make the connection themselves:
"People like him--the unbeautiful, the less popular--were almost inhuman in some people's eyes. They were a kind of pitiful monster, an aberration, a hunchback. You made eye contact only by accident and then you turned quickly away. The word 'geek' had once only referred to a circus freak, hadn't it? A carny who performed revolting acts for a paying audience. Was it so different now? See! him bit the head off a live chicken. Behold! as he plays Dungeons & Dragons at a sleepover."

Fat Vampire's seven alternate endings, while clever, don't work in an interesting narrative way. They're merely another sideshow, amusing but ultimately without meaning.

And that kind of sums up my recent reading experiences--amusing but fairly meaningless. I'm looking for a little more intellectual nutrition in the next few things I pick up.


FreshHell said...

Thank you for mentioning books I do not have to read. I think your grouchiness would improve by reading something better.

Harriet M. Welsch said...

1. I regularly try to find good books about the low country but they always disappoint. Maybe we need to write our own.

2. I am sad to her that Fat Vampire is not as good as Smekday. But maybe I'll have AJ try it anyway. He has been reading Smekday over and over and over again since the start. He's also listened to the audiobook version a few gazillion times. He's a little obsessed.

Anna (Diary of an Eccentric) said...

I don't think you're being grouchy. Just need to find better books.

I received an unrequested (thankfully) copy of Beatrice and Virgil and I've had no desire to read it based on the reviews I've seen.

RFulton said...

None of those sounded like books I would want to curl up with on a rainy day (still waiting for a rainy day). I get my low country fix by reading Margaret Maron Deborrah Knott novels. While the mysteries are pretty simple--some good, some not so good, the descriptions of the people, area, and culture are always interesting.

Jenny said...

Heavy-handed morals drive me nuts. I like books that have something to say, but (a) if there is a moral I am probably clever enough to figure it out myself; and (b) books are more fun if the moral message is ambiguous like life.

Jodie said...

What a pain. I think it's the books rather than grouchiness from the sound of them - you seem to have hit the jackpot of writerly indulgence.

Someone has got to explain why authors write characters that are basically them and make them write, or discover the novel they are staring in. I don't get it, or why authors write books where the character has the authors name. Is there a literary purpose for it? I keep hearing it is something to do with blurring the line between fiction and reality to show how indistinguishable they can be, but it seems like the laziest way to do so - like using a real person who isn't you would take too much research.

Shame about Fat Vampire, although the bits you've quoted are funny so not a total loss. I've been really interested in it since seeing True Blood, which has its very own fat vampire for a while.

Melissa said...

When I was at Book People last week, we passed by this massive wall of YA vampire lit, and Fat Vampire was the only one that looked remotely interesting. (Yet another reason why I have to stop judging books by their covers!)

Too bad about Beatrice and Virgil.

Jeanne said...

FreshHell, the Beatrice and Virgil bash was definitely meant as a public service.

Harriet, so true about low country books. Let's retire there and write one!

Maybe my hopes were too high for Fat Vampire and now that I've lowered expectations, people like AJ can like it more?

Anna, thank you for that validation!

Ronna, I do like the Margaret Maron books (read them before I started blogging). I remember them as being a little more inland and rural than the barrier island books like Monroe's. But yeah, The Bootlegger's Daughter is a great beginning to a pretty good series.

Jenny, what's so odd is that I don't think of Adam Rex as an author who would draw out an obvious moral like that. It almost makes me wonder if he had a reader/publisher who insisted.

Jodie, I don't always mind thinly veiled autobiographical characters, but this one does seem less successful as an experiment than most.

I don't know if I quoted all the best bits of Fat Vampire--as long as you don't expect too much, like I said to Harriet, you might like it okay.

Melissa, the cover of Fat Vampire does look delicious with the red slurpee--and that actually ties in with something that happens in an oblique way. So it's a good cover!

Mumsy said...

Thanks for the Martel pan. I liked The Life of Pi, and seriously might have bought it.

Also, we've all been thru these dreary spells when every book seems to taste like soggy bread...and then along comes something that makes you jump for joy. (Hint: ROOM)

Jeanne said...

Mumsy, I did read your review of Room. I'm kinda with Jenny about reading it, but still thinking it over.