Saturday, January 19, 2013

Bloodsucking Fiends: A Love Story

          The rundown is as follows: This is the vampire novel that makes me not hate vampire novels. In a world populated with melancholy pale people bemoaning immortality and sometimes reveling in treating humans like cattle, this book at least turns the tropes on their ear and does them well. It's sweet, sad, a little cute, and manages both some horror and romantic comedy in a lovely style. The worst weakness the book has are that its male protagonist is a bit of a wimp, and that it is followed by two sequels that are regrettably canon. But of Christopher Moore's books, this is the one I believe should be the high-water mark, and the fact that I've read it five times without getting bored of it once means that no matter what, it has a place in my permanent collection, and should at least be attempted by you guys. Unless, you know, you hate fun* or aren't big on romantic comedies or something.

*If you hate fun, why do you even read these reviews?

"A vampire florist?"
"Well, once you accept the vampire part, the florist part is a pretty easy leap, don't you think?"
- Tommy Flood and The Emperor

          So following on the theme from last week's review, I'm a sucker for a good love story. And a good bit of fantastic fiction, since most love stories involving magic tend to be kind of sweet. There's something about that human element to the stories that just sort of cranks up the heartwarming nature. Hell, even Cory Doctorow, normally one to approach anything even remotely human only when it's safely contained under a microscope, got a good story out of his book Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town. But out of all of them, the one book that keeps bringing me back, the one book I have yet to replace despite it being mutilated all to hell, is Bloodsucking Fiends: A Love Story. It's been one of my all-time favorites since the day my father bought it for me in a discount bookstore, not knowing quite what it was. And it will remain one.

        Bloodsucking Fiends is first the story of Jody, a young woman who is brutally assaulted in an alleyway following one of the worst days of her life. She wakes up the next night with an odd burn on her hand and an indeterminate (but exceptionally large) amount of cash stuffed down her blouse. In relatively short order, Jody begins to realize that the assault has...changed her. She quickly realizes based on her thirst for blood and her new powers that she's become a vampire. Instead of having thoughts of killing humans, though, her first thought is that being unable to go out during the day is going to be a serious inconvenience. Which brings her to Tommy.

           Tommy Flood wants to be an author, but instead finds himself the night manager at a Safeway, bowling frozen turkeys down the aisles with a group of highly-intelligent dropouts and burnouts collectively known as "The Animals". His days are spent sleeping and dodging his five identical Chinese roommates, The Wongs. He's sort of adrift, coming from the midwest. But one night, something new arrives in the form of a pale redhead with an interesting proposition: Help her out with errands during the day, and get paid extra fir it, plus room and board. Tommy leaps at the proposition immediately, intrigued by both the woman employing him, and the chance to escape the surrealist comedy that has become his everyday life. And so Tommy meets Jody, and the two come to an arrangement.

And then things get weird.

           Jody's a vampire, but there isn't any guide or any kind of internal knowledge of what it is vampires are supposed to be able to do. She doesn't know her own strength, she needs a source of blood, and every day at sunrise, her body just shuts down until the next sunset. And while Tommy is sweet, it's more a partnership out of her necessity than any kind of bond. Tommy, meanwhile, is becoming more and more attached to his employer, due to the fact that he's a nineteen year old sensitive artist who sees her as some kind of romantic ideal. He's also fascinated with the fact that she's a vampire, and willing to help her discover her powers. But he's getting suspicious that she just sees him as a tool, and she's worried he's getting a little too close for comfort. And to complicate matters further, the vampire who turned Jody keeps popping up to taunt her, leaving corpses near Jody's house and arousing the suspicion of police detectives Cavuto and Riviera. And if Tommy and Jody hope to survive, they may need each other more than they think.

         I think the thing I like the most about Bloodsucking Fiends is its lack of care for narrative convention. Tommy being a guy who lives in a romantic ideal is played for laughs, the vampire romance starts out as just a matter of convenience until both Tommy and Jody mature, the cops are very competent, and even the elder vampire isn't spared. While telling you everything that goes on in the book would ruin a lot of the plot, let's just say it makes him both a bit more sympathetic, and a lot easier to laugh at than be frightened by him. If Christopher Moore were to play all of this completely straight, Bloodsucking Fiends would have been yet another supernatural romance, sort of dated to the mid-nineties. Instead, it gives the characters a humanity that most paranormal romances tend to lack, because the characters are like us. They screw things up, get lost in their own ideas of what's going on, and make mistakes. It helps draw the reader in a lot better.

          And the characters being human is another great thing about the book. You can sympathize with them on some level. Hell, Jody's vampirism is even a metaphor for her maturity-- the first section of the book is called "Fledgeling", and it goes on from there. You get the sense that Tommy is a real person, that his friends could be real people hanging out at a supermarket and getting into all manner of weird stunts. Even the vampire, while more in the "inhuman monster" vein, does get some good characterization, in a scene where he leaps off of a building just for the fun of it. The dialogue sounds very natural, and while half of it is about sex, remember, they're a fairly young writer and a woman coming to terms with her own maturity in a new way. 

       Finally, Christopher Moore's writing style is very vivid. His city is clearly as much a character as his two protagonists, and he shows that wonderfully. When he goes through snapshots of the people who walk around at night, it's easy to picture them as if they were right there. You can picture everything the characters do, and it really helps with the atmosphere of the scenes. While this does result in some very disturbing moments, it also helps draw the reader in and better connect with the book. You get invested in the city, and in the lives of the people in it. And in the end, it makes the narrative twists and turns both that more uncertain, and that much more satisfying to see unfold. 

        The book is not without its drawbacks, though. Primarily, Christopher Moore seems to evolve his ability to write Jody over the course of the book. In the beginning, she starts out kind of stereotyped, though this also might play into her emotional maturity. She does start out the book twenty-six and still unsure of what she's doing in life. It's just kind of annoying at the start. The other major drawback is that Tommy feels a bit mary-sueish, but this, too, fades. It's like Moore started out writing these characters two-dimensionally and then later got a better handle on it...actually, that's probably part of the point. Also, there are sections where the things the characters do don't quite make sense, but the plot manages to find its way around those wonderfully.

        So in the end, buy this book. Find this book in the library. Find a way to get the book and read it. It may not be the best book in the world, but it's funny in all the right places, sweet in others, and a great story about two people who find each other and have to make a relationship work, rather than the usual "wuuuvvvvv!" of both romantic comedies and paranormal romances. It's a great book with a lot of humanity and a lot of heart, and well worth your time. 

Oh, and while you may discover in looking up this book that there are two sequels, I should very much like to tell you that no such books exist. For your sanity and mine, no such books exist. Also, they need to make a movie of this, though it would now be a period piece, taking place about eighteen years ago.

In an astounding break of schedule due to something interesting being delivered into my hands:
-Gun Machine by Warren Ellis

- The Stranger by Max Frei

And finally
- Sleeping in Flame by Jonathan Carroll



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