Thursday, September 8, 2011

Really sucky

I'm having difficulty rustling up an example of a vampire book that I have truly enjoyed (years ago, I read Anne Rice's first few Lestat books, but those got weird [and so did she]). Adam Rex's Fat Vampire: A Never Coming of Age Story seemed promising; I mean this was the guy who dreamed up the hilarious mayhem of Smekday. Mostly I want a book that doesn't involve true-love-forever in any way whatsoever, thank you Adam Rex: "The vampire pressed down on you. There was no beguilement, no charm or enchantment. You were held fast by the hair as the vampire tore you open and siphoned off your life. Your blood mingled. It wasn't romantic." [p. 89]

Doug Lee -- short, pudgy, comic book fan, Jewish, general nerd -- was made a vampire by accident over the summer. His maker (corrupter or granter of immortality depending on who you are talking to) had just been made a vampire itself and was scared and wounded when it attacked Doug. Doug is pretty depressed at the thought that he'll never change from the fat, loser dork he is. He tells his best friend, the even nerdier Jay (formerly homeschooled), because he'll need some help when the two boys go on their long-planned trip to Comic-Con in San Diego. But while they're there, Doug -- who hasn't quite mastered the whole feeding thing -- calls enough attention to himself that he catches the eye of Alan Friendly, host of a reality television show called Vampire Hunters (the videos linked here are pretty funny).

Doug and Jay scuttle back home to suburban Philadelphia where Doug attempts to act like a normal high school sophomore. He falls kind of hard for exchange student Sejal, but she tries to let him down easy. Doug confronts his maker, acquires a vampire mentor, and begins dating another girl and just like that, things begin to look just a little better. And interestingly, so does Doug.

Fat Vampire is also Sejal's story. In a nicely loony twist, she is spending her exchange year with a dial-up-only family because she caught "the Google" at home in Kolkata, unable to tear herself away from her technology. She decides to start fresh by losing her suitcase full of saris on purpose and adopting the Goth fashions and tranquilizers of her host sister, Cat.

This is pretty darn funny, with lots of satire about sexy vampires, just about every clique in high school (although I did have a bit of a laugh at the idea that the drama kids were the popular ones), reality TV. Every once in awhile, the quirky mood vanishes and some serious stuff comes your way: Doug's description of how he was made -- which he does in the second person -- is fairly disturbing, as is Sejal's obsession with her digital life. The ending isn't tidy.

It's been almost a year since I've heard Kirby Heyborne read anything (that, and the next book I finished led to disability flashbacks). Despite his six appearances in my blog (thank you Audiobook Jukebox), he's just not a favorite narrator. His relatively high voice, the sing-song quality of his reading, and the precise diction simply aren't very interesting to listen to. Occasionally, he breaks out of these patterns, and is really, really funny! Doug uses his vampire skills for good and thwarts a robbery at a MoPo store (a 7-Eleven-type store that also shows up in Smekday). As Doug goes a little crazy, so does Heyborne. "POP-TARTS! POP-TARTS! POP-TARTS!" He gets louder, lively, funnier, more engaging to hear. When he did this, it took me by surprise, but I liked it.

In this novel, he mostly portrays teenagers; they are relatively interchangeable but they sound like real kids. There are enough written clues (Doug said, etc.), that following dialogue isn't difficult. With adults, Heyborne deepens his high voice, and this sounds a little strained. Sejal speaks with an Indian accent and Vampire Hunter Alan Friendly is English. Both accents are a little wobbly here.

Definitely better than any other vampire novel read or listened to recently (which means about five in the past five years), but this is just not my genre.

[In times of stress, Doug transforms into a bat. The photograph of the vampire bat (Desmodus rotundus) was retrieved from the Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad (Costa Rica) via the Encyclopedia of Life and is used under a Creative Commons license.]

Fat Vampire: A Never Coming of Age Story by Adam Rex
Narrated by Kirby Heyborne
HarperAudio, 2010. 8:25

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