David Herrle reviews David Sosnowski's Vamped
published by Free Press
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Vampires have reflections. Fairbanks, Alaska is to vampires what Miami, Florida is to sun-crazy humans. Vampires shoot up blood infected with Ebola, AIDS, and SARS like premium drugs. They don't blush; they don't defecate. And "yes, there are Catholic vampires."
David Sosnowski introduces us to the protag and narrator of his warped and smartassy novel, Vamped: Martin Kowalski. (I can't suppress a pop-cultural link to George Romero's atypical "vampire" flick, Martin, whether intended by the author or not.) First bitten by a French vamp babe while shrapneled and dying in world War II, Kowalski is an eighty-something (twenty-something bodied), thoughtful, depressed, suicidal, wisecracking bloodsucker who finds salvation from despair through an orphaned human child, the cute and sharp Isuzu Trooper Cassidy. Kowalski's world is dominated by vampirism. His home's decor is as unsubtle as decor can be: a Red Cross poster, a Count Chocula cereal box (bought through eBay, unopened) on display, a coffee table with blood ring stains instead of coffee ring stains, a lamp made from an IV stand, coffin handles for kitchen handles, funeral procession flags for washcloths, and a mail sorter made from a rib cage.
We meet the forlorn hero when he's "feeling a bit down lately. Edgy. Out of sorts. Suicidal." But not long after, after finding the girl Isuzu (whose mother has been slain by vamps) and deciding against turning her into a Screamer (vamped children who never mature into adulthood, like Peter Pan and his Lost Boys who dig arterial beverages), Kowalski finds himself "thinking parentally" rather than selfishly. "I continue to not-kill Isuzu."
Affection between vampire and child blooms, and Kowalski can't break the news that Isuzu's mother is dead. Like Humbert in Nabokov's Lolita and Stanley in James Strouse's recent Grace Is Gone, he distracts the motherless daughter from this grisly truth by having fun and traveling. From moping vampire to father: "So this is what karma feels like," says Kowalski. He and Isuzu share many touching and cute moments, including a blinking volley game (volleyblink?) that becomes a staring contest. All is not adorable, however:
This occurs to me later than it should, but I've got an excuse. Shitting's not something vampires do, and I just forgot.
The relationship complicates, puberty keeps on truckin', Kowalski seeks a "new mom" for Isuzu, and much later in the novel, daddy has to worry about his dear one getting into worse trouble than he can imagine. "Imagine your daughter - your angel, your sunshine - coming home one night, deflowered." He has to face the facts of girls-gone-teen. As Kowalski's main squeeze, Rose (pet name: Demon Bitch Goddess) puts it: "They let people you know and people you've never heard of do things they don't want you to know...Even if it's dangerous. Even if it's stupid, because, you know, it's their choice."
Kowalski ruminates over his father and mother, muses over boob jobs, gets laid (but doesn't screw and tell), prays, befriends Father Jack ("a semisuicidal, nonpracticing pedophile priest" who eventually conducts two weddings), and explains a vampire-majority world with comedic flare and epigrammatist/punster language. Sometimes the narration is glutted with cleverness, especially vamp puns and plays on words: "All's Fahrenheit in love and war;" "There's a sucker born every minute;" "Oh, what a tangled World Wide Web we weave;" "I'd say it sucks, but...;" etc. But these get less blunt and frequent as the story unfolds.
The Father Jack character, though worrisome because of his overused, stereotypical, pedophilic tendencies, evolves into a weirdly likable fellow traveler. I don't think there can be a fine line between seriousness and humor about such a sickness (the real thing is worse than Hannibal Lechter's hunger), but the character - though his particular sin would have been better left out of the book altogether - works because of his trustworthy abstinence.
Despite the book's overall outrageousness, Kowalski can be ultra-sober and downright penetrating. Sosnowski allows the character to transcend and defy typical vampire heroes - to the point of having him spiel about Jesus Christ to Isuzu:
"Jesus was just Jesus. He wasn't anyone else. He was special...His holiness is what makes him special..."
Sosnowski has written a sharp, hip (sometimes too hip), pop-culture infused, goofy coming-of-age/reluctant, unlikely parent novel in the cultish, largely threadbare vampire genre. Publisher's Weekly called it "a fanciful zeitgeist satire." I'll call it a slick zeitvampir seriocomedy that doesn't suck. (Oops!)
- review by David Herrle 4/2008
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