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Saturday, March 19, 2011

Jennifer Armintrout: "American Vampire"

Title: American Vampire  
Plot Type: SMR, Horror
Ratings: V-5; S-3; H-2
Publisher: Mira (2011)

     So...I'm labeling this novel SMR horror because in essence it's a love story that involves the persecution of the hero and heroine by a whole lot of ugly-acting yokels while they all try to hide from an even uglier-acting monster. If you start with some of the close-minded townspeople from Salem back in the witch-trial days, add a monster straight from the pages of any Stephen King story, and then drop in a surly vampire, you'd have American Vampire.

     The monster in questioncalled "It" by the local populationhas been terrorizing the folks of rural Penance, Ohio, for five years. Since It first appeared, no one has been able to enter or leave the city limits. The townspeople are low on supplies, desperate for communication with the outside world, and scared to death of It. Oh, by the way, these people are not congenial, warm-hearted Midwesterners; they are scary, desperate, small-minded riffraff.

     Even though Penance lies near several highways, no outsider has ever visited Penance during these terrible five yearsuntil vampire Graf McDonald gets lost on his way to a party and stops at an abandoned gas station to steal a map. He chances upon Jessa, a 20-something Penance native, just as It attacks. After they escape from the monster, Jess takes Graf homevery unwillinglybecause he tells her that he's deathly allergic to the sun, and dawn is just about to break. Jessa is a prickly young woman who happens to have a reputation for being the town tramp, and as Jessa says about her own notoriety: "I earned it." For years, Jessa has kept up an affair with her abusive ex-boyfriend, Derek, who is married and has a family with another woman, namely Jessa's used-to-be BFFa real sleazebag.

Graf's De Tomaso Pantera L
     Jessa and Graf have the usual instant SMR hate/hate thing going until well into the book.  Both are very annoying, unpleasant people (which is unusual for heroes and heroines of SMR novels), but they are interesting characters. Jessa is frustrated at being stuck in this time warp, grief-stricken at the deaths of her parents and brother, tired of her sick relationship with Derek, and very suspicious of this new stranger in town. Graf is no la-di-da, high-style vamp with European pretensions. He's American all the waya former white-collar worker at a tire plant in Detroit. He drives a 1974 De Tomaso Pantera L, smokes like a chimney,  curses like a teamster, and can't wait to escape from Penance's corn-fed "peasants" and "yahoos" (p. 136). He is extremely anxious to get out of small-town southern Ohio and resume his partying life. 

     In a reversal of the usual SMR storytelling methodology, American Vampire (as the title implies) is  told from the vampire's point of view, with just a few crucial scenes told from Jessa's viewpoint.

     When Graf is forced to stay with Jessa because none of the neighbors will take him in, the two eventually come to an understanding, at least until she discovers his vampiric nature. Then, all bets are off. By the end of the book, of course, love has truly blossomed, the bad guy has gotten his just punishment, and the happy couple is looking forward to their HEA future together. Sigh.

     I liked this book. If you don't think too hard about a few loopholes in the plot, you'll find a very fresh and twisted approach to the traditional vampire tale. If you're looking for something different in a vampire story, I recommend that you give this one a look. 

Here's Graf's reaction to one of the local girls:
     "Hey!" someone called, and he looked up to see a rail-thin woman in a pair of denim cutoffs and a too-tight shirt that read CLASSY in pink cursive across the chest.
     Does it rain white trash in this town? [Graf thought to himself]. (p. 117)

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