It’s been a long time since I’ve been fooled like this.
Authors generally suck at concealing where they’re going. They telegraph their intentions through tropes and foreshadowing and I am hardly ever surprised. Fat Vampire is full of surprises.
Fat Vampire tells the story of Doug, doughy boring asshole made vampire at 15. He knows he will never get any better so he decides to actively get worse. Characters such as his best friend Jay, desire object Sejal, and goth friends Cat and Ophelia, are rich and strange. The plot is chaotic— the reader is variously worried about vampire hunters, SDCC security, Rocky Horror fans, and older vampires. The result is a tangle that doesn’t neatly fit into any category or meet any expectations. It is still fun to read.
The best thing about Fat Vampire is author Adam Rex’s utterly natural dialogue. He captures the teen register perfectly— they say exactly what they’re thinking no matter how cruel or bizarre it sounds. They see naked emperors everywhere and make puns like ‘Assferatu.’ It’s delightful and laugh-out-loud funny. Rex also supplies bracing, original similes and metaphors throughout. A bad conversational transition explodes and lays on the floor like a pile of dead clowns, for example. No cliches allowed, no tired phrases appear. The prose is refreshing and keeps the reader paying close attention.
The worst thing about Fat Vampire is the protagonist. We never really know what he wants, and maybe that’s because he doesn’t know himself. He tries for hero, tries for villain, tries for romantic lead. He comes off as a creep with no self-awareness just about every time. Along the way, the reader is treated to staggering misogyny, casual homophobia, pathetic geek stereotypes, and a main character who deflects our sympathy the way a cat avoids wearing cute holiday outfits. Doug’s struggle also keeps the narrative twisting away from cohesion; the vampire hunter subplot goes nowhere. The romantic subplot (and I use the term with a suppressed shudder) allows the reader to get to know and love Sejal to an extent that it nearly becomes a book about her, while Doug creepily wishes to possess her without ever knowing her at all.
The last few chapters were impossible to put down. But when it was all over, all I could say was, “What the hell was that?”
It was a book about Doug, the sad little manchild to whom bad things happened.
It was a book about Doug, the total douchebag who deserved everything he got.
It was a book about Jay, who was a good friend and got the shaft.
It was a book about Sejal, who had a fascinating disease but a clear point of view and a spine of steel.
It was a book that (for five minutes in the middle of an expository dump) had a shockingly brilliant idea about the nature of vampirism and its ever-shifting set of rules and myths. I was really sad when that book disappeared.
I can’t even rate this. Averaging it would make no sense. Fat Vampire gets a gold star for Rex’s similes. It gets three crippled bats for the lousy protagonist, but a large cheese pizza for the supporting cast. It gets a 4/5 for readability, but a peppermint hard candy from the bottom of your mom’s purse for overall satisfaction.
Originality is the toughest thing. Fat Vampire is original, if nothing else. I’m going to cautiously recommend it.