Wednesday, June 06, 2007
Our book today is "Bottomfeeder" by B.H. Fingerman. It's his first novel, and it deals with a New Yorker named Philip Merman, who works nights at a series of dead-end jobs and has a pasty pale complexion.
The nighttime jobs and the pasty skin are connected, but not in the way you might think. They go together because Philip is a vampire, although that word is virtually never used in this zingy, addictive take on the urban undead.
As is the tiresome custom these days, Fingerman in his Acknowledgments thanks pretty much the entire Manhattan phone directory, but we here at Stevereads are acting under the impression that he actually wrote the book himself. So when he writes 'stay tuned,' we can hope for more such books from him.
Philip has over time evolved a (for want of a better word) moral code to supply his appetite (it's a conceit borrowed wholesale from Anne Rice's "The Vampire Lestat," although she's pretty much the only person in North America who doesn't get a shout-out in the Acknowledgments): he tries his level best to prey only on the worst dregs of humanity, hence the book's title.
Fingerman is no Tolstoy. The prose here is of a decidedly purple tint, but so overbrimming with feral intelligence that the reader will quickly acclimate and beging slumming it with abandon, succumbing to the guilty pleasure in much the same way Philip succumbs to his dark hunger. We mention this as a public service, since the book sports a blurb from Max Brooks, author of the genuinely well-written "World War Z" - readers coming to this book from that one are in for a very different reading experience. Different, but equally entertaining.
The zing and pop of Fingerman's prose is consistently smile-inducing, which is something that certainly can't be said for most genre fiction (and which might account for the way the book is packaged; you'll find it in the fiction section of your local Barnes & Noble, not in science fiction). There's a scene early on when a very hungry Philip is riding the late night subway, scanning the sparse occupants of his car for a potential victim. He discounts a number of people for various quirky reasons, then he settles his attention on a junkie:
"The junkie? Good lord, what a heinous specimen. A living - if you can call it that - billboard for the anti-drug lobby. I can see and smell the open sores on his emaciated arms and ankles from where I'm seated. He's a tall stringy ulcer of a man, junk sick and trembliing. His hair is a tangle of clotted, greasy, dirty blond, plastered down to his face. Occasionally his eyes pop open and look heavenward, his cracked lips mouthing a silent prayer. He looks like every portrait of Jesus on the cross you've ever seen, except he's wearing more clothes, less thorns. I've made my choice.
Junkie Jesus is going to die for my sins."
The novel's most prominent oddity - a character who feels like he was blown in from another book altogether - is Philip's cloying, annoying non-friend Shelley, who's like a cross between Allie McBeal and Anthony Blanche. At one point Shelley (who's convinced Philip is gay) brings up the subject of Monica, the wife who divorced Philip:
"'You're already on thin ice, Shel. The thinnest. Let's just pretend this is Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, okay? Only substitute the word 'wife' for 'baby.' 'Don't talk about the wife, Martha.' Okay?'
'What kind of st-st-straight man would make a r-r-reference like that?'
'One who likes movies? What kind of stupid ...? What is it with you, Shel? Do you enjoy pushing my buttons? It's like you're trying to drive in a wedge with a fuckin' mallet.'
'I'm s-s-sorry. It's j-j-just that you're obviously quite vain, Phil. The cosmetic s-s-surgery b-b-bears that out. B-b-but only ever since Monica l-l-left you ...'
I don't like to think of her by name. I do, and often, but it always pains me. And I especially don't like hearing her name from his mouth. I pick Shelley up by the lapels and slam him into a wall as hard as I can. I'm actually holding him a few inches off the ground. He's gotten my blood up, riled me. I'm not that strong, especially between feedings, but he's a flyweight. He looks down at me, eyes wide, imploring. That's right. Maybe now you get it, Shelley. Maybe now you see why you shouldn't keep ticking me off. See how much trouble it could get you in?
'I could kill you so easily,' I hiss.
'I w-w-wish you w-w-would,' he whimpers. 'Oh God, I w-w-wish you w-w-would.'
He ruins everything."
The novel amounts to the misadventures of Philip and Shelley and swiftly delivers the reader to a satisfyingly indeterminate ending. Those of you who like your genre fiction guilty pleasures fast and funny could do much worse than to poke your nose into "Bottomfeeder."
But not before you read "World War Z," mind you. Dinner before desert, after all.