Literary Inspiration: The Dark Half

The Dark Half Collage

Have you ever tried to blame your bad behaviour on an evil twin?  Quite convenient if you’re actually a twin, slightly more difficult if you have a sibling, and next to impossible if you’re an only child, like I am.  Not that that ever stopped me – “Sandra!  Did you cut all of Barbie’s hair off and drop it behind the sofa?”  “Nope, you must be thinking of a different Sandra.  Or my evil twin.”  Good thing my parents had a great (and very indulgent) sense of humour about their smartass daughter.

Stephen King has a sort of literary evil twin in the form of Richard Bachman, the nom de plume he used to write such works as The Running Man, The Long Walk and The Regulators.  I think Bachman is the name King uses when he wishes to indulge in his more sadistic and puerile impulses – The Regulators in particular is a candy-coated slice of suburban torture porn.  But over-the-top violence and bombastic bloodshed is a young person’s dark game, and one that cannot be played indefinitely.  King himself seemed to recognize this when he mostly retired the Bachman name after being outed in the mid-80s (via death; “cancer of the pseudonym,” it was) and then again in the late ’90s when he allowed Rage, a short story he wrote in 1977 about a school shooting, to go out of print, amid fears that it might inspire similar incidents.  I also suspect, as happens to most of us as we get older, that King – yes, even Stephen King, the Master of Horror – simply aged out of that stage of his life that got off on violence and bloodshed.  And maybe Bachman had become a kind of literary crutch, a former friend-turned-unwelcome house guest.  It’s a theory I’m inclined to accept after reading The Dark Half, King’s 1989 novel about a Kingsian author who jettisons his popular pseudonym, with horrific results.

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It’s been said a time or 20 that you should always write what you know, and indeed, The Dark Half is an amped-up, supernaturally-tinged version of real life events involving King and his pseudonym, Richard Bachman.  In the book, Maine novelist Thad Beaumont has grown tired of writing under the guise of his popular – but brutish and inelegant – pseudonym, George Stark.  When he began writing as Stark, he was an angry young man in the depths of both alcoholism and a major career depression, and literary bloodshed seemed like just the balm for his broken writer’s soul.  But after becoming a happy, contented father to twin babies and finally, blessedly, sorting his life out, he finds he no longer cares for Stark’s brand of outrageous carnage, and seeks a return to writing under the Beaumont name.

At the same time, an opportunistic young bookseller/law student/aspiring novelist lucks into the well-kept secret that George Stark is actually author Thad Beaumont.  Thinking that he’s landed on valuable information that Beaumont would undoubtedly pay to keep secret, he approaches the writer with well-mannered blackmail on his mind, oblivious to the fact that Stark is already halfway out the door.  A week or so later, Beaumont puts the final nail in Stark’s coffin AND the bookseller’s blackmail attempts when he outs himself in People Magazine, along with a multi-page photo spread detailing Stark’s funeral, complete with shots of a mournful Beaumont laying flowers at the grave of his homicidal nom de plume.  The bookseller is furious, and vengeful, but hasn’t time to indulge in either on account of the fact that he and absolutely everyone associated with Beaumont’s writing are then hunted down and brutally murdered.

To this point – and obviously absent the sadistic murders – this mirrors King’s own experience.  Stephen King’s substance abuse issues have been well documented, and he’s said himself that he really didn’t get his shit together until after his children were born.  He has also shown distaste for some of his/Bachman’s earliest works, particularly Rage, writing of it in 2007, “Now out of print, and a good thing.”  And he raised virtually no fuss when he was outed as Bachman in 1985 by a Washington bookstore clerk, and actually went so far as to sit down for an interview with the guy to confirm his findings.  It was during this period that King basically retconned Bachman into an early retirement via death, and absent a few subtle nods to the name – his wet work character on Sons of Anarchy was named Bachman – King’s evil literary twin has stayed mostly silent for 30-some years now.

But King’s fictional alter ego in The Dark Half doesn’t fare as well as King did under similar circumstances, especially not once the killing starts and it’s revealed that Thad Beaumont has a lot more in common with George Stark than he ever thought possible.  And because this is a Stephen King book and what you see is sometimes exactly what you get, I can’t reveal any more without revealing everything, and so here’s where I’ll stop.

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I read The Dark Half in service of my friends’ 2019 reading challenge, but darned if I know what theme I was going for with this one!  I think at one point last year I just decided that if I wanted to read something, I was going to read it, and so that’s how we wound up at The Dark Half.  I enjoyed it, but as always with King, the ending just kind of fell off the table in a flock of sparrows.  Sparrows have a particular importance to Thad Beaumont and George Stark in The Dark Half – heaven help us all if they start flying again, and so I thought it best to confine them to my nails.  See, not so evil after all. 😉

Literary Inspiration: The Lovely Bones

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It’s the great unanswered question: What happens to us when we die?  Where do we go, what do we do, who do we become?  Alice Sebold’s 2002 novel, The Lovely Bones, seeks to answer those unanswerables, as viewed through the lens of a 14-year-old murder victim analyzing her death – and its devastating effects on the living – from the afterlife.  It’s a sad, contemplative, upsetting story about a bright life cut brutally short, and the familial fallout experienced by those left behind.  But it’s also a hopeful story of imagination, exploration and, finally, acceptance – on all sides – of those things we vehemently wish we could change, but cannot.

Did I love The Lovely Bones?  No.  I’m not sure it’s a book – or a subject matter – that lends itself to love.  It’s tremendously difficult – not to mention unpleasant – to listen to a naive teenager recount the horrifying circumstances of her rape and murder at the hands of a next door neighbour.  And that’s in the first 20 pages.  The ending actually fares much worse, undoing hundreds of pages of largely unearned goodwill with a laughable deus ex machina that fares particularly poorly in today’s consent-conscious era.  And absent Milton’s efforts in Paradise Lost, I’ve never jived well with simplistic descriptions of heaven, even the ones where every day ends with a musical dog party.

The story is this: Walking home from school one chilly winter afternoon in 1973, 14-year-old Susie Salmon is lured into a rudimentary bunker dug in the field behind her house by her neighbour, Mr. Harvey.  While her mother stands on the back porch calling her in to dinner, Susie is raped and murdered, her body dismembered and disposed of by Harvey with indifferent, ruthless efficiency.

When Susie next becomes aware of her surroundings, she’s in heaven – in this book, it’s always with a lower case H.  That’s because this is Susie’s version of the afterlife, a young girl’s heaven populated by joyous evenings filled with stirring music and ecstatic parties-in-the-park.

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For those descriptions, this novel, an Oprah Book Club entrant, earned the colloquial title of “That book where the little girl describes heaven.”  But Susie’s musings on heaven – a place where you are supposed to be at eternal peace – are actually few and far between, and are of a kind of boring, static place where questions about the past are discouraged.  Which sits poorly with Susie, a young woman caught somewhere between knowing ALL the secrets of the universe, and none.

Back down on Earth, Susie’s friends and family are faring even worse.  They have absolutely no answers, and for a time cling to the dim hope that she has been snatched.  But after mounting physical evidence points to Susie having come to great harm, they accept that she’s been murdered, and then set about the unenviable task of completely setting fire to their lives, in ways great, small and utterly predictable.

As the Salmon family’s lives spiral, Harvey evades justice, if not suspicion – you just can’t be a dollhouse-constructing, bridal tent-erecting single weirdo in a neighbourhood where a young girl mysteriously disappears without arousing some suspicions.  But with no evidence to tie the man to the crime, beyond a grieving father’s absolute certainty that this is the bastard who killed his daughter, Harvey walks, and after a period of laying low, silently moves out of the neighbourhood in the dead of night and out of their lives.

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From her heaven, Susie sees all of this, and as the days, weeks and months following her death stretch into years, her friends and family try to move on without her, while at the same time being utterly consumed by her memory.  Much like the idea of being granted a personalized heaven, this is a simplistic approach to loss – that our passing has so much impact, decades will pass before anyone will even attempt to make themselves whole again.  I also found I didn’t much care for heaven’s “What’s done is done, now let’s all calm down with a cup of tea” approach to grief.  Over and over, Susie is advised by Franny, a kind of heavenly caseworker, to let the past be, that there’s nothing to be gained from tormenting herself over things that cannot be changed.  But in doing so, Susie is robbed of an important part of the healing process – pure, earsplitting rage.  It’s not the most productive emotion, but it is satisfying, and if a person can’t take a grim sort of satisfaction from challenging the circumstances of their own death, when can they?

The Lovely Bones was a fine book, but for all the things I didn’t care for about it – the least of which was the appalling subject matter – it’s not one I’ll be picking up again.

I read this one in service of my friends’ reading challenge for the 19th theme of “Pick your own.”  Long before I ever read The Lovely Bones, I did, however, think that its cover artwork was beautiful.  The lush tropical blue fading to a light, washed-out haze is the perfect design choice to convey Susie’s insistent, but fading, presence in the world, as is the image of her dulled, but beloved, charm bracelet.  So I chose that as the inspiration for these nails.

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Literary Inspiration: Dreamcatcher

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Right, so because I can’t stop whinging on about it – one of my New Year’s resolutions is to stop bitching about my life! – I may have mentioned a time or 30 that 2019 was not a particularly good year for your friendly neighbourhood blogger.  It just stunk.  And a good chunk of that stinkiness came directly from the source, like a self-perpetuating loop of doom and gloom I was utterly unable to drag myself from.

Absent a November and a December that were so jam packed with activity, I may never need to socialize again (joke) I didn’t get much done last year.  Blogging was a sad afterthought, favourite TV shows failed to inspire, and virtually every challenge or project I began fell by the wayside, even the ones I was excited to participate in, like my friends’ 2019 reading challenge.  It just seemed like every time I’d pick up a book, I’d find some reason to set it right back down again.

But I tried!  And in doing so, somehow managed to best my 2018 score of a dozen reads with 14 whole books!  And only two and a half of them were Stephen King, I swear. 😉

Jay and Julie have created another reading challenge for the new decade, but before I leap into that (gotta find somewhere to slot that half-King, right?) I’d like to finish up my 2019 efforts, starting with – yup, you guessed it – Stephen King’s Dreamcatcher, which I read in service of the 25th prompt of “A happy little accident…or a book that has a title Bob Ross would appreciate.”

But I guess the real question IS, does Bob Ross enjoy ass weasels?  ‘Cause this book be chock-a-block with alien critters, and they’re all comin’ out our butts. *mic drop*

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The familiar Kingsian story goes a little something like this: Four friendsbound by childhood trauma in the haunted town of Derry, now in their 30s and with various responsibilities of their own, head off to the Maine woods for an annual long weekend hunting trip.  While there, aliens – Gray Boys to the trigger-happy government installation also banging about the woods – crash land in the forest.  And then shit completely goes to hell.

Literally.  Because King seems wildly preoccupied with providing as much squicky detail about how the aliens enter – and exit – our bodies as possible.  It’s not just enough to describe the itchy, blazing red, sumac-type virus that spreads across our skin.  Naw, we also have to describe – in intimate detail! – the skinless, eyeless creatures I call butt weasels (ass weasels, if you’re nasty) and their amazing adventures in, and outside of, our lower colons.

This book is SO PUERILE.  Also juvenile, scatological, and deeply, deeply inane.  It’s also hilarious.  I defy anyone – even those of us mired in a year of bad luck and unfortunate events – not to laugh at a folksy Maine hunter insisting that the screaming and various other apocalyptic noises coming from the other side of the bathroom door are merely the result of eating some bad berries out in the woods, and not a lower GI tract stuffed with ass weasels.  I literally shrieked with delight when the folksy hunter with the tum full of alien parasites grumpily responds to the concerned men gathered outside the bathroom with a “Can’t you go away and let a fellow…let a fellow make a little number two?  Gosh!”  That “Gosh!” just utterly slayed me.  Think we’re a bit past the “Gosh!” stage of things when the bathroom door is bulging outwards on its hinges, dude, but you do you.

Written in 2001 following the car collision that nearly claimed his life, Dreamcatcher is both bound to and untethered by King’s typical style.  The usuals are all here – Maine, childhood friends with secrets, Derry, telepathy, cloaked government installations, good guys, bad guys and guys somewhere in between – yet there’s a kind of weary, been-there-done-that feeling to the setting and the story.  At this stage of his career, King seems tired.  Tired of pain, probably, but also maybe a bit tired of his own schtick.  Hence the introduction of the ass weasels to, I dunno, shake things up a bit?

In the end (heh) I really enjoyed Dreamcatcher, needless gory bits aside.  It was exactly the kind of low committment, high entertainment paperback I needed in my life at that time, and I’m glad I read it.

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Also glad I decided to go with this design inspired by the sumac-type Ripley virus (Ripley, get it?) as opposed to the butt weasels.  Some things should just stay off your nails, you know?  Bob Ross would certainly approve. 🙂

Literary Inspiration: 20th Century Ghosts

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So the long and the short of it with regards to Joe Hill, son of Stephen King (a fact relevant only in that there’s an inescapable comparison to be made between the two; they are both authors who work in the area of weird) is that I don’t jive with his writing.  And with all apologies to the man, too, because even if it’s an inescapable comparison, it’s a patently unfair one – he is not his father.  But as I mentioned in this post from 2017 about Hill’s book Heart-Shaped Box, I am so well versed in his father’s works that I have a hard time not likening one to the other, and Hill’s writing invariably comes up short.

Heart-Shaped Box didn’t leave much of an impression with me (beyond the memory that it was utterly obsessed with hand and fingernail trauma) and neither did this 2005 collection of short stories, 20th Century Ghosts.  I read this quite a few months ago, and before doing these nails, I had to go back over all of the stories in order to remind myself of what I had just read.  And then instantly regretted it, because I suddenly remembered the story that kicks off this 316-page book, a grimy little tale about a literary editor caught on the wrong side of a Texas Chainsaw-esque family that itself reminds me of an infamous episode of The X-Files that I in turn will not remind you of, and you’re very welcome.

20th Century Ghosts actually begins with an introduction from its editor (who is thankfully not being terrorized by hillbillies from hell, that we know of) and the not-very-encouraging assessment that “Modern horror is not often subtle.”  Well, it can be, but as presented in 20th Century Ghosts, it isn’t.

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So there’s the story about the folks from The Hills Have Eyes, “Best New Horror.”  There’s “You Will Hear the Locust Sing,” a squicky tale about a teenage boy living on the edge of a nuclear test facility who turns into a gigantic insect.  That was a real WTF-er.  There’s a haunted theatre story, the titular “20th Century Ghost;” “Abraham’s Boys,” a deeply perverted reworking of the vampire mythology; and “My Father’s Mask,” a Wes Anderson-by-way-of-David Cronenberg familial mindf**k.

There’s also “Pop Art,” a melancholy tale about a sensitive young man whose best friend, Arthur Roth, is inflatable.  Yes, inflatable, as in made of white plastic, nearly totally featureless, incapable of speech (though Art is real hell with crayons and a pad of paper) and bearing a little nozzle under one arm that allows him to be pumped full of air.  Art has adoptive parents (humans, both) and interacts with the larger world the way any other person would (save the bit where bullies kick him up onto the roof of the school) although you’re never quite sure if Art is indeed a person, just with a major, life-altering disability, or an imaginary construct of the narrator’s admittedly troubled mind.  It was actually a really heartbreaking story; I liked re-reading this one.

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So much so, in fact, I put it on my nails in service of the theme of “A numeric title” in my friends’ reading challenge.  This is Art, peacefully drifting through the late August sky – just a simple, pillowy figure on a basic blue gradient.

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Literary Inspiration: Furiously Happy

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With apologies to the friend who gave me this book, Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson, I hated it.  Just loathed every page, every anecdote, every mea culpa and every non-sequitur about horribly misshapen, taxidermized rodents.  And there were quite a few of them, often expressed as quarter page-long footnotes.  Furiously Happy was tonally bizarre and as all over the place as Lawson professes her mental health to be.  Instead of making me happy, it just made me furious (as evidenced by the front cover amendment I made at the end of one particularly enraging chapter, an egregious act I’m only mildly pissed at myself for having carried out – you DO NOT abuse books in such a fashion.  Unless the book in question is beginning to mess with YOUR mental health.)

Known around the interwebs as The Bloggess, Lawson’s writing is often compared to the works of David Sedaris, and is bolstered by such high profile literary talent as Neil Gaiman, Augusten Burroughs and Christopher Moore (should have been a tip-off; I dislike all three of those authors.)  She’s an engaging writer with an easy, meandering style.  She’s also legitimately funny, with a scattered sense of cat-centric humour that edges on the dark and inappropriate, and I like that.  But I did not like this book.

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Two years ago I read Lawson’s first book, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir, a somewhat fictionalized account of her life, which depending on how and when you looked at it, could either be deemed charmingly quirky or grounds for about five child endangerment lawsuits.  I suspect that after reading multiple tales of how her father – described as a gregarious Viking of a man with a penchant for taxidermy – traumatized Lawson and her sister with dead squirrels stuffed into popcorn boxes, or her own haphazard attempts to dispose of the family pug’s carrion-nipped corpse, the concern trolls came out in force, probably questioning how her unusual upbringing – and, by extension, the one she was giving to her own young daughter – could in any way be deemed “okay,” or even entertaining literary fodder.

So when it came to Furiously Happy, I can imagine that the overriding editor’s note was to explain that while humorous, and embellished in certain instances, these anecdotes are rooted in the larger issue of the author’s poor mental health.  That Lawson didn’t just bail out on her kid’s recital because she’s a flake that got distracted by a dead animal – you would not believe the number of times this happens – but because she’s MENTALLY ILL.

Which, alarming number of taxidermy stories aside, you’d never know, until Lawson begins shouting it in your face every second page.  The world’s a weird place, and I think most of us are just bumbling through as best we can, beset on all sides by varying degrees of anxiety and depression.  That’s the unfortunate downside to the gift of life – having to live through the thing.  But the situations that Lawson describes as being so very damaging to her existence – and they are, if she’s being in any way truthful – are the things nearly all of us confront every single day.  The social anxiety that keeps us trapped in our homes, the depression that keeps us confined to our beds, the heartbreak we think we couldn’t possibly live through.

If there is an overriding thesis to Furiously Happy, it’s that everyone deals with poor or flagging mental health in different ways, and what works for some people – what apparently works for Lawson is getting so angry at her rebellious mind, she comes right back around the other side to “furiously happy” – does not work for all people.  Getting right with your own head takes time and effort, and nobody’s process is the same.

But not all people have endlessly patient and understanding families, husbands on important business conference calls who allow you to barge into the guest bedroom so you can shriek about feral swans, or publishers willing to finance a trip to Australia where the very best thing you can think to do is behave like an infuriating American tourist in a plushy kangaroo costume (seriously.)  Not all people have children who understand why you bailed on their recital because there’s too many other people there.  Not all people have access to a rotating cadre of therapists, or the necessary funds to even seek out mental health care.  Not all people are bestselling authors who CANNOT shut up about how wacky their lives are because MENTALLY ILL.  I started out the book feeling deeply sympathetic toward Lawson’s condition – as my boys in TOP say in the song Migraine, “Sometimes to stay alive, you’ve gotta kill your mind” – and by the end…well, you can see what I did to the cover.  It was just one vignette after another, all amounting to “I did something wacky/bizarre/borderline certifiable that led to me hurting myself and/or the people around me, but I cannot help myself, I AM MENTALLY ILL.  Isn’t that funny?!”

THAT person is not sympathetic.  But the other side of Lawson’s condition is self-harm and suicidal ideation, and that person IS sympathetic.  No one wants to hear of a person so worn down by life and all its attendant maladies that they just want to check out.  It’s why there’s a justifiable stigma around suicide.  It’s the place most of us just don’t want to go.

And Lawson doesn’t want to go there either.  If anything is clear from Furiously Happy, it’s that she’s a fighter, and for the sake of her family, her friends and her community of readers, she’s going to continue fighting.  I respect that; there’s no other way but forward, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.  But the real insights on mental health in this book are so buried beneath its stupid, infuriating veneer of forced wackiness, you can hardly find them.  It’s really asking too much of your readers to guffaw at the inconsequential fight over clothes you had with your husband in one chapter, and then react in sympathetic horror to your bloody self-harm in another.  The tonal and emotional shift is just too great.  I hope Lawson continues the good fight, but I don’t ever need to read another thing she’s written.

I read this book in service of my friends’ reading challenge for the theme of “Yellow/Gold is the color of novelty, so read a yellow novel.”  Consider it read, and now nail art-ed as well, a matte-and-glittery design – and quite yellow, indeed – inspired by the book jacket cover art.

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Literary Inspiration: Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict

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As Bon Jovi would say, this is my confession: I didn’t particularly enjoy Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, I’m not sure why I read it (other than it fulfilled the required theme of “A tale where the main character loves to read” in my friends’ reading challenge) and I wouldn’t read it again.  It was silly, dull as dishwater and completely and utterly lacking in wit.  Confessions was a tepid recreation of any one of Austen’s novels about headstrong young women of means boxed in on all sides by romance, propriety, social convention and Georgian Mommy Dearest, with a dash of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Goin’ a bit harsh here, perhaps, but this book was as boring as any one of the innumerable scenes of our heroine (*pulls out book and looks for the main character’s name, because it’s already gone*) Courtney Stone needlepointing her way through a situation that has somehow resulted in her becoming a Jane Austen-type character in Regency England.

Annnnndddd I was about to explain the hows and whys of how that came to be before I realized it just doesn’t matter.  Despite declaring herself a major Austenite, Courtney – Jane Mansfield now, seriously – has no idea how to navigate this world of intricately choreographed social convention, not even with the perpetual threat of blood-letting, institutionalization and her mother’s cruel threats hanging over her head.  So she sees no problem whatsoever in carrying on as though she’s still Courtney, confusing and worrying absolutely everyone with her talk of modern products and concepts, or mixing up the names of the many, many men who have apparently done her wrong.  There’s TWO half-baked love triangles in Confessions, one in Courtney’s past-present and then another in Jane’s present-past, and I didn’t care about either of them.  Arguably neither did the author, Laurie Viera Rigler, because the driving conflict of one is resolved in a three-page epilogue, and the other is never addressed at all.

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The only real emotion I was able to muster was when Courtney/Jane, worn down by her fruitless attempts to get back to her time, says to hell with it and nearly shags some random drunkard in a side parlour during a fancy party in London.  Times have indeed changed, and in Courtney’s world, having a one-night stand with some random is NBD.  But in Jane’s world, for a woman of her station – proper, wealthy, and with at least one suitor poised to propose marriage, to say nothing of the batshit mother – this indelicate act is tantamount to taping a grenade to her face.  It was a reckless move on the part of the character, and a careless move on the part of the author – Austen’s most beloved heroines are always fiercely protective of what little independence they’re able to carve out in such a regimented society, but they’re not careless with their safety or their reputations.  You’d never find Elizabeth Bennett contemplating how much fun it would be to drag some drunken lout into a coat closet for a snog while Mr. Darcy stands outside.  She’d just be looking for a way to get the hell out of the party so she could go home, sit in the parlour with her father and listen to his wistful stories about a time before Mrs. Bennett.

My own mother read this book twice, out of admitted boredom.  She was apartment-sitting while we were on holiday and our TV went on the fritz; with nothing else around she wanted to read (seriously, Mom, there is a SHELF full of Stephen King; read those, they’re great!) she willingly read this book, that she had previously loaned me, again.  I don’t even know how, and I really don’t know why.  Is Stephen King really that bad?

Anyway, the only thing more boring than Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict is needlepoint, an activity Courtney/Jane spends a lot of time attending to, so I did this folksy, stitched manicure articulating my feelings on the matter.

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Literary Inspiration: Fat Vampire

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So read in service of my friends’ 2019 reading challenge for the theme of a coming-of-age tale – or in this case, the after-the-colon sub-title of “A Never Coming of Age Story.”

2010’s Fat Vampire, by Adam Rex, starts off strong and engagingly daffy.  When the book opens, 16-year-old Doug is really not living his very best life, beset on all sides by bad skin, weight gain, unpopularity and a new, deeply confusing state of vampirism – confusing because post-transformation, Doug is still just as overweight, unpopular and bedeviled by acne as he was before.  No “Sleep all day, party all night” for this vampire.  And the biggest bummer of all is that he’ll remain this way for eternity.

The first 50 or so pages of Fat Vampire had me guffawing out loud, shouting lines of dialogue out to Mr. Finger Candy with glee – “And then he gets punched by a panda!”  There was so much to giggle at in those opening pages, from Doug’s botched plan to feed off a celebrity panda at the San Diego Zoo (it really does result in him getting cold-cocked by Baby Shaun Shaun’s righteously pissed off mother) to his buddy Jay’s deer-in-the-headlights attempt at distraction at the blood bank he and Doug inelegantly attempt to rob (“WE DON’T HAVE ID,” said Jay, loudly.  “‘CAUSE WE’RE CANADIAN, WE DON’T USE ID.”  “What part of Canada you from, honey?”  “THE LEFT PART,” said Jay.”)

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Doug and Jay’s clumsy adventures in San Diego quickly catch the attention of smarmy cable TV producer Alan Friendly, who’s looking for proof irrefutable that vampires exist.  The future of his low budget program, Vampire Hunters, hinges on finding and investigating real vampire activity, and his sponsors have run out of patience with his zero-sum results.  Soon, Doug has a bunch of ratings-obsessed reality TV types on his tail, with no clue how to shake them.

After moving the action back to the boys’ suburb outside of Philadelphia, the book veers off into about seven different directions, none of them particularly coherent or funny or informative of the story as a whole.  Doug links up with a group of elder vampires and discovers that he’s far from the only student at his high school to be recently transformed, though no one knows who the vampire or vampiress might be.  The jocks are werewolves.  Which is a metaphor.  Until it’s not.  An Indian exchange student by the name of Sejal shows up and catches Doug’s eye.  Sejal shows him absolutely zero interest, and when she turns down his invitation to go on a one-on-one date, he bitterly accuses her of leading him on.  Sejal doesn’t care; she’s got her own problems to deal with, including shaking her former identity as a sufferer of “The Google,” a too-twee way of saying that back in India, she was a dick to other people online.  Jay bears the brunt of Doug’s not-so-gentle good humour, and other people begin to notice the one-sided nature of their friendship.

Somewhere in here Doug feeds off a sexy deer and turns into a raging asshole.  I missed the bit about how deer blood apparently suffuses you with sexy dickhead superpowers, but next thing you know, Doug’s skin has cleared up, the weight has come off and hey, he even has a girlfriend to abuse and ignore.  Sure, she’s albino pale, rail thin and seems to be suffering from an epic case of unexplained lethargy, but here’s finally the girl the world has promised guys like Doug.  Ah, Doug – the vampire incel hero you never knew you needed.  And he’s still a dick, except now he’s a full fledged vampire dick.

The Vampire Hunters stuff gets dealt with, sort of.  Chasing after Doug, Alan Friendly is involved in a huge car crash and is critically injured.  At the end of Fat Vampire you don’t know if he’s going to live or die – his story simply ends.  Ditto another very important character, who deserved so much more.  The book ends with a definitive conclusion undone by about a dozen what-ifs, all of them so much better than the actual ending.  It was a frustrating read, particularly after all the charm and wacky delight of the opening chapters.

Fat Vampire feels like two separate books slapped together, one filled with all the wit and awkward whimsy you’d expect from a story about an unpopular, underage vampire, and then another nastier little book about a mean and bitter man raging at a world that hasn’t given him what he feels by rights is his.  No wonder I didn’t enjoy it – don’t we have enough of that in the universe already?

Fat Vampire 1

I do like these nails, though, which feature Baby Shaun Shaun, Jay’s Canadian maple leaf, Sejal’s ditched-at-the-airport pink suitcase with its heart-shaped luggage tag and my own befuddlement at the story.  Truth in nail art, yo.