Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Review: The Traveling Vampire Show by Richard Laymon

It's a hot August morning in 1963, and 16-year-old Dwight is mowing the front lawn, shirtless. Along comes his two best friends, Slim (a girl) and Rusty, with a flyer that Rusty pulled down in town, advertising a Traveling Vampire Show. One night only, at midnight, adults only--natch.

And so begins the game of "Where's the shirt?"

Just kidding. Kind of. Richard Laymon's novel, winner of the 2001 Bram Stoker award, is replete with violence and a few truly terrifying scenes, and finishes with a nuclear boatload of WTF horror and gore. But I think I'm going to remember this one for the escalating sexual tension that laces nearly every page of the book (including those WTF gore-tastic scenes at the end), a sexual tension carried along by a nearly unending swapping of shirts: Slim is often borrowing one of the boy's shirts, or their shirts are ruined and must be abandoned, or they swap for odd reasons. This leaves our boys with typical teenage angst regarding their bodies, and typical teenage boy lust over seeing a naked female back or one of the many, many, many side-boobs. In addition, there is much abandoning of underwear for dubious reasons (it's in the dryer??? you couldn't find another pair? in your own house? and no shorts?), and except for the females over forty, bra wearing is mostly disregarded. Actually, we may assume that the mothers in the bridge club aren't wearing bras, either, because. Just because. It's that kind of a book.

Here's the thing. The events of this book take place over a single day, starting in the morning with Dwight mowing the lawn and culminating in their eventual visit to the Traveling Vampire Show. Stretching the various movements of a pack of teenagers on a summer day might be okay--look at Stephen King's Stand By Me, to which this is inevitably compared. The swirling emotional maelstrom that is a teenager is well-documented here, if taken to extremes. The issue is that, eventually, the reader just wants them to get to the damn show, already.

By the way, when they do, it's pretty much well-worth it. And it keeps entirely to the over-the-top sexual tension and violence of the rest of the book. Is there really a vampire? Are they really in danger? Will Dwight and Slim ever get it on? Why the hell are there so many vicious dogs running around this little town?

Find out the answers to the first three yourself. As to the fourth, if you figure it out, let me know.

And should you be confused by this review, let me say this: I'm confused. The writing is clear, the characterizations are strong, the story is unlike any other I've ever read, and to be fair, there are apparently a legion of Richard Laymon fans who appreciate his style of blatant eroticism and horror. But it was the kind of book which left me feeling disturbed for atypical reasons. And wondering why people would swap worn, sweaty socks with each other. Because eww.

Overall? This is unusual, unique horror, and for four bucks, it's well worth the price of admission to the show.

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