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John Marks
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2007

Penguin Press / Penguin Putnam
US First Edition Hardcover
ISBN 978-1-59420-117-2
388 Pages; $25.95
Publication Date: 01-15-2007
Date Reviewed: 06-05-2007

Index: Horror  General Fiction

"You humans, however, are practiced executioners." I'll never forget the voice of the Zanti Misfits, those horrifying ant-creatures with beatnik-like human faces that crawled forth from a flying saucer in an episode of The Outer Limits. The Zanti, unable to kill their own kind, sent their prisoners here, telling us they just wanted them off their own planet, but knowing that we would kill. And we are remarkably effective at killing, so skilled that it's difficult to wrap one's brain around the numbers. John Marks does just that, however, in 'Fangland', a gripping and often very funny modern media update of the story Bram Stoker told in 'Dracula'. Marks makes remarkable use of the vampire legend, tweaking it to fit his own funereal visions of both the cost of the 20th century and the people behind the news. He manages to evoke genuine chills in 'Fangland', to use the vampire well and wisely.

The shadow of mass murder hangs over every page of 'Fangland', from the meta-fictional introduction, which compares what will follow to the 9/11 Commission Report, to the evocation of death writ large upon the world. The story begins when Evangeline Harker, who works for a TV news magazine called The Hour, is sent to Transylvania to see if an infamous gangster will make an effective interview. She does not return when expected, but her letters and journals do, as do some large boxes shipped over from Transylvania and stashed in the back of the offices where The Hour is produced. As the boxes fester, things go badly and Evangeline's story unfolds in her notes and journals and via a collection of emails and other assorted documents. The big picture is not pretty.

Marks deliberately mirrors many of the most effective bits of 'Dracula' and places them in a chilling contemporary context. He evokes the dislocation of the business traveler, and the unease of an urban dweller sent to a remote, blasted landscape that is far more common here in the 21st century than we would like to believe. He then slides those bits of unease back into a very modern, technological business, the news, and uses them to create an almost suffocating atmosphere of menace leavened by the sort of absurd humor that one actually encounters on the job. Our pre-occupation with graveyard humor on the job says quite a bit about our attitudes towards the lives we lead. Nothing good.

In Evangeline, Marks has done quite a bit more than Stoker did with his Harker. As she is plunged into the real and imagined nightmares of Eastern Europe, she prattles on about her wedding. Marks gives us a real woman confronted with an escalating understanding of how our ability to kill one another has created a wedge for the unreal to make its wormy way within our world. Her voice in emails and journals is the right mix of mundane and mournful. As she discovers she has power than she imagined, Marks find a fascinating, mordant fulcrum point upon which to turn the novel.

Her co-workers back in New York seem equally real, if a bit more caustically portrayed. The grand old men who inhabit the ivory towers of our perception are wheezing, sweating worriers, unable and unwilling to make a decision. The greedy young men are quickly subverted by emailed professions of love. A virus creeps into the video archives. The world is going to hell and we are going to watch.

Marks prose is chameleonic, matching itself to the character and situation, as required by the sort of patchwork narrative he's created. For all the insights into character and place, for all the veracity and imagination that Marks puts into the particulars, it’s the complicated story arc that fixes in the reader's imagination. Our perceptions of the world, of our lives are no longer local. We do not live our lives in a single city, even if we stay in a single city our entire life. The world, and death writ large, have crept into every facet of everything we do. Marks uses a collage approach to create narrative that is extremely compelling and atmospheric. I found myself constantly creeped out for reasons that were not easy to fix. Marks creates dread. Dread. It’s not your friend, even when it's shot through with mordant laughter at the absurdity of our lives.

Dread is your friend if you’re a reader, however. Marks has done something very unique with the concept of the vampire. He's dug up our fears and dragged them out for us to experience, made us realize that they have crept through into every facet of what we do and are. The dead are always with us — until we join them.

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