Monday, March 26, 2007

"Fangland" by John Marks

"I just want you to know.....where you've landed. It's not an office. It's a country. Under the UN charter, it's known as Fangland, and to receive a passport, you need only one thing: the capacity to suffer in vain all things. Congratulations. It sounds to me like you'll be very happy here."

This little speech doesn't occur until page 323 in the book "Fangland" but it's very appropriate in trying to describe this book. I sort of felt like I was suffering in vain, and yet I did feel happy here. It's a wild thrill ride, although I'm still not entirely sure what happened.

The basic story is much the same as that of "Dracula"; this book obviously works off the same outline. Evangeline Harker is sent by her television show, The Hour, to Romania for a story on Ion Torgu, a reported terrorist. She has a meeting set up with an associate of Torgu's; not being an actual reporter herself, she's been sent ahead to verify that Torgu is real and that he's "news-worthy" as such. What she finds is certainly sensational, although not in the way that her employer ever imagined... The horror is much, much worse.

This modern-day vampire tale is definitely built on the bones of Stoker's "Dracula". The name Harker, for instance, is a direct lift, although the character is female this go-around and also much stronger. There's the spooky castle that the villain resides in, this time a burnt-out hotel in a small, rural village. There are servants for the villain. There's the escape from the villain and a stay at a convent. There's the "invitation" to the vampire and his shipment sent to a new country, this time America rather than England. There's even a Renfield, a colleague of Harker's who happens to be secretly in love with her. All these homages are great and really help make the book appealing.

The story itself, particularly that of Torgu, is where the two go there separate ways. Yes, Torgu is a vampire, of sorts. He is hideous, has horrible, worn, almost black teeth, and is not in any way charismatic. He does not bite anyone but he does drink blood, using a knife and a bucket. He infects others with a virus of death, a litany of place names that reflect man's inhumanity to man. Places like Auschwitz, sites of mass slaughters, even the site of the 9/11 Twin Towers. Each person that comes into contact with Torgu ends up hearing this chant of names in his/her head. However, none of them feel compelled to kill or drink blood like he does.

Just exactly what Torgu is trying to accomplish isn't clear. He seems to be out to infect others with this virus of his, and yet it also seems that he's trying to pass on his "gift" to Harker and relieve himself of the burden. Weird, weird and more weird. Also, a bit difficult to get into originally, as the entire novel is told from different viewpoints and different mediums, such as email, journals, and first person narrative. However, once it gets going, it's a wild ride. I really liked reading all the ins and outs of the news show - an obvious copy of 60 Minutes. In some ways, I felt like Marks was trying to make some sort of comment about how vampiric the media has become. In others, I thought he was mooning over them like a fan himself.

"Fangland" is definitely recommended by the Babe, but I gotta tell ya - don't expect a nice, neat, pat story. This is one for the "way out there" column. And I mean that in a good way!

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