Monday, July 22, 2013

Bottom of the Barrel

by B. H. Fingerman
Published by M Press
2 Out of 5 Stars

You know that scene at the end of Interview With the Vampire's film version where Lestat takes over the journalist's car? As he adjusts his lace sleeves, he notices Louis's voice on the cassette tape, and says, "Oh, Louis, Louis. Still whining, Louis. Have you heard enough? I've had to listen to that for centuries." That's the way I felt about Bottomfeeder. Oh, Philip, Philip. Still whining, Philip. For 200+ pages. It's safe to say that I've heard enough.

Bottomfeeder tells the story of Phil Merman, a Jewish vampire who is suffering a midlife crisis. Turned at 27 by an unknown attacker, Phil is now 54--half of his life spent as a mortal, half amongst the undead. After his inability to explain his new lifestyle to his wife or his (now deceased) parents, Phil has led a circumspect, solitary existence. He works at night for a photo archive (typically archiving photos of grisly crime scenes), lives in modest accommodations, and only hunts for the criminal and deviant elements among the homeless population. He's never sought out others like him and has rejected all human relationships--with the exception of Shelley, a sad alcoholic whose friendship Phil can't quite shake.

All of this changes when Phil meets Eddie Frye, another vampire who introduces Phil to vampire society--from bacchanalian bloodbaths, to a home for special needs vampires, to vampire group therapy. Suddenly Phil finds himself craving something other than blood: interaction with his own kind. As the friendship between Phil and Eddie solidifies, his relationship with Shelley deteriorates with potentially dangerous consequences.

I get what Fingerman was going for here--a vampire novel that is not the prototypical, romanticized vampire story most audiences have come to expect. And I do admire him for challenging these traditions. The lives led by his vampires are probably more realistic in terms of what vampirism would really mean. The isolation, loneliness, and compromised moral code are the tip of the iceberg (or fang, however you want to look at it). There's also the heightened senses, which are not pleasant. With heightened smell, sight, and taste, Phil becomes uncomfortably aware of how disgusting humans are. He can smell the unpleasant odors beneath the deodorants and fragrances; see the dry skin, stray hairs, and pimples as though through a magnifying glass; he can taste the layers of I-don't-want-to-tell-you-what-but-Fingerman-will on the necks of his unwashed victims. It would be like if you were put in a pen full of shit-smeared cattle and told to wander around until you found one you actually wanted to eat for dinner.

And that was an aspect of the novel I did not enjoy in the least. This novel triggered my gag reflexes far more often than I care to admit. I'm not talking about the blood and gore--that I can take. But Fingerman takes great joy in describing every ashy ass crack, every piss sodden newspaper, every used condom. I swear that every 10 or so pages he would bring in some hygienically challenged crazy person just to catalog every disgusting bodily function possible. Or he would have the main character step on a fluid filled condom. Apparently, New York is a condom-strewn wonderland.

The one thing that did keep my attention is the dark humor throughout which made Phil's voice engaging, when he wasn't whining about his circumstances. And I must say that, although I had one major plot twist figured out that factored into Phil's unnatural origins, it still led to an amazingly apropos ending.


  1. Eddie's the one that turned Phil, isn't he?


      Actually, no. Fingerman sets you up to think that, but pulls a fast one. Or at least he thought he did--I had Eddie pegged as the decoy to take suspicion away from the vamp who really turned Phil.