There are a few universal truths I have wised up to over the years:
- Jokes about poop are not funny, no matter how much guys try to convince you they are.
- Capri pants make a short girl look dumpy, and I’m a really short girl.
- No one who holds down a job should give a shit about Britney vs. Christina or Backstreet Boys vs. ‘NSync.
- People get weird when you mess with Jesus.
Okay, you can argue with me on some of these—I know way too many men who persist in extolling the hilarity of shit, and personally I’d take Britney over Christina any day, though I know that’s not cool—but screwing with Jesus is taboo, no question. Why else would films like Dogma, with their portrayals of “Buddy Christ,” make some of us laugh so much while still looking over our shoulders for that bolt of lightning to strike us down?
It’s perhaps not surprising, then, that Michael Schiefelbein chooses to screw with this idea of Jesus in Vampire Vow, his novel of “sex, religion, and blood!” The idea of making Jesus a sexual being is not a new one and can cause quite a stir, to be sure—just look at the reaction Martin Scorsese got with The Last Temptation of Christ—and it seems this is supposed to be a novel about breaking taboos and shattering stereotypes. But making Jesus gay? Surely Schiefelbein’s gone too far!
That’s what the press releases for Vampire Vow would have us believe, calling it “a startingly imaginative, savage and sensuous chronicle of a contemporary vampire seeking vengeance against God.” The story sounds all kinds of scandalous: Victor Decimus, a Roman officer under Pontius Pilate, has got a crush on Jesus. And Jesus loves him back, but must reject Victor out of loyalty to his god. So Victor’s pretty pissed; he does some raping and pillaging to make himself feel better, but when faced with imminent capture by Pilate’s soldiers, he sees no other escape than “the chaotic world of darkness he finds as a vampire.” Two thousand years later, Victor is bouncing from monastery to monastery, posing as a monk and continuing his vengeance-against-God thing—you know, having illicit sex, draining people of their blood, yadda yadda yadda. It’s all a little tiring, really. But then—cue the swelling music—Victor meets Brother Michael. In Michael, Victor finally finds what he’s been seeking—a companion worthy of spending eternity with. Can he woo Michael over to the dark side?
Ultimately, what the reader finds in Vampire Vow is slightly less than what we’re promised, or at least what we should expect. Have we reached an era of social ease and acceptance where a novel about a gay vampire in love with Jesus can be read at face value alone? Can this book really not have a subtext or agenda of some sort?
I keep looking . . . and sadly, everything about Vampire Vow just seems a little too easy. Schiefelbein’s belief in “a real, human Jesus who might have been gay” is about as deep as it gets. Admittedly, there are those for whom this notion is a lot to contend with, but as these people don’t quite seem the intended or likely audience for the book, what else are we left with?
If you look for deep, complex characterizations to provide meaning in this fictive universe, you might want to think again. Schiefelbein’s style is slick and a little empty, leaving the reader without a lot to grasp or wrestle with in the end. The central conflict—will Michael defect to the dark side with Victor or not?—is decided so quickly and easily that the full magnitude of the decision is rendered deceptively simplistic.
So okay, characterization is somewhat short in supply; social agendizing is likewise glossed over—does Vampire Vow at least scare the bejeezus out of you? As much as I hate to say it, no. It doesn’t. Victor’s multiple murders cease to be frightening even as they start. To be fair, the book doesn’t seem to want to be a traditional vampire novel in the beach-reading sense (despite the book jacket’s promise of a plot “horrifying beyond mortal imagination”), so perhaps we shouldn’t judge it by that standard. And the reason Victor’s vampirish ways seem somewhat ho-hum is probably a comment on the overabundance of shocking deaths we see daily in various media—still, I wanted the book to be exemplary somehow.
Don’t get me wrong, Vampire Vow is likeable. It’s a pleasant read—but maybe that’s the problem, considering how it’s billed. It goes quickly and the story is engaging, but ultimately I wanted more. More complexity. More scare. More characterization. More shattered taboos. More something.
But all the “more” that’s coming is probably more of the same—in the sequel, due out 2003.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
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