Sometimes when authors throw a bone to their fans, it sucks the life right out of the stories. That's far from the case for Christopher Moore, who manages to draw a lot of vitality out of some undead characters here.
There's never been a better time to be a Christopher Moore fan. Following hot on the heels of his bestselling A Dirty Job, less than a year later we're delivered with another installment of hijinks and absurdity from the supernatural world next door. And as any of his cult following can tell you, despite always being a prolific writer, he hasn't misfired since reaching what is arguably the peak of his performances so far in 2002's Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal. Since that pinnacle, Moore has remained at the top of his game and has delivered one side-splitting yarn after another.
Always one to cater to his audiences, encouraging open communication both through email and his own message board, Moore generates the kind of geek-chic charisma that seems to generate its own following in the digital age, and he's used it to great effect in his writing. 1995's Bloodsucking Fiends, a comedic vampire love story, has long been a fan favorite, and Moore craftily left the ending of that book hanging on a moment, practically begging for a sequel. Though hardly unique to Moore's stories -- even in the final wrap-ups, comeuppances, and deliverances of his falling action there's always a sense that more is just around the corner, making that last page bittersweet -- the fans have regularly requested a return to Tommy, the slacker writer-cum-grocery store stocker, and his newly undead vampire girlfriend Jody. And so, with the simple dedication of "For my readers, by request", Moore resurrects his bloodlust-crossed lovers for another turn through the afterlife in You Suck: A Love Story.
And Tommy and Jodi hit the ground running, You Suck picking up quite literally the moment after Bloodsucking Fiends left off, with Jody solving their species differences by turning Tommy into a vampire as well, and delivering an opening line that pretty succinctly captures the semi-perverse glee Moore has cultivated: "You bitch! You killed me! You suck!" Whereas its predecessor concerned itself with the blossoming relationship of Tommy, mere human, and Jody, recently turned into a vampire, You Suck deals with the equally problematic situation of a young couple dealing with the usual trials of days spent unconscious and nights spent trying to discreetly feed their need for blood. Even in a city as large and quirky as San Francisco, this presents some hurdles.
Readers familiar with Bloodsucking Fiends will recall that Moore's treatment of his vampire characters is hardly unsympathetic. Jody is a decent woman with a good heart, and feels remorse for her vampiric needs, ultimately settling on preying only on the sick and dying. Tommy, naïve 19 year old from small town Iowa, is similarly burdened by the guilt of his new needs, and where previously he had let Jody feed off of him when he was alive -- out of love and, yeah, because the sex was great -- now that he's undead they find themselves in the same boat. The first order of business is to find a non-lethal way to get blood, so naturally they employ the services of a homeless man and his huge cat.
It's this strange combination of the disarmingly ordinary and the bizarrely absurd that is Moore's stock in trade, and has earned him just comparisons to writers like Carl Hiaasen and Douglas Adams. His characters tend to be comically flawed and sometimes painfully everyday, but they wind up in situations that are so contrived and off center that they wind up being somehow more likable in the process. What Hiaasen does with crime, Moore does with the supernatural, creating a world in which fantasy elements are both surprising and surprisingly believable, as Moore works them out to their funny, twisted-logical conclusions, and brings his loveable protagonists along for the ride.
Of course, this is made possible by surrounding his protagonists with a cast of truly carnivalesque misfits, some loveable, some decidedly less so. The Animals -- the crew of Safeway stockers who made Tommy their leader in stocking and turkey bowling in Bloodsucking Fiends -- return once more, though this time in a less than endearing fashion. Moore seems to have lost patience for the booze-and-alcohol-hazed slackertude of the Animals, and without Tommy to guide them, they turn up having blown a small fortune (earned by fencing the stolen antiques of the ancient vampire who turned Jody in the first book) in Las Vegas on gambling, drugs, and a particular blue-dyed, opportunistic hooker named Blue. The Emperor -- one of Moore's best characters, though adapted from the longstanding legend of the real Emperor Joshua Norton -- also makes a regal return with his two valiant canine companions in tow. Having played an important role in A Dirty Job as well, it's great to have the Emperor make his usual emotive appearance, and while he's not much in the action this time around, Moore does leave an enticing notion that perhaps the Emperor is a supernatural force of the city in his own right, even while hinting briefly at a long lost past. Though it may be wishful thinking, a future book centered on the Emperor would be entirely welcome.
The largest carry-over from A Dirty Job, however, is Abby Normal, the teenaged goth chick with a suppressed appetite for perkiness. In that book, Abby was merely a background character, friend to fellow teen goth Lily, who helps Charlie Asher come to grips with being Death. In You Suck, Abby plays a fully starring role, as Tommy and Jody adopt her as their minion, fueling her over-exaggerated dark fantasies of the gloomy life with the promise of making her a vampire as well. Moore takes the opportunity here to really delve into Abby's character, writing a good portion of the book from her perspective in the form of diary entries that smack of caricatured teenage girl melodrama and verve. He obviously has a lot of fun getting into character, and Abby's narration winds up more or less taking over the book, by the end even swallowing up Tommy and Jody's story. In a recent interview with the Rocky Mountain News, Moore admitted to spending a lot of time online reading the blogs of goth kids at vampirefreaks.com: "Every day, if I were going to write an Abby Normal scene, I would spend an hour reading these kids' voices, because, obviously, I don't speak with the same idiom that kids do, but I wanted it to be true to the way the kids wrote and talked. What really blew me away was just how sophisticated, and what we, as old guys would say, jaded, these kids are. But they're casual about it. At one point I thought, oh my God, the FBI is going to break down the door because I'm lurking on vampirefreaks.com." Whatever the risks, the time was well spent, because Abby bursts off the page as both stereotypical and lovably tough. If her self-delusions are sort of maddening for being so obvious to the reader, well, such is adolescence.
It's this universe of overlapping characters that has become one of Moore's consistent strengths, and it certainly helps give his fan community a sense of continuity to be delighted with every time a familiar faces pops up. In creating this pocket reality that looks just like ours, but for the fact that angels and demons really do walk the Earth alongside trickster gods, sea monsters swim with whales that are actually the vessels of mer-people, Death runs a secondhand shop, and vampires live in the loft down the street, Moore is able to play with our own culture and tropes and modern archetypes like an impish and horny Puck.
That said, this is, as advertised, definitely a book for the fans. Most readers will be completely lost if they haven't already read Bloodsucking Fiends, as this is a true sequel. Moreover, in his lengthier, more researched books like Fluke and A Dirty Job, the slapstick and sitcom absurdity rest easily among deeper, more complex fare, with a fine eye for detail and weaving themes of sorrow and loss and pathos into the action. You Suck is more like a candy fix for a Chris Moore sweet tooth. Mostly light, mostly just plain fun, You Suck is similar to A Christmas Angel, which brought together a number of Moore's older books for a comedy of horrific errors in order to touch base with his popular Pine Cove setting. In a sense, these stories almost feel like an intermission act between main events.
However, what you do get is all the things about Christopher Moore that fans have come to love. Moore's penchant for surprising, chortling similes is as sharp as ever. Describing the detritus of furniture in the aftermath some particularly rowdy vampire sex as looking "as if someone had thrown a hand grenade into the middle of a teddy-bear orgy and the only survivors had had their fur blown off" is merely par for the course. The same observational humor embedded in ridiculous characters is here as well, as in one notable scene featuring some street buskers masquerading as gangsta wannabes. Essentially, if you have expectations for a lightweight Christopher Moore novel, they'll all be met in You Suck. And without giving away too much of the plot, I'll just say that, as ever, the ending is left open, and a future return of these characters feels likely, if not inevitable.
Moore is already at work developing his next book -- one that breaks from his modern settings and takes place in medieval times, which he says will be his most research-intensive work since Lamb. Given his track record, it's likely not to be too long a wait. In the meantime, fans have You Suck to tide over their nefarious longings. If you've already discovered Moore, you'll be happy to have this one. If not, grab Bloodsucking Fiends before diving in here. Or even better, start at the beginning and work your way up until he's ready to reveal his campy Middle Ages.