June 17th, 2007


Vampires, Karaoke, and Drunk Blondes in Sparkly Gold Tops

Friday evening I went on a vampire walking tour of the Upper West Side. My old friend (and I do mean old!) Gordon Linzner is a professional tour guide -- when he's not writing, publishing or running sound boards for live bands -- and this is a new tour he's trying out. I was happy to be a part of the dry run. And I have to say, even though it was only me and one other fellow (who also happened to be a tour guide) on the tour, it was a blast! Totally worth the money.

Gordon dresses up as Dr. Seward from Dracula and leads what is basically a historical and architectural tour, but with the added attraction of vampire and ghost stories thrown in. Like Chekhov on Star Trek, who thought all the greatest men and inventions were actually Russian, Gordon pegs all the important architects, politicians and celebrities involved as vampires (except Barbra Streisand, whom the vampires wouldn't have). We started on 72nd Street and Central Park West, went in and out of the park itself, and eventually ended up in front of the Jeckyll & Hyde Club on 6th Avenue and 57th Street.

Among the interesting tidbits I learned: the first automobile fatality in the U.S. was on Central Park West. A woman stepped out of her coach and got hit by -- wouldn't you guess it -- a cab. Also, the ghost of Boris Karloff haunts the Dakota!

Gordon is doing the tour again on Friday, July 13. If you're in the New York City area, I really recommend it. What better way to spend your Friday the 13th than with vampires, ghosts and the almost constant smell of horse droppings around Central Park? You can contact Gordon for info at glinzner AT hotmail DOT com.

Then, after the tour, I met up with twisterella and some other friends at Toto, a karaoke place in Little Korea where you rent individual rooms for your party. Walking toward our room, I heard the same song coming from behind practically every door: Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'". Such is the power of The Sopranos! (A friend posits that it will wind up being the song of the summer. I'm sure somewhere Steve Perry is very happy!)

Sadly, for some reason our songbooks were the only ones in the joint that didn't include "Don't Stop Believin'", which is a shame. I totally would have sung it and turned off the lights in the middle!

After Toto, we hit a bar in my neighborhood called Boat, where I tried to pick up a drunk blonde in a sparkly gold top while outside smoking, but a friend of hers kept talking to her and pulling her attention away from me. Poop!

I didn't get home until after 2:30. A late night out with multiple plans? I felt like I was in my twenties again! Though not so much when I woke up feeling groggy and old Saturday morning. Ack!

The Missing

If you liked The Keeper, I think you're going to flip over sarahlangan's follow-up, The Missing (published in the U.K. under its original title Virus). It's that good. In fact, I think it qualifies as an early-career tour de force along the lines of Straub's Julia and Barker's The Damnation Game.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I should point out that 1) Sarah is a dear friend whom I've known for many years, and 2) even before she gave me the galley, I'd read about 2/3 of the book already in workshop. (It was fun to see in the final version where she made the changes I suggested, thus turning the book into a masterpiece, and where -- foolishly! -- she did not.) Still, you know I give honest reviews to authors who are friends. In fact, sometimes I think I'm a little harder on the authors who are my friends. I guess it's because if I'm going to drink beer and eat macaroni and cheese with someone, I expect only the best from them.

As she did in The Keeper, Langan once again offers a town-wide cast of characters through which to view the horrific events of the novel, though the focus is mainly on the Wintrob family: emotionally distant psychiatrist Fenstad, fragile librarian Meg, and rebellious, purple-haired daughter Maddie (my favorite character in the book, even though she's always kind of a bitch to her boyfriend Enrique).

Langan excels at creating emotionally damaged characters you care about and hate in equal measure, sometimes at the same time, and in The Missing, as in The Keeper, characters and their myriad issues are what drive the story forward. Langan creates a dire situation -- a mysterious, possibly sentient virus spreads through Corpus Christi, transforming its victims into black-eyed superhumans who are always, always hungry, and will eat whatever crosses their path, be it animal or man -- and then asks what her characters would do. What she comes up with is fantastic and never felt forced to me. And for a book with so much cannibalistic violence, Langan should be praised for not taking the much-trodden zombie path (these killers are the opposite of mindless), and for avoiding the use of any characters who suffer from eating disorders as symbolism (though Maddie, like many teenage girls, disturbs her parents by eating like a bird). I think that's because ultimately the novel isn't about eating or consumerism; it's about change. It's about what happens when society turns on itself. It's kind of about civil war.

One of the best books of the year so far, says I. Check it out when it hits the shelves this fall.

A note, especially for reviewers: The galley is a mess. There are a ton of typos and global search-and-replace errors that I can only imagine some stoned college intern at HarperCollins is responsible for. Luckily, I'm told the errors have all been fixed and the final book will be in much better shape. That's a relief, because as far as I know, Shakespeare never wrote a play called "Romeo and Lina," and I believe it is supposed to be "Balto the Wonder Dog", not, um, "Kaufmann the Wonder Dog".