I picked up ‘With Teeth’ because I thought that it would be a perfect fit for Halloween Bingo (which starts in twenty-nine days. Is it a sign of obsession that I know that?), it’s an interesting take on vampires from a man famous for writing about zombies and it’s a novella, so a quick read.
Then I made a mistake. I read the first three paragraphs and now I’ll have to find something else for Halloween Bingo because I inhaled this book yesterday. Before you judge me for my lack of discipline, take a look at the three paragraphs below and tell me you’d have waited a month or more to read the rest:
Here are the things you need to know about vampires.
First of all, they don’t dress in black. They’re not high-cultured, well-mannered, nicely groomed of perfectly fucking coifed. Vampires don’t form secret societies and war with other creatures of the night. They don’t hang out in cemeteries and tombs, listening to Bauhaus and Type O Negative and smoking cloves cigarettes and whining about how much eternal life sucks. Vampires don’t have existential crises , because they barely have any thoughts beyond what’s for dinner. They don’t feel love or angst. They’re not romantic. Vampires are not sexy. They don’t look like Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee or Stephen Moyer. They don’t behave like Dracula or Lestat or Edward Cullen.
Vampires do not fucking sparkle.
After an opening like this, what I most wanted to know was what vampires are like, although I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy finding out. Brian Keene wasn’t in a rush to introduce me to them, or at least it didn’t seem so at the time.
The narrator who was telling me the story of the fatal day he and his cousins and friends encountered vampires, first wanted to set the scene. We’re not in Transylvania or some ancient city in Europe. We’re in rural West Virginia. The ‘We’ in the story is not a group of rich travellers falling prey to a chance encounter in the woods beneath a mysterious castle that the locals avoid. ‘We’ are a bunch of middle-aged local men, a mixture of friends and cousins, who grew up together and have now reached a point in our lives where ‘We’ know nothing’s going to change and that we’ll continue in the generations-long tradition of hard work rewarded with grinding poverty. Why are We’ in the darkest, least-travelled part of the woods? Because ‘We’ are desperate enough to be looking for someplace to set up a Meth Lab.
I liked the way Keene showed me the lives of these men and their families and their relationship to each other and to the land. It made the inevitable violence mean something when it came. And it set up an ending that I didn’t see coming but should have and which, although it surprised me, felt absolutely right.
I thought this was a powerful story. It didn’t rush to the action. It let the tension build, it made the people real and the consequences matter and it came up with another twist on the vampire myth that was a lot more original than the clichéd and irrelevant cover.
The book ‘With Teeth’ is 142 pages long but not all of that is the ‘With Teeth’ novella. Brian Keene has also included two of his earlier vampire stories, set in the same universe as ‘With Teeth’. These were fun but not in the same league as the novella.
This was the first Brian Keene book that I’ve read. I’ll be back for more soon.