Review of Fangland by John Marks
I cannot honestly say that Fangland is the worst novel ever written, but I grant Marks the benefit of this doubt solely because I have not read every novel ever written. (In private, however, I maintain my suspicions.) The characters are foolish, inarticulate, pompous, and criminally overwritten (this is the only real horror the book contains), and the plot is so unnecessarily convoluted and fragmented that a reader can be forgiven for harboring the paranoid conviction that Marks is trying to drive him crazy. Personally.
The main problem? That you will not care, you simply will not care one tiny bit, what happens to Marks’ main character, Evangeline Harker. You will, instead, begin to wish for her early and painful demise and for surcease of her vapid, pointless, breathless musings, her lunatic mood shifts, her non sequiturs. How many dozen times can a character declare some version of “That is simply beyond my powers to describe” before the reader is justified in saying, “Fine, don’t describe it. Let me go find a book whose author understands what his job is”? (In fact, with regard to Harker, let me amend my earlier statement about Mark’s inarticulate characters: Marks makes Harker that girl who has memorized a lot of big, recondite words, but who doesn’t necessarily know how to use them properly. This artifact cannot be on purpose, because it is diametrically opposed to the building of Harker’s character, and thus one suspects that Marks is the one who doesn’t know how to use those words properly.) And you will especially not care about the painstakingly rendered snake pit of egos, hacks, and buffoons that populate the television news show where Harker is employed—nor, most of the time, will you have the slightest notion what they are talking about, why they are talking about it for 10 pages, or what it has to do with the story (other than Marks taking the opportunity to get 60 Minutes payback).
I listened to this book on CD, and can faithfully attest that it is the exception to the golden rule: that bad books generally get better if one hears them read out loud. In this case, the cast of actors (so to speak) resembles a third-rate high-school drama club: Not only are there too many voices and too many incoherent, delirious shifts of point of view, but the narrators also choose to do imitations and accents (mostly badly; the only exception is Clemmie, who actually sounds as though she could be from Austin), which raises the whole affair to the level of a raving cacophony—both in terms of the performance and in terms of the plot, already a rambling, tedious mess. The fact that they mispronounce common words doesn’t help: visage, e.g., is given a French spin so that it rhymes with “mirage.” Other than assuming that the director of the recording came from the same third-rate high school as the cast, one where they don’t have money to learn words like “visage,” I can discern no logic behind this choice.
(By the way, John. I’m sure you could barely stand how cool and with-it and all twenty-first-century Facebooky it must have seemed when you came up with the strategy of giving long sections of your book over to email messages, but I’m here to tell you: it’s a stupid, lazy idea. And it’s not just a stupid, lazy idea for you, it’s a stupid, lazy idea for everyone–and I’m thinking specifically about that person who is out there right now wondering whether it’s possible to write a novel in tweets. Yes; it is possible. No; no one wants to read it.)
The absolute best you can say about this miscarriage is that it started off with a marginally interesting premise: a modern re-writing of Dracula. That, accompanied by contemporary VampireMania, was likely sufficient to earn Marks an advance and to move a respectable number of units. But, like so many advertising promises these days—and it is essentially and only that, a publicity stunt—this one isn’t maintained. Marks is no Bram Stoker, and he doesn’t even appear to understand what made Dracula an entertaining book and his nothing more than a bungled, irritating kludge.