Bite Me: A Love Story. By Christopher Moore. Morrow. $23.99.
Every one of Christopher Moore’s dozen novels has earned a (++++) rating, from Practical Demonkeeping (1992) onward. But some are more (++++) than others, and Bite Me – like its predecessor, You Suck – is a “low” (++++), while the first book of Moore’s vampire trilogy, Bloodsucking Fiends, is such a high (++++) that it would deserve an extra half (+) if the character existed.
You have to suspect that Moore himself knows this, at least to some extent. His E-mail address is BSFiends@aol.com. Jody, the 26-year-old cute-but-not-beautiful vampire created at the start of Bloodsucking Fiends, has got to be Moore’s favorite character. True, he once placed her second, after Biff (Christ’s childhood pal) from Lamb, but that was at a time when Lamb was just about to be released, so Moore could well have been pumping up the new book. Of all Moore’s many, many characters, Jody remains the one with the greatest depth, the most sense of a developed and developing person, or thing, as the case may be. What made Bloodsucking Fiends so good was the way Jody gradually came to accept herself as a vampire, even while refusing to give in to baser vampire instincts – she would feed only on people who were about to die anyway, and provide a touch of sex if that would help make things easier for her victims (she was far from sexually innocent herself).
It even made sense for Jody to hook up in Bloodsucking Fiends with the much younger, duller and less experienced Tommy (age 19); and the unlikely pairing of these two – with Tommy remaining human while Jody grew into greater vampiric powers – was a major strength of the book.
The second volume subtitled A Love Story was a lesser work, but You Suck did have its moments even though it turned into a somewhat more conventional vampire tale (to the extent that anything by Moore is ever conventional), with Tommy too becoming a vampire and not being particularly happy about it. You Suck did introduce one really delightful new character, Abby Normal (yes, “Ab Normal”), 90-pound tattooed and pierced just-a-bit-older-than-Lolita type, vampire wannabe, and drama queen with a voice uniquely her own. Abby (real “daylight” name: Allison Green) is so good that the first chapter of Bite Me, in which Abby recounts the entire plot of You Suck in her own inimitable style, is in many ways the best part of the new book. And that is a problem, because while Bite Me is partly a story about Abby, it does not really focus on her; and while it is partly a story about Jody, it focuses even less on her – and that is a real disappointment. The book comes alive (so to speak) when Jody comes alive (so to speak), and that just doesn’t happen often enough.
Bite Me is an ensemble piece, a sort of Marx Brothers creatures-of-the-night comedy with even more good guys (Abby and two friends, a ninja, the Emperor of San Francisco, a couple of detectives, seven Safeway workers), uncountable numbers of bad guys (cats, mostly, plus four very old vampires), plus Jody and Tommy kind of out there on the fringes of the story. But the Marx Brothers generally stayed pretty much together in their films, separating only long enough for some “business” of their own (Harpo playing the harp, for instance) before coming together for ensemble hilarity. Bite Me keeps everyone scattered throughout most of the book, and as a result its structure creaks – the four old vampires, who are key to resolving the whole situation, don’t even appear until two-thirds of the way through. Furthermore, although the setting of Bite Me and its two predecessors is San Francisco, the city is strangely anonymous here (as it was not in Bloodsucking Fiends): pretty much any city with a wharf, some rundown areas and some gentrified ones, and some hiding places for cats and vampires would work equally well. Moore does mention the names of various San Francisco landmarks, but a real sense of place is nearly absent.
None of this is to say that Bite Me is a bad book, or even an unsuccessful one; it does still deserve a (++++) rating, thanks largely to Moore’s unequalled style and ability to mesh absurdities. One Abby-narrated chapter includes this: “An inky-colored despair of rejection enveloped me like the black tortilla of depression around a pain burrito.” That chapter is titled, “Being the Chronicles of Abby Normal, Who, Befouled by the Wicked Taint of Rat Suck, Must Find Her Own Murderer.” Elsewhere, in a tender moment, Moore writes of Abby’s boyfriend, Foo, “He flipped the switch, then looked over at Abby, lying on the bed. She looked so peaceful, undead and drugged and not talking. Almost happy, despite having a tail. But the police wouldn’t understand.” There are, in fact, a lot of these laugh-out-loud moments in Bite Me, which proceeds at so frantic a pace that readers can easily forget that it is running around in circles, trying to catch its own metaphorical tail, most of the time.
If this were an early book by a less-experienced author, it would rightly be labeled a work with tremendous potential and an enviable penchant for hilarity. But Bite Me is by someone who has churned out excellent novels for nearly 20 years, and it is unfortunate that this conclusion to the Jody-and-Tommy story is so much less satisfying than the tale’s beginning. In fact, the conclusion of this “love story,” in which Abby ends up (reasonably) normal and Tommy returns to more or less where and what he was when we first met him, is kind of dismal – even though Jody gets to sail off into the sunset (and the darkness) in the full glory of her powers. A very good book by the standards of almost any other contemporary author, Bite Me, by the standards that Moore has set for himself, sort of…bites.