THE TRAVELING VAMPIRE SHOW - 2001
By Richard Laymon
Puberty, Puppy Love, and Piles of Dead Bodies
Everyone knows Stephen King wrote the definitive horror take on adolescence in
CARRIE and "The Body", right? With THE TRAVELING VAMPIRE SHOW,
Richard Laymon demonstrated to us that it ain't necessarily so.
The ghosts of teen horrors past are quickly exorcised as Laymon spins a tale set
in the small town of Grandville one muggy day in August 1963. Early chapters
introduce us to a trio of 16-year-old friends: earnest police chief's
son Dwight, blossoming tomboy Slim, and chunky, boorish Rusty. A mysterious
flyer trumpets the arrival of a traveling vampire show, offering onlookers
a gaze at "the one and only known VAMPIRE in captivity. VALERIA Gorgeous!
small catch: the show is "adults only". Driven by an insatiable interest
in the paranormal, (and in the boys' case, unbridled
lust) the trio decides to venture out to spooky Janks field, the
site of the evening's entertainment. This seemingly whimsical decision
ends up changing each of their lives.
The path to the show is littered with a series of increasingly creepy and puzzling
threats. Not the least of these is Julian Stryker, the slimy proto-goth
owner of the show. Yet THE TRAVELING VAMPIRE SHOW actually focuses on horrors (and wonders)
far more mundane. Laymon weaves a well-developed sense of dread throughout
the novel, combined with an achingly tender description of a ripening
first romance between Slim and Dwight.
In the process, Laymon offers a fresh exploration of both the light and dark side of an
adolescent's loss of innocence upon discovering sexuality. Without sentimentalism,
he captures that time in our lives, there for only a moment and then gone
forever, when we stand dizzily perched between childhood and adulthood.
Even the setting of the story, a mere three months before the Kennedy
assassination, undergirds the theme of impending loss of innocence as
one stands on the precipice of change. In this emotional context, Laymon
effectively uses the vampire as a symbol of eroticism unbreakably linked
to evil lethality. Readers expecting "vampire fiction" may come away disappointed.
The supernatural elements are there, but not exactly where you'd expect
At nearly 400 pages, THE TRAVELING VAMPIRE SHOW isn't a quick read. Laymon's unnecessarily vast description of puberty
weighs the book down some (particularly in the middle).
For example, the boys' leering gazes, hard-ons, and premature ejaculations
spill through the text ad nauseum (pardon the pun).
After such deliberate pacing throughout the book, readers may be surprised
as the whirlwind ending reaches such levels of drama and high adventure
that it narrowly escapes going over the top.
Still I have to admit that after I finished reading it, I wanted to go back to the
show. I wanted to re-read it and soak up those adolescent memories Laymon
wrenched out of me as I read. And any book that can make me think about
adolescence as bittersweet (and not just plain bitter...yechhh
you should have seen my 10th grade picture) is obviously worth
reading. This Show is well worth your money.
I give it 4 bookwyrms.
This review copyright 2001 E.C.McMullen Jr.
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