Tuesday, February 06, 2007

01:42 Bottomfeeder


FULL DISCLOSURE: The author, B. H. Fingerman, is a friend of mine, though this doesn’t mean that I’ll automatically like his novel. This past year I read a novel by a woman I went to grad school with, and while I admired the craft with which she wrote her book, I didn’t care for the book itself. It’s very uncomfortable when you don’t like the work of friend or acquaintance. It becomes a void all of your conversations dance around.

But I liked Bottomfeeder. The main character, Phil Merman, is a vampire but is neither self-aggrandizing nor self-pitying. He’s just sort of getting on with it. Goes to his job (at night, of course) at a photo archives and occasionally, when hungry, feeds on a human being. Phil preys on those who will not be missed, society’s outcasts, and one gets the sense that this is as much out of a desire to spare a victim’s loved ones any undue pain as it is an attempt to keep his feeding habits private.

Without being obvious, the book poses a basic existential question: what exactly do you do with your life? The fact that the vampires in the book have eternal life only compounds the problem for them. There are those have enough trouble filling 70+ years. But perpetual existence? Some sink into decadence, some make attempts to help other vampires, and others (like Phil) just live their existence day to day, without too much consideration of where they are going and what it all means.

Bottomfeeder is also a good New York novel, one that actually has scenes in Queens and Brooklyn as well as Manhattan. It captures the “Let’s Make A Deal” feeling in New York that anything could be behind any door. It could be an orgy or it could be a group therapy session. As one who still walks around Chinatown thinking to himself “I just know there’s an opium den around here somewhere” this sense of New York’s chaotic yet stable mix felt true.

The above description doesn't hit at how funny the book is. Phil’s point of view is sardonic and bemused by the actions of both the living and the undead. The voice recalls a tough guy private eye, and this could be both an homage to pulp novels and a comment on how such genres have influenced how we think and talk. There’s a sense of characters wanting to play at what they are not. Whether it’s a vampire orgy that Phil senses is just trying too hard to be “bad,” or an annoying friend who speaks with a British accent even though he’s not British, everyone seems to be trying on a persona, and Phil is there to helpfully mock them.


Julie said...

Don't forget that you promised to loan me that book when you are done - so don't get distracted as you admitted you do in your resoluion entry. Hey, guess what TJ wants for his birthday? A pair of Doc Martins! God,it makes a mother proud.

the hanged man said...

I'll send Bottomfeeder your way.

Does TJ want the shoes or the boots? Not that it makes a difference, I'm just curious. It has to be genetics...

Iva said...

OK, now may I have your honest opinion? Would the 1950's Iva (trying to live in a 2007 world) like the book? If so, may I borrow it when Julie is finished?

the hanged man said...

Yes, you may borrow it from Julie.

Will you like it? I don't know. There's sex and violence in it - it is a vampire novel, after all -but nothing too gratuitous. Nothing worse than what you'd read in a Stephen King novel.

Julie said...

The boots, we're going for them after school. The long hair, the leather jacket and now this. All he needs is a safety pin in his ear and he'll.... drive poor Tom over the edge!

Of course, you'd have a hard time actually SEEING the safety pin with all that hair

Miss Stambaugh said...

Glad you're back!

Speaking of long hair - I just read this:

From Boing Boing

Speaking of vampire novels - I never had an interest in reading one until I read Octavia Butler's last book, Fledgling. I’ll have to pick up a copy of Bottomfeeder and add to my stack.

Your book reviews are going to make a lot of people happy. At least those of us who love getting great book suggestions from friends who read interesting books.

the hanged man said...

I haven't read any Octavia Butler...maybe she'll be one of the 42 this year.

Number 2 Sister said...

Definitely add Octavia Butler to your list (may she rest in peace)! Her novel,Kindred, is the best book about slavery that I've ever read (with apologies to Frederick Douglass)

Bob Fingerman said...

Thanks for the really kind words, Johnny. I'd chastise these folks who want to borrow your copy rather than buy ones for themselves, but jeez, it's hard when they're your mom and sister.

Kudos to "miss stambaugh", though, who indicates she'll get one of her own.

To any and all though, I hope you enjoy it.

Oh, and Iva, as the author I caution you: it's pretty raunchy in both language and some content. My 66-year-old mother-in-law at dinner tonight said she liked my book (so far), but the language and sex (not that there's much, really) were a bit much for her. Just a friendly, honest bit of warning. It's not a dainty book.

the hanged man said...

Well, I was actually going to buy a copy and send it to my sister, considering it's only $10 on Amazon.com (though that's no reflection on its quality).

As I said, I really didn't think there was anything in it worse than what you would find in a Stephen King novel.

Julie said...

I did consider when I wrote that entry that you'd probably feel that way about my not buying my own copy, and I apologise. It's just that a) we Hanlons borrow books from one another regularly, and b) I wasn't sure how easy it would be to find here.