After completing NYU’s Summer Publishing Institute this summer, I returned home with quite a few new books. An entire box full (and $30 in shipping charges), to be exact. As constant readers of this blog may know, I’ve been making my way through them with varying results. Along For the Ride by Sarah Dessen was sort of a dud, but Hunger Games and Thirteen Reasons Why has definitely earned my humble blog some serious traffic. And while Blame It on the Pig by Joseph Caldwell was the stupidest book I’ve yet to read on an airplane, Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz was entertaining enough.
One of the last books on this “to-read” list was The Strain by Chuck Hogan and Guillermo del Toro, director of such freak-tastic films as “Pan’s Labyrinth.” I liked “Pan’s Labyrinth” and so, assuming del Toro was the creative force behind The Strain, I was expecting the concept to be pretty sweet.
On this point, I wasn’t let down. In the vein of the modern vampire novel, The Strain reimagines those Transyvannian bloodsuckers for the 21st century, except this time they’ve joined forces with the similarily apocolyptic “mass virus narrative.” “Vampires are viruses incarnate,”says Dr. Eph Goodwater, from the Center for Disease Control and the hero of this particular tale. In the novel’s opening, Eph and his team are called in to investigate a plane that has mysteriously gone dead after landing at JFK. Upon further investigation, it appears as if everyone on the plane has died and there’s no explanation for a mysterious, coffin-like box in the cargo hold. Oh my! What could happen next?
Well, I’m sure you can all guess. Chaos! New York in ruins! Humans on the verge of extinction! Yadda yadda yadda. Del Toro and Hogan have made an effort to make their vampires “more real” than their romantisized counterparts: second-generation vampires in The Strain come back from the “dead” zombie-style, and instead of Dracula fangs, they have super-long tongues/stingers that lacerates one’s neck. The full fledged “Master” vampires appear a bit familiar, but on several accounts, del Toro and Hogan have succeeded in making sure their vampires aren’t attractive, sexy or angsty (Edward Cullen need not apply). These are monsters, for goodness sake. They don’t want to discuss their feelings; they want to kill you. Vampires should be terrifying.
All this being said, while I had high hopes for The Strain, I was majorly let down by the writing. How can I put this nicely…it was horrible. Overladen with cliches and purple prose, Hogan and del Toro never got the memo that in horror, it’s what you don’t say that make things scary. It’s clear the duo made an honest effort–the images were kind of frightening–but then you come across passages like this, and it’s all shot to hell:
Eph too had been turned. Not from human to vampire, but from healer to slayer.
Plus, grammar guru that I am, I kept finding passages where Hogan and del Toro misused their various verbs and nouns, often interchanging them with no heed as to their meaning. That’s just sloppy, and unforgiveable in my book. Now I’ll admit: writing horror is hard. It’s easier to scare people with images on a screen, and this is where I think del Toro overestimated his abilities. He scored with “Pan’s Labyrinth,” but it takes a little more finesse to reproduce that on paper. Hogan and del Toro have the scary pictures, but not enough writing chops to get the job done.
After finishing The Strain, I enjoyed a brief interlude catching up on my New Yorkers and, in one night, reading A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Shakespeare. It was the first Shakespeare play I had read since graduating from Miami in May. During my final semester at that illustrious institution, I spent way too much of my time in an English capstone course about Shakespeare. In retrospect, I learned a lot and it really was a great way to study Shakespeare (we compared original plays with their modern interpretations, namely movies). At the time, I was dealing with an insane reading load, an intense professor and very little background knowledge of the bard. I’m happy I got out of there with an ‘A.’
Suffice it to say, I was willing to put a little space between me and the next Shakespeare play on my reading list. But now I’m happy to say my Shakespeare block is officially broken, and I thoroughly enjoyed my return to the bard. I won’t say too much about the play itself, considering it’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and, well, famous. But I can say it’s nice to revisit books that we consider “assigned reading” later in life. Who’s to say Shakespeare can’t be enjoyed for his inherent aesthetic qualities? I’ve found the best way to understand and enjoy Shakespeare is to read him outloud (his plays are meant to be performed, after all), and so if you do this, I don’t see any problem revisiting his comedies whenever the poetic mood strikes. His dramas may require a bit more work, but there’s a reason Hamlet and Henry V have left an indelible mark on modern literature. Reacquainting yourself with this fact can only yield fruitful results for your intellect.