While New Orleans has enjoyed its own renaissance of interest in vampire culture thanks to the mid-1990s success of Anne Rice, another author has turned the suave image of undead bloodsuckers on its head. Fat White Vampire Blues (Del Rey Books), by first-time novelist Andrew Fox, puts the sarcastic bite back into the passe archetype of the lovely immortal. Fox's characters are bumbling, quirky, and well, ugly.
"I wasn't really setting out to do a big satire of Anne Rice's books," says Fox. "I was playing with the notion of the very sexy romantic vampires." However, Fox describes his main character, Jules Duchon, as "the anti-Lestat" the opposite of the sleek predator. Jules spends many of his hunting nights running for his unlife and recovering his clothing from the night before.
"When vampires turned red-hot in the late 1980s ... I didn't jump onboard, either as a reader or a writer," claims Fox, a 39-year-old Miami native. "The new crop of vampires -- romantic, misunderstood, aristocratic eternals, or gorgeous, savage teens who looked like 'heroin chic' jeans models -- failed to capture my fancy. Maybe I just preferred my vampires the old-fashioned way: dour, dusty, with bad foreign accents and worse attitudes.
"Lon Chaney Jr.'s Count Alucard (from the 1943 film, Son of Dracula) probably most closely approximated my ideal ... not too handsome, not too graceful, always looking faintly embarrassed as he skulked around." His other inspiration was the vamps in the 1973 black-exploitation film, Scream, Blacula, Scream! "All the fangs and blood blew my young mind," he says. "Either that, or all the polyester leisure suits and medallions."
Part of Fox's inspiration for Jules' character is Ignatius J. Reilly, the classic New Orleans Don Quixote of John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces. Fox reasoned that "if a vampire was going to spend centuries drinking the blood of people who live on New Orleans food ... they'd look a lot more like John Goodman than Tom Cruise."
What makes Jules so intensely likeable is that his human "tastes" have carried with him throughout his unlife. He still drinks chicory coffee, listens to WWOZ and chats with the cabbies at the Trolley Stop Cafe, just like us mere mortals. Native New Orleanians will love the parodies of local icons -- including the owner of a seafood restaurant monopoly, a certain horror author spoofed by the name of Agatha Longrain, and a neo-Goth a la Trent Reznor.
Although his themes are well-crafted, Fox falls short in his narration and dialogue, sometimes resorting to cliches such as "His weight loss plans had crashed and burned like the bloated carcass of the Hindenburg," or "... that's a better deal than the Pilgrims getting Manhattan for a handful of beads!"
Jules becomes a broad satire of class, just as Ignatius personified the middle class that saw everything wrong with modern society. As Fox puts it, Jules suffers the same "refusal to let go of the past for dear life. Jules is just like what Krauss' (department store) was ... a magnificent anachronism."
While Fox says he did not set out to make Ignatius J. Reilly a vampire, the similarities are obvious. Just like Ignatius, Jules represents the old white working class. Jules' nemesis, Malice X, comes from the young entrepreneur generation of African Americans. Vlad Tepes, another rival, comes from old money and plays off of "the snooty John Carradine-type vampires," says Fox. While class and race are explored in the novel, Fox insists that the battle between Malice X and Jules isn't a racial issue. Instead, he says, he's trying to be ironic in his stereotypes of his characters.
Jules' girth is another correlation with Ignatius -- both are comically huge. In Jules' case, his weight is due to the intake of New Orleanian blood laced with fat and grease. In one chapter, Jules tries to evade the levee police by transforming into a bat, but is ashamed when he can't lift his prodigious butt off the ground. His bulk separates him from the feline, nimble vampires of the modern films, and Fox uses it to characterize New Orleans' obsession with food. "Gluttony is part of the culture," says Fox, whose follow-up, Bride of the Fat White Vampire, is schedule for release next summer. "The philosophy becomes: 'Let's party today and pay the price tomorrow.'"
Fox started a crusade against such "I don't give a damn" philosophers in 1995 by founding The New Year's Coalition after his cousin was killed by a falling bullet. Working for the state Office of Public Health, Fox knows too well about the health risks of heart disease and diabetes in New Orleans. Yet, he does not take the high road against New Orleans and her excessive nature. By the end of the book, Jules discovers that his loads of excess mass are actually boons instead of burdens, marking the acceptance of his vampiric lusts as well. Fat White Vampire Blues is a triple cheeseburger -- you can't indulge in guilty pleasures like this often enough.
Andrew Fox will appear as a guest author at Crescent City Con XVIII, which will be held Friday-Sunday, Aug. 1-3, at the Landmark Hotel (2601 Severn Ave., Metairie). For more info, call 488-0489 or visit www.fatsnake.com/ccc.
- Local author Andrew Fox takes a bite out of vampire chic in Fat White Vampire Blues.