Lilliputian Review: The Strain

From the Publisher: The visionary creator of the Academy Award-winning Pan's Labyrinthand a Hammett Award-winning author bring their imaginations to this bold, epic novel about a horrifying battle between man and vampire that threatens all humanity.

A Boeing 777 arrives at JFK and is on its way across the tarmac, when it suddenly stops dead. All window shades are pulled down. All lights are out. All communication channels have gone quiet. Crews on the ground are lost for answers, but an alert goes out to the CDC. Dr. Eph Goodweather, head of their Canary project, a rapid-response team that investigates biological threats, gets the call and boards the plane. What he finds makes his blood run cold.

In a pawnshop in Spanish Harlem, a former professor and survivor of the Holocaust named Abraham Setrakian knows something is happening. And he knows the time has come, that a war is brewing . . .

So begins a battle of mammoth proportions as the vampiric virus that has infected New York begins to spill out into the streets. Eph, who is joined by Setrakian and a motley crew of fighters, must now find a way to stop the contagion and save his city—a city that includes his wife and son—before it is too late.

My Take: This book is ridiculous. It's overwritten, overwrought, it had no character development (or definition), it's not scary in the least, it's way too long and its concept is unfocused. Have I made my position clear enough?

The book starts out with a central image that I believe was intended to set the tone for the story - a total solar eclipse, meant to symbolize the blotting out of human kind by the vampire. This event gets 17 full pages and its own section and each character in the book is allowed his/her own perspective on the event.

The message is as finely made as a blow from a sledgehammer and it had me racing through the pages, if only to figure out when I'd have to stop reading lines like, "Dead Airplane + Solar Eclipse = Not Good" or even worse "...they stared up at the black disk glowing like a spotlight in reverse, sucking light away from this world and back up to the heavens. This obliterating phenomenon was to them a perfect symbol of their loss at that very moment." Good grief.

What saved The Strain's reputation (though not my general experience of it) was its take on the nature of the vampire. Too often (Twilight, True Blood etc.) the vampire is simply portrayed as the sexy, if vaguely dangerous, un-dead. The Stain explains the vampire as a virus that bonds with one's RNA and uses us as a host to change/corrupt us into bloodthirsty animals.

When persons are first changed we are told they are driven to return to their loved ones by "the same animal impulse that guides lost dogs hundreds of miles back to their owners. As their higher brain function falls away, their animal nature takes over...It is the nature of the undead to torment the living."

I was tempted to believe for a moment that the authors were trying to make a comment on the darker impulses of human kind, yet it feels like a stretch to make these associations. The Strain is practically frantic with plot movement so it seems like its purpose is to entertain. Yet, this movement feels too light on its feet. What grip it has is thwarted by tiresome overwriting and melodrama.

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