Friday, December 14, 2007

Sundays With Vlad - A Review

Paul Bibeau is a Journalist who in his new book Sunday's with Vlad: From Pennsylvania to Transylvania, One Man's Quest to Live in the World of the Undead takes a personal interest in Dracula - some might call it an obsession- to investigate the lore, history and cultural and commercial products related to Dracula and vampires. The investigation is extensive and the book covers a large amount of territory. We travel with Bibeau to Romania and all over the Unite States; visiting ruins, castles, amusement parks, hotels, boardwalks and museums. Each chapter takes us on a journey into some aspect of the place Dracula and vampires have in our culture. Some of these aspects are obvious and familiar to most- Haunted houses, vampire horror films. Some readers may be less familiar with Bram Stoker's novel and the historical Romanian nobleman Vlad Dracula. Bibeau also takes us into the lesser known worlds of LARPers, vampires or vampyrs and Dracula scholars. Paul Bibeau takes one on an extensive journey through the varied landscape of the Dracula legend and its cultural and commercial products.

The prologue and first two chapters are heavy laden with self-deprecating humor that detracts from the story of his first trip to Romania and the strange world of Dracula's history and legend. Unfortunately he is not good at this form of humor and by the second chapter I was ready to stop reading if the author didn't stop. Thankfully while this irritating and distracting self-deprecation is sprinkled throughout the book it eases after the second Chapter. The problem with the humor is first that self-deprecation gets old even in the hands of a master of the form, for example Conan O'Brien. Also it often seemed like Bibeau couldn't justify to himself spending an entire book on Dracula, and so was hoping to draw readers in by saying "I know this is quirky and stupid, but follow me and lets see what we find." He may also simply be trying to laugh at himself as he opens the book with the story of disastrous honeymoon to Romania. In the end I concluded it was just a shtick which I found unconvincing and poorly executed. If one can get past the self-deprecation of its author, Sunday's with Vlad is a good interesting funny and thought provoking book.

Paul Bibeau is most convincing when he is the journalist writing about the strange, (at times) funny, and possibly tragic turns the Count Dracula as Vampire has produced and how it all relates only very tenuously if at all to the real Count Dracula, AKA Vlad the Impaler. The chapters on Dracula scholarship, LARPers, people claiming to be vampires, were the most compelling. The chapter on vampire films I had trouble getting through in part because Bibeau reverted to incessant self-deprecation as he describes spending a weekend watching vampire films. However, I also found his vampire movie criticism to be wanting: he seems to miss the significance of Francis Ford Coppolas Bram Stokers Dracula in that it places the Dracula legend and vampires back in the Christian cosmos that Stoker had for the novel, and which most vampire films ignore or to which they only allude. Lastly he should have reviewed The Hunger one of the best vampire films out there, and staring David Bowie(How could you go wrong?). However both the Hunger and Coppolas Dracula take us beyond monsters to the mystical, mysterious and horrific/demonic aspect of Dracula. However, this is something Bibeau avoids throughout the book. Although he captures much of the varieties of the Dracula empire he skirts away from the spiritual and religious elements of Bram Stokers story and characters though admittedly so does most of our cultural and commercial productions.

Over all I found the book a good interesting read. When Bibeau covered things I knew about Dracula and its various cultural and commercial manifestations I got a slightly different perspective that gave me new insights, and on things I knew little or anything about I found that he brought the subject to life. I was pleased by his treatment of those who are neighbors to the Goth Subculture and sometimes overlap with Goth. In all it was sympathetic and without caricature that even journalistic treatments of alternative subcultures can fall into. If you can get passed the self-deprecating humor Paul Bibeau's book is an entertaining informative and interesting read.

Note 12/15/2007: I began this review before I became ill. I hadn't finished it and I have been working on it this week. I have done some further editing now, hopefully clearer.