American Gothic by Michael Romkey follows Yankee Civil War general Nathaniel Peregrine through three stages of his life. During the first, he becomes a vampire in New Orleans, LA, and, indulging in his grief over his family’s death, he avenges himself on the South, including, in a very cool segment, planting the idea for Pickett’s Charge into Lee’s head. During the second segment around the time of WWI, Peregrine, now in rural Haiti, commissions a Dr. Lavalle to find a cure for vampirism, meanwhile competing with the doctor for the love of some woman. In the final segment, Peregrine hops up to San Francisco, CA, and redeems himself by saving a Goth teenager from a psychopathic therapist. End.
Such arcs about characters’ falls and redemption only work if we care about the characters, but I don’t give a shit about Peregrine. Romkey writes pretty well and creates a convincing historical atmosphere, but he can’t make a well-rounded character to save his life. Though he has a motivation in the first segment, Peregrine becomes more of a cipher in the rest of the book. What makes him turn from vengeance? I assume that he is prompted by his attachment to aforesaid woman in Haiti, but, since we barely see the two interacting AND she has the personality of celery, the love story fails. Things brighten up in the third part when we get a passably well-rounded character in the form of the Goth girl, but, this time, Peregrine himself flattens out. He shows no emotion, reports on none and gives us no justification for his change of heart. Who cares?
Bottom line: This book is filled with the most boring characters I’ve encountered in a long time. Read only as a cure for insomnia.
I can forgive the character flatness in The Becoming by Jeanne Stein a bit more because at least Stein knows how to move a story along at a steady clip. Bounty hunter Anna becomes a vampire and must kill the rogue who turned her, choose between sexy good vamp and sexy mortal boyfriends, deal with bloodlust and, oh yeah, rescue a kidnapped friend. Running around, staking and ass-kicking ensue. Because The Becoming had no pretensions to literary merit the way that American Gothic did, I easily accepted it as a tough, cool-looking summer action spectacular, a mental roller coaster where I didn’t have to use my brain.
Bottom line: Mindless fun. If you have to choose between American Gothic and The Becoming, choose The Becoming.