All right, all you vampires, this is the end. Between the dull “Twilight” movies and the increasingly unwatchable “True Blood” TV series, you guys have long worn out the welcome we humans have given you. And now the final nail in the coffin — “Vlad,” Carlos Fuentes’ mediocre novella about the great Count Dracula, published posthumously by Dalkey Archive.
I think the Dracula myth started to go south about 35 years ago when Boston College professors Raymond T. McNally and Radu Florescu tied him to Vlad Tepes, the bloodthirsty nationalist leader of Romania who impaled his enemies on stakes. The Dracula of Bram Stoker’s novel as well as of films featuring Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee and even Frank Langella was far more mysterious. His evil came from someplace more metaphysical. It was an evil that needed no explanation; it just was.
The Mexican writer doesn’t try to explain it either, but he does use Vlad to explore issues dear to his heart — corruption in Mexico, his antipathy for the legal profession, the boring lives of bourgeois Mexicans. Nothing wrong with that. The problem is that the exploration doesn’t go any distance. Fuentes is funnier than most, but his in-jokes about the Lugosi movie and other aspects of the Dracula myth could have been trotted out by anyone with a cursory knowledge of the oeuvre.
The story, itself, revolves around a parallel story in the original – Dracula’s infatuation with Jonathan Harker’s fiancee. Vlad recruits real estate and legal agents to help find him a home in Mexico where he intends to open up a new blood bank of beautiful Latinas, starting with the family of the narrator, Yves Navarro. Vlad natters on in Nietzschean tones about the monotony of middle-class life and living la vampire vida loca.
Fuentes doesn’t pull any punches in detailing the horror or Dracula’s actions and intentions, particularly Vlad’s ruthlessness in ancient times. Still, the odd mix of black humor and horror doesn’t cohere and the latest literary installment ultimately feels toothless. Dracula also tied into more Puritanical attitudes toward sexuality. Now that everybody’s doing it, who needs vampires? It may be time to let all good vampires go gently into the night. Or drive a stake through all their hearts. You guys are so 19th century.