Becoming the Vampire
The Dead Travel Fast by Eric Nuzum
Review by Steven Nery
The Dead Travel Fast: Stalking Vampires from Nosferatu to Count Chocula
St. Martin's Griffin
We are a world addicted to vampires. Goth or not, our superstitions and fears about vampires have their place in human history, and they continue to entertain our darker sides today. In his first book, The Dead Travel Fast, pop culture critic Eric Nuzum documents his epic, and naively hilarious, quest to single-handedly sort out the history and peculiar grip vampires hold on modern culture.
One might pick up the book and mistake it for fiction—something ridiculous about Nuzum hunting down certain vampires throughout history—but it's all real, right down to the part when he drinks his own blood and spits it out all over his bathroom, along with his breakfast. Nuzum brings the reader into the many chasms of vampireness: blue-collar gigs at haunted houses, online gothic chat rooms, goth clubs and topless vampire-themed bars, underground meetings at family diners, darkened parks, Romania, and some 700 vampire movies—all terrible and telling in their own low-budget way. It's a lot to take in, but Nuzum's keen eye for the ironic and his breezy style hold you tight.
The Dead Travel Fast reads like both a memoir and college history book, full of honest impressions about his would-be vampire acquaintances as well as historic facts. In one passage, Nuzum balances a lengthy account of the true Vlad Dracula with quirky descriptions of his fellow Vampire Tour passengers on a queasy bus ride through the Romanian countryside. The tour ends in a group vomit session blamed on bad Pizza Hut and cheap vodka. In another, as Nuzum nervously waits for Steve, a self-proclaimed vampire he met online, he runs through a list of the subcultures of modern vampires before bolting off when he fears Steve is creeping around in some nearby bushes. Nuzum’s narrative weaving works well for the peculiar structure: not too scholarly, not too informal. Fans of NPR's “This American Life” will find the format familiar.
The Dead Travel Fast reads like both a memoir and college history book, full of honest impressions about his would-be vampire acquaintances as well as historic facts.
Without reading the preface or the epilogue, the author may come off as an obsessive twentysomething out to get weird for no particular reason. Actually, Nuzum is a married, mid-30s, "fairly normal" guy. He admittedly subscribes to Netflix (the main source for his vampire movies), likes to travel comfortably and dresses practically. He is complete in his descriptions of the people he meets. If the book was a reality TV show, he'd be the outsider dropped into a random village, carefully swallowing the insect grub, trying to keep up with kids in their street games, swatting mosquitoes and smiling for the camera with a face full of dirt. He approaches The Dead Travel Fast's often ridiculous situations with a level head, asking good questions, pressing for better answers and leaving readers with their own opinions. But, if readers are looking for absolute answers, they won't find it. It turns out, the deeper Nuzum gets into vampire culture, the more ambiguous it gets. This isn't a bad thing. The Dead Travel Fast is irreverent and informative about vampires and the people who adore them. And it’s fun.
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