Richard Laymon’s The Traveling Vampire Show (2000) is one of the most entertaining vampire novels I’ve ever read. Unlike most of the earlier Gothic novels I review, this more modern story is full of humor along with some teenage angst that just adds to the laughs.
I find this novel hard to classify. I hesitate to call it Gothic—it would more properly be called horror, especially because of the goriness that marks the novel’s climax, which is said to make ti belong to the splatterpunk subgenre. It might also be called a buddy story or coming-of-age novel, and it rather reminded me of the film Stand By Me for its setting in the 1960s and its focus on three teenagers who want to go see the Traveling Vampire Show.
Our narrator is Dwight, a sixteen-year-old boy whose father is the police chief of the small town where the novel is set. The other main characters are Rusty, his best friend, who tends to be a bit annoying at times, and Slim, a female friend who frequently changes her name depending on which book she’s currently reading—she used to be Dagny. Dwight has feelings for Slim, and consequently, we get a lot of information about teenage boys’ sexual urges in this novel.
The story opens when fliers appear all over town advertising the Traveling Vampire Show that will be held in a field outside town that night. The three friends decide to go to the field the morning of the show to see the show be set up and try to get a glimpse of Valeria, the advertised beautiful vampire, who will be the star of the show. Since the show says only those eighteen years of age and older will be allowed in, they think watching the show be set up is the best chance they will have.
I won’t go into detail on the plot because that would spoil all the fun, but the kids do eventually make it to the show. The novel follows the three friends’ misadventures throughout the day as they become convinced that the show’s workers are following them and may be planning to do them mischief. I would have felt impatient with the novel, waiting for the vampire to show up, if the dialogue and antics of the characters were not so funny and entertaining throughout, and there are plenty of twists to keep you wondering what will happen.
When Valeria finally does show up on stage, we discover Laymon has done his research into Gothic literature. She is described as being like the Wandering Jew and having mesmeric powers—all part of the Gothic vampire tradition.
What then follows is a climax you have to read to appreciate. What I loved best was I was left guessing until the very end whether the vampire was real or not.
I guarantee that The Traveling Vampire Show will not disappoint. It’s one of the most entertaining novels I have read in recent years. It’s also not as heavy as most Gothic novels, even by modern Gothic and horror standards. The teenagers have sexual angst but not the depressive angst of Stephenie Meyers’ or Anne Rice’s vampires.
If you like humor mixed with a little ’60s nostalgia and a vampire thrown in for good measure, you will love The Traveling Vampire Show.
I wish to thank Robert Burke for bringing The Traveling Vampire Show to my attention.
Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, The Children of Arthur novel series, and Haunted Marquette: Ghost Stories from the Queen City. Visit Tyler at www.GothicWanderer.com, www.ChildrenofArthur.com, and www.MarquetteFiction.com.