For The Someday Book

Book Review: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Posted on: September 1, 2012

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith, Grand Central Publishing, 2010, 398 pp.

This book didn’t hold much appeal to me, but J. saw the movie and told me the story was fun and compelling. He thought that the concept was interesting, but the movie did not have the opportunity to expand it or explain the story well enough. He was interested in reading the book, and I was interested in the movie, so I decided to get the book from the library and read it first. While I haven’t seen the movie yet, I suspect this might be one of those rare occasions when the movie is actually far better than the book.

The plot is simple: Abraham Lincoln led a secret life as a vampire hunter. All the public history we know about his log-cabin upbringing, life as a Springfield lawyer, his presidency, slavery and the Civil War were not the entire story. Each of those iconic American events was not as they seem in our history books. Each was instead a carefully calculated offensive against the vampires that strove to overtake American society. As a concept, it’s a fun idea. According to J., in the movie, it’s execution was fun and dramatic.

The book, however, was abysmal. I will admit to being a bit of a snob when it comes to novels, so you may choose to dismiss this review as just plain snobbery. I thought the idea would be fun, but Grahame-Smith failed to create a compelling reason why history made more sense, or was more interesting, because Lincoln was secretly hunting vampires. The novel basically tells Lincoln’s biographical history with the insertion of vampires at key moments. There is no wider narrative, no unique character development, no climactic plot. Characters appear with no real addition to the plot, and story elements never manage to weave together into a cohesive story. We all already know who wins the election in 1860 and which side is victorious in the Civil War. The mere addition of vampires does not create new tension or excitement.

More than that, though, I found the basic narrative voice of the book simply annoying. The author claims to have found Lincoln’s secret diaries. However, rather than imagining a first-person account from Lincoln, the author creates a bizarre hybrid of diary excerpts interspersed (paragraph by paragraph) with the voice of an omniscient third-person narrator. Lincoln will tell the story for a few sentences in his own words, then the narrator offers a few sentences to move the story along (including description of action as well as dialogue), then Lincoln’s voice returns. It just felt like lazy writing to me. One voice or the other would have made for much better storytelling. The book was an interesting concept, poorly executed.

After I finished reading, J and I compared notes. Almost everything he enjoyed about the movie was not present in the book, and everything he hoped was expanded in the book from the movie was not in the book at all. His account of the movie made it sound like a much better, more entertaining story than the novel I had just completed, although certainly not a great film.

In this rare instance, it seems that the movie might just be better than the book.

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About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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