How a Vampire Got Her Punk Rock Groove Back: Vampire Weekend by Mike Chen

Louise Chao has been a vampire for a few decades now. She’s not super strong, she can’t fly, she can’t change into bats or smoke or move particularly fast; she isn’t interested in violence or feeding off people—in fact she isn’t interested in much, other than the music of her youth. She lives with her pet corgi in a house she inherited from her aunt and works as a janitor doing night shifts at a hospital just to make ends meet, stealing enough blood bags to eke out basic survival. It’s a pretty depressing existence, as a few characters remind us.

Louise is passionate about music, though, and used to play for a band. Something happened that pushed her away from live performances, and she hasn’t been able to get back her mojo, as it were.

The tedium of Louise’s humdrum existence is shaken up when her estranged brother and his grandson show up at her door one day, in search of the aunt who has died. The grandson Ian is a teen in need of guidance and empathy – his mother is dying in the hospital and his grandfather doesn’t really understand him. Ian connects with Louise right away through their shared love for music (though Louise is horrified by Ian’s teen tastes and limited knowledge of what she considered a seminal musical education), and very quickly they are caught up in a plan orchestrated by Eric, the de facto leader of the local vampire community. Louise, in her need to find blood bags, is forced to sign up for Eric’s vamp app which appears to be tracking the whereabouts of every vampire in the area. It seems innocuous enough (which app doesn’t track the users whereabouts anyway?), but Louise is very ambivalent about being this closely connected to the community. Ian is able to help her out with the app, but once he finds out what Louise and her kind are, he has demands of his own.

The book takes place over a single weekend, but feels much longer thanks to a stream of flashback sequences. Louise’s growing connection with Ian acts as the main propulsive element in the narrative, which treats the vampire aspect of it all almost a coincidental comical side note.

There is a lot of exposition as we find out about Louise’s past, about her tense relationship with her Chinese immigrant parents and her competitive brother. It is this estranged brother and his grandson who show up at her door. It is a bit odd that Louise’s brother doesn’t recognise her at all, ever, because she may not have changed much since she became vampire in her youth, but surely her brother (now presumably in his 70s or so) must recall what she had looked like when she left home? Or even have found her a little familiar? She identifies herself as a distance relative, and the subject is glossed over.

There are themes here that Chen touches on, but doesn’t fully explore in depth. Readers may spend much of their time wondering if this whole vampire thing is a metaphor or an allegory for not fitting in, for being different from the average and being treated badly on account of that. Louise, as the child of Chinese immigrants, did not feel she fit in well with her family and was often told by her parents to be more like others, to work harder and excel (making the parents an Asian American cliche in Louise’s memories), when all she was interested in was music and playing music. She leaves home because she knows she wants something different, and it’s that path that leads her to being turned into a vampire. It takes a sudden and unexpected connection with Ian for Louise to reconcile with her passion for performance, and finally lay to rest the emotional trauma she’s been carrying around for decades. It’s all quite tame though, as far as vampire narratives go; even the grand plan the vampire community is hatching doesn’t quite reach the peak it ought to. It’s funny, though it’s often unclear if it’s all meant to be a joke or not.

Anyone looking for a gritty rock band novel with vampires will be disappointed. Anyone looking for a cute, family story that happens to star someone who lives off blood will be fully satiated.

Vampire Weekend is published by MIRA Books.

Mahvesh loves dystopian fiction and appropriately lives in Karachi, Pakistan. She writes about stories when not wasting much too much time on Twitter.


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