I will admit to a certain hesitation about reading Product. The plot involves vampires, and as everyone knows, the genre has been overdone this past decade – especially in the form of romantic adolescent vampires. These paranormal romances have monopolized supernatural fiction like an invasive species.
I can safely report that Product does not fit into this category. The vampires can be ruthless and gruesome without the aid of “the product”. So, if you want gore, you’ve got it. More importantly, however, are the additions and extras that Ian McCain brings to vampire lore. As you may have guessed, I haven’t read a lot of vampire stuff in recent years other than the first two books of The Passage trilogy. So, some of these plot elements in Product may be old hat to some people, but to me, these were wonderful new twists. For instance, there is an-depth discussion about how the “Virus” is transmitted, how it operates within the human host, who are the carriers, and what happens if they virus isn’t fed. The discussion was very fascinating, and I was able to suspend disbelief as a result of these “scientific” interludes. In a similar vein (sorry, I couldn’t help that), Mr. McCain presents a couple of breathtaking accounts of what it is like to actually make the transformation from human to an infected vampire, and how it feels to surrender to the urge to dine on human blood. This creativity is the backbone of the story as far as I was concerned, and kept the narrative alive.
One area that was a little shaky for me was Mr. McCain’s choice of narrative mode. The novel starts out in the third person, omniscient voice which fluctuates across the main character Ernie and some inner-city African American gang members. Periodically, the author tries to ground this omniscient voice with frequent thoughts separated in quotes that are supposed to be indicative of the perspective of a 50-year old alcoholic street person or the preferred dialect of African American youths. These interjections ring completely false within these contexts, and tend towards the stereotyping of characters instead of character development. Also, there were instances during the omniscient narrating when the story loses some of its urgency. Mr. McCain often resorts to telling as opposed to showing during these passages. Interestingly enough, when the author shifts towards a subjective, third person voice, as he does when he describes the experiences of a Romanian boy named Antonios (you’ll have to read the story to understand how he shows up) and the experiences of Tayvon, a young gang member who becomes infected, the narrative really takes off. As a matter of fact, some of the strongest passages in the book involve the accounts of Antonios and Tayvon. The imagery is vivid and the urgency for all of the characters is heightened.
Overall, I liked this story. As it turns out, this is the first of a series. I suspect that more developments will occur during the next book, along with further insights into characters that are left hanging. I’ll rate this one a 3.5 and round it up to 4.0. Vampire fans out there? Don’t pass this one up.