Phil Merman, the eponymous character of B.H. Fingerman's debut novel, is no Dracula or Lestat. Lacking the courtly presence of the Prince of Darkness or the cultural savvy of Anne Rice's most flamboyant bloodsuckers, he's your everyday schmuck. He works in a dead-end job filing photos of murder scenes and car accidents. He lives alone in a cramped and expensive New York apartment. He's getting over a divorce and trying to avoid a clingy male friend with a schoolboy crush. It just so happens that when he prowls the streets looking to score with woman, Merman is also looking to suck dinner from the tasteless throats of society's dregs.
Merman has morals, of course. He dines only on drug dealers, the homeless, and street punks foolish enough to stab him with shivs and fire slugs into his stomach. Yet Merman--again, like many of us--suffers social and existential pangs that only get worse with immortality. No wonder that when the spunky Eddie comes along to show him the hierarchy of New York vampires, Merman begins to find validation and joy in his endless existence.
If recent vampire fiction has a universal theme, it would be that immortality is a bitch. In this respect, consider Bottomfeeder just another member of the pack. Though the pair's subsequent adventures follow a rote formula--vampire discovers others, vampire feels he doesn't belong, vampire breaks established rules--there is a lively imagination at work in the various groups Merman explores. High-society vampirism, in Fingerman's view, is an enormous penthouse loft complete with naked couplings, random feedings, and a bartender who serves blood straight from the veins of spaced-out teenagers. Then there are the weekly vampire therapy groups where members struggle to make sense of their nature, and the assisted-living homes for vampires with physical and mental disabilities. As one war veteran-turned-vampire notes, "it's hard to hunt when you're stuck in a wheelchair."
Brilliant scenes like this make you pine for more time with these social bottom feeders. Instead, Fingerman is compelled to return again and again to the high-rise hedonists and their world of decadent sex, drugs, and blood--a Caligula-like approach to vampirism seen countless times over. Besides, how many people actually attend such gatherings? You're more likely to find us moaning over our lives in support groups or at the corner bar with all the other desperate everymen. Bottomfeeder is at its worst when it panders to familiar plot lines and at its best when illustrating that some vampires are just plain unsexy nobodies.