The vampire next door...
Welcome to the detailed (and, unfortunately, spoiler-rich) review of Night of the Living Dead Christian. For a briefer review that doesn't give anything away, read the main review. If you're curious, here's a discussion of why I'm doing this.
This is a rather long bit of reaction, so I'm breaking it up into sections. Hopefully that will allow for more bite-sized discussions. So, now that you've all been fairly warned, we'll pick up the deconstruction after the jump:
Two things happen at this point: first, Hibbs (android) and Culbetron (mad scientist) point out that Narrator-Matt's neighbor (and high school pal) Lara is a vampire, and might have something to contribute to their quest. This is news to Matt, but should have been pretty obvious to everyone else - readers included - from Lara's first appearance. Second, Matt's wife is leaving the house to buy Halloween costumes with the kids, and they give a pretty strong indication that Narrator-Matt isn't as involved with his family as he should be. As a plot point, this may actually be more important than the fact that Borut the werewolf-hunter has figured out who the werewolf is; Narrator-Matt’s wife Krista tells them that as well. The boys promptly abandon their search for a snack and head over to Lara's house, to see if the vampire knows anything that might help.
Lara, as it happens, knows Borut - and so immediately invites everyone inside. She then sits down to talk with Narrator-Matt and Luther the werewolf, revealing almost immediately that yes, there is a cure for vampirism. Before explaining it, she tells them a bit of her story: that her high-school boyfriend and later husband Jake was a vampire, that he didn't love her but only acted charming when he wanted something from her; that after years of him sucking the life from her, she started coping by becoming like him, and took to sucking the life from other people. It's not the same sort of abuse that Luther (apparently) inflicted on his own wife and daughter; Luther's abuse is never clearly described, but seems to be more violent-and-scary than draining-and-manipulative.
I'm not an expert in domestic abuse, but from what I do know that strikes me as a distinction without a difference - a difference in focus, maybe, but not in kind. Which makes it doubly odd when Luther repudiates Jake's behavior: the first time I read it he seemed to be saying that he would never do anything like that, when in fact doing things like is exactly the problem with his lycanthropy and the reason he wants to be cured. On a second reading, Luther seems to be saying that he would never go so far as to make his wife a werewolf like him, which makes a lot more sense. (It's still a difference of degree rather than type, but it's actually a very believable response coming from an abuser: "Well, yeah, but at least I'm not as bad as that." And Narrator-Matt rightly points out that he might say that now, but if his wife had stayed it was really just a matter of time before he crossed that line.)
So - and this is something that troubled me about the book - being a monster appears to be directly tied to spousal abuse. Luther lost his wife because his monstrosity caused him to abuse her; Lara became a monster because her boyfriend/husband abused her. Narrator-Matt keeps getting hints that he's a monster, too, and his wife and children have just warned him that he's very much absent from their lives. Admittedly, that pattern doesn't seem to hold for the zombies, so perhaps I should say instead that spousal abuse is associated with being a self-directed monster. But having Luther’s monstrosity and Lara’s monstrosity both be tied to abusive marriages seems to me to dilute the differences between the kinds of monsters.
This does put an interesting spin on some elements of vampire mythology, though. The fear of mirrors and sunlight is, in this milieu, essentially a result of a guilty conscience - they're ashamed to look in mirrors, and sunlight is far too revealing to be comfortable. Garlic doesn't affect them, which makes sense; why would it bother them? They're affected by crosses, because crosses are holy and they are sinful.
And basically, after an encounter in which Borut killed Jake the abusive vampire-husband, Lara went looking for a cure for her condition. She found a church, and spoke with the pastor, and slowly started recovering her humanity. At this point, Borut arrives at Lara's house, Lara hands Luther a business card for the church that helped her, and our heroes escape while Lara stays behind to hold off Borut - using her vampire powers, which she still possesses strongly enough to be immune to bullets.
That last bit is interesting, as it suggests that some of these curses - vampirism, lycanthropy - could become blessings if their more troublesome elements were tamed. ("Hey, it's a start, right? The goal, of course, is to be like you - the Daywalker! You got the best of both worlds, don't you? All our strengths... none of our weaknesses.") I'm not sure if this is a deliberate thematic point, though, or whether it's mainly there as a way to keep the action moving along in the proper direction. (Later note: now that I’ve finished the book, I’m pretty sure it’s the latter.)