Laymon is a sadly underrated gem in his own country, the old joke about rock stars being "big in Japan" (or in his case, Germany and the UK) being applicable. This was my first Laymon book, and the reason I read it is because I was working on vampire novel for Sinister Grin Press and I couldn't get over the worry that I was writing the same old shit, so my good friend Claire Ashby suggested I pick up a vampire novel to kick me in the ass. It worked (I think) but more about that later. Today is about THE STAKE.
About THE STAKE:
In an isolated corner of a deserted hotel, horror writer Larry Dunbar uncovers a grisly relic. It's naked, it's female, and it has a wooden stake through its heart.
Bonnie Saxton was a young, innocent high school senior...sacrificed on the altar of a madman's obsession to rid the earth of its most ancient, pitiless evil: the curse of the vampire.
A world of horrors was born the day the stake was driven in.
Now Dunbar wants to pull it out...
There's a sexual peccadillo or technique called "edging" which basically involves bringing yourself or your partner right to the edge of climax and then backing off multiple times so that when release finally comes, it's incredible. THE STAKE is essentially the literary equivalent of edging. The climax of the book is a foregone conclusion within the first hundred pages or so, as Larry Dunbar, a horror author and (one supposes) a thinly veiled version of Laymon himself, discovers a desiccated corpse in the desert with a stake through its heart.
For hundreds of pages Larry obsesses over pulling the stake, what will happen, whether the corpse is a vampire, and regardless of whether anything supernatural is going on or not who, exactly, staked her and why. And this is why I brought up edging at the beginning of this review. There must have been a dozen scenes when Larry or one of his close friends or relatives for one reason or another just about wraps their hands around the stake and then doesn't pull it out. For a while I thought that stake was going to come out handily, but (SPOILER ALERT, I guess, for a 25-year-old novel) it doesn't come out until the very end.
For a while I was pretty sure Larry was going to pull the stake early on and then the rest of the novel would be about the fallout from that. Instead, the whole matter was drawn out so excruciatingly that the tension never really seemed to tamp down. Meanwhile, a number of human monsters began to creep into the lives of Larry and his family, perhaps remoras riding along on the evil of the stake or perhaps just representing the general cussedness of the universe. And then, like the master I've repeatedly been told he is, Laymon weaves all of the plot threads together into the conclusion. It was a rather incredible balancing act, to be sure.
This is definitely an unconventional vampire novel - if it can be called a vampire novel at all. I suppose I won't spoil that for you. If you want to find out what happens when the stake gets pulled, well, you'll just have to read it for yourself.
About Richard Laymon:
Richard Laymon was born in Chicago and grew up in California. He earned a BA in English Literature from Willamette University, Oregon and an MA from Loyola University, Los Angeles. He worked as a schoolteacher, a librarian, and a report writer for a law firm, and was the author of more than thirty acclaimed novels.
He also published more than sixty short stories in magazines such as Ellery Queen, Alfred Hitchcock, and Cavalier, and in anthologies including Modern Masters of Horror.
He died from a massive heart attack on February 14, 2001 (Valentine's Day).
Also published under the name Richard Kelly.