The Case Against 'Twilight': One Author's War on Wimpy Vampires

How Brian McGreevy is using his debut novel to rebel against the cultural obsession with Edward Cullen

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AMC, Summit Entertainment

Brian McGreevy published a peculiar and profane essay on Vulture last year. In the essay, "Why Don Draper Is a Far Better Vampire Than Any of Twilight's or True Blood's," the screenwriter-turned-novelist laments the "emasculation" of vampires in American popular culture. Whereas we once had menacing and handsome Byronic antiheroes, upholding the genre's Romantic tradition, McGreevy claims that we now have Twilight and True Blood, which "is essentially what you would get if a Tennessee Williams play fucked The Rocky Horror Show Picture Show." There's nothing to be frightened of—and in McGreevy's view, that's a wasted opportunity.

In his essay, McGreevy argued that the only figure in American culture worthy of Dracula's cape was Mad Men's Don Draper: debonair, "magnetic and urbane," and a danger to the women who get involved with him. You see, "men are predators at heart," McGreevy wrote. "It is a killer's heart that is the motive force of masculinity and predation its spirit." Draper has that, McGreevy says, and what's more, we'd be right to emulate him.

"You get certain people saying, 'Oh, this is an extremely reductive point of view and offensively untrue,'" McGreevy told me in a recent interview. "And at the same time, I'd be getting private emails from women saying, 'I want you to come over to my house and eat me.'"

McGreevy set out to correct the problem of the emasculated vampire with his first novel, Hemlock Grove, which came out last month from Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Hemlock Grove is, essentially, McGreevy's essay novelized. It's a mystery story—who's killing girls in the titular town, a dying Rust Belt hamlet?—and a mashup of many classic monster-story motifs. The heroes are two teenagers: Peter, a gypsy and, when the moon is right, a werewolf, and his new friend Roman, a tortured, rich, handsome, egotistical, pill-popping, girl-abusing, vampire type straight out of the Byronic mold. Roman, whose brain-damaged sister, Shelley, has been turned into a gentle, Frankensteinian giant, is the scion of the Godfrey family. The Godfreys' steel holdings once dominated the area's economy, but the clan has since moved into biotech. While they're still fabulously wealthy, Roman's mother keeps dark secrets (the least of them is that she's having an affair with her brother-in-law). And the White Tower, the research facility founded by Roman's dead father, is a site of strange experiments and a source of rumor and conspiracy; it may also have a role in the gruesome murders, which involve the girls' being vivisected by some sort of wolf-like creature.

The novel's language varies between orotund and something more pulpy, steeped in the brooding attitudes and sublimated fear of literary horror novels. Here's a sample of McGreevy's description of Peter's transformation into his werewolf persona: "Its howls all the while more plaintive and lupine as a snout emerged through its lips and worked open and shut, its old face bunched around it in an obsolete mask. It rolled onto all fours and rose shaking violently, spraying blood in a mist and divesting himself of the remnants of man coat in a hot mess."

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Jacob Silverman is a writer and book critic in Los Angeles.

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