Reviews > Published on December 1st, 2014

Bookshots: 'Watch' by Cass J. McMain

Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review



Who wrote it: 

Albuquerque born Cass McMain, a former greenhouse manager and author of the novel Sunflower.

'Watch' considers themes of vampirism and blood with more nuance than many books that focus on such topics.

Plot in a Box: 

A woman is summoned to the deathbed of her dying uncle, who informs her that the father who abandoned her at birth is a vampire.

Invent a new title for this book:

Dead Birds

Read this if you like:

'Salem's Lot by Stephen King

Meet the book's lead:

Corky, a thirty-something woman who works in a bookstore.

Said lead would be portrayed in a movie by:

Jodie Foster comes close, but I couldn't quite get a clear visualization in my mind for Corky. Edgar, however, (the vampire) would definitely be portrayed by Jon Hamm.

Setting: Would you want to live there?

A good chunk of the first half of the book takes place in a hospice that “smells of medicine.” So no, definitely not.

What was your favorite sentence?

…her eyelashes are made of wires, I can feel them crackling with electricity when she blinks.

The Verdict:

First off, I would like to assuage any potential fears that readers might experience when hearing the word “vampire” in connection to a recent work of fiction. Whatever Watch is, it isn’t of the Twilight canon, and there’s no sparkling to be found anywhere in its pages. McMain has created a family drama that is propelled by a more subtle possibility of vampirism that takes some time to reach a boiling point.  

A little too much time, in fact. Story momentum builds rather slowly here, with the first hundred pages taking place in and around a hospice. Not much transpires other than some phone conversations, several meals in diners, familial squabbling, and Corky trying awkwardly to come to terms with the fact that her uncle truly believes that his brother is a monster. Unsurprisingly, she thinks that he’s merely unraveling as death draws near. While it’s a realistic reaction, this constant hesitancy does force the plot to congeal a bit at the beginning.

McMain has a genuine talent for making observations that are eerily on point. For instance, Corky’s wretched cousin Pam reads like a flesh and blood recreation of your Least Favorite Relative, and the short exchanges between children when no adults are present can only be the result of someone with a very keen attention to detail. Minor conversations with waitresses and hospice patients have a startling ring of authenticity, even if they don't always forge a solid connection back to the main plot.

Watch considers themes of vampirism and blood with more nuance than many books that focus on such topics. The condition is posed as more of a psychological or genetic issue than a supernatural one, yet that more grounded perspective doesn’t diminish the danger of being around someone who violently craves blood. Rather than depicting vampirism as something mysterious and powerful to be coveted, the line is often blurred between the actions of Corky’s father and regular sadism. It's an approach that works well, modernizing a kind of "demon" that has stalked mankind throughout centuries of folklore, but might actually lurk on our family trees.

All things considered, Watch is a slightly mixed bag, but one that certainly has moments of bright lucidity, and shows a lot of potential for future writing by McMain.

About the author

Leah Dearborn is a Boston-based writer with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in international relations from UMass Boston. She started writing for LitReactor in 2013 while paying her way through journalism school and hopping between bookstore jobs (R.I.P. Borders). In the years since, she’s written articles about everything from colonial poisoning plots to city council plans for using owls as pest control. If it’s a little strange, she’s probably interested.

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