Cassie Greenberg is a struggling artist living in Chicago, working cobbled-together part-time jobs that still don’t cover the rent. Her landlord is evicting her for nonpayment, and despite scouring apartment listings, she can’t find a new place within her budget. She’s going to have to settle for crashing with her friend Sam and his husband — until she stumbles on a Craigslist posting for a roommate. The spacious third-floor brownstone apartment is in Lincoln Park, and the rent is a mere $200.
Thus opens Nashville writer Jenna Levine’s paranormal romcom, My Roommate Is a Vampire. Needless to say, the Craigslist ad mentions nothing about a vampire, simply stating that the current tenant is “seldom home after sundown.” The ridiculously low rent alerts Cassie that something is amiss, but even if the listing is a scam, it would be irresponsible, she thinks, not to at least send an email and see if the room is still available.
Although advertised as romance, Levine’s novel is also very cozy. A woman working as a children’s librarian and a barista, devoting her spare time to her dream of being an artist — Cassie Greenberg is an immensely relatable character. She’s not a sexy 20-something looking for a hot boyfriend but an educated woman (with an M.F.A.) suffering at the hands of the disaster that is the 21st-century economy. Cassie has followed the touted path to success, going to school, earning a terminal degree, and she, like many of us, is rewarded with underpaid jobs that inevitably leave her unable to pay the sky-high Chicago rent. Which is why, when she sees the listing for a spacious apartment with very few visible strings attached, she takes the risk.
The lister, Mr. Frederick J. Fitzwilliam, replies to Cassie’s inquiry about the listing with a stiff formality at odds with the current century, and he also displays a clear lack of understanding about how to negotiate a rental agreement. He does not offer to let her view or tour the apartment. Instead, he simply writes, “Do let me know at your earliest convenience whether you would like to move in and I will have the necessary paperwork drawn up for your signature.” Cassie thinks, “The email was so strangely worded and so formal, I had to wonder exactly how old this person was.” However, when she manages to negotiate a time to see the apartment before making her decision, she encounters not some out-of-touch wealthy old man, as she was expecting, but an immaculately dressed and very attractive guy who looks to be her age:
He looked like he was maybe in his mid-thirties, though he had the sort of long, pale, slightly angular face where it was hard to tell. And his voice wasn’t the only thing with high production values. No, he also had this ridiculously thick, dark hair that fell rakishly across his forehead like he’d sprung fully formed out of a period drama where people with English accents kissed in the rain.
Once Cassie takes the plunge and decides to move in, she begins to notice some strange things. For instance, packages begin arriving for Frederick — packages that seem to make noise or emit smoke. What’s more, per the lease agreement, Cassie is not allowed to enter Frederick’s bedroom (which seems very reasonable), but she is also not allowed to open the mysterious hall closet that smells oddly … fruity. Additionally, the décor in the house seems to come from the Victorian era, and when Cassie attempts to boil water for pasta her first night there, she discovers there are no pots, pans, or utensils to be found in the kitchen.
Levine opens each chapter with a piece of writing to key the reader into events happening within and slightly outside of the main story. For example, the first chapter opens with the Craigslist ad. Subsequent chapters feature excerpts from news articles, text messages between characters, and even handwritten letters. Of course, the story doesn’t just consist of a string of odd incidents and roommate peculiarities. The longer Cassie shares the apartment with Frederick, the more they get to know each other and the more secrets they unravel.
Cassie has the standard secrets — slight fibs here and there to make her seem more put together and confident than she is — but Frederick has some serious skeletons in his closet. Will this pair be able to overcome all the hurdles thrown at them? Dear reader, you’ll have to delve into the book to find out.
Abby N. Lewis is an adjunct English instructor at ETSU. She is the author of the poetry collection Reticent, the chapbook This Fluid Journey, and the newly released chapbook Palm Up, Fingers Curled from Plan B Press.
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