Written by: Matthew J. Barbour
Vampires are a staple of horror literature. Some of greatest horror novels ever written include the monster. When done well, they are not simply the beast lurking in the shadows, but the enigma of our deepest desires and sins. Dracula by Bram Stoker, I am Legend by Richard Matheson, Interview with a Vampire by Ann Rice, and Salem’s Lot by Stephen King are all well done classics. Yet when done poorly, vampire tales suck both literally and figuratively.
Poppy Z. Brite is no stranger to the vampire. Lost Souls, written by Brite in the early 90s, is a brilliant display of what can be done with the creature. However, Love in Vein is not a Poppy Z. Brite original. It is a collection of twenty vampire related tales compiled and edited by the author. These tales include:
“Do Not Hasten to Bid me Adieu” by Norman Partridge
“Geraldine” by Ian McDowell
“In the Greenhouse” by Kathe Koja and Barry N. Malzberg
“Café Endless: Spring Rain” by Nancy Holder
“Empty Vessels” by David B. Silva
“The Final Fete of Abba Adi” by Jessica Amanda Salmonson
“Cherry” by Christa Faust
“White Chapel” by Douglas Clegg
“Delicious Antique Whore” by Wilum H. Pugmire
“Triptych di Amore” by Thomas F. Monteleone
“Queen of the Night” by Gene Wolfe
“The Marriage” by Steve Rasnic Tem and Melanie Tem
“In This Soul of a Woman” by Charles de Lint
“The Alchemy of the Throat” by Brian Hodge
“Love me Forever” by Mike Baker
“And the Horses Hiss at Midnight” by A. R. Morlan
“Elixir” by Elizabeth Engstrom
“The Gift of Neptune” by Danielle Willis
“From Hunger” by Wayne Allen Sallee
“A Slow Red Whisper of Sand” by Robert Devereaux
The quality of work within the collection ranges from unsung masterpieces to utterly dismal forays into the expected and mundane. Such variation is to be expected within any collection. Yet in Love in Vein, the highs are so high and the lows so low that the work as a whole feels somewhat disjointed.
Ostensibly, the tales are collected under the subheading of “Twenty Original Tales of Vampiric Erotica.” The level to which each tale conforms to this theme differs as does their interpretation of what a vampire is. In the collection, you will find everything from tales which pay direct homage to the classics to stories which convey only the vaguest sense of a vampire within their narratives. Interestingly, it is the latter group which is most compelling.
Tales, such as “Geraldine” and “Elixir,” are stunningly successful stories which bend our view of traditional vampires. In “Geraldine,” the monster feeds upon on the essence of life. This is not blood, but the act of conception and the memories and emotions tied to the event. Then in “Elixir,” the vampire is not the supernatural beast at all, but rather the human that feeds off of her.
If some of the authors contributing to the book seem more familiar than others, there is a reason for this. Love in Vein was published in the mid-90s. Since then, several of the authors, such as Christa Faust, Robert Devereux, and Kathe Koja, have gone on to be rather successful while others have languished in obscurity. In all fairness, Kathe Koja was successful before the collection, but now I am digressing from the point.
From a recommendation standpoint, if you are a fan of vampires or a particular author featured in the collection, the book is well worth the read. Similarly, if you are a fan of Poppy Z. Brite, it is opportunity to be exposed to a wide-variety of authors with similar styles and perspectives. Still, expect some bumps along the way. Love in Vein is far from perfect. Not all of the stories are stellar and, as expected, vampires as a whole can be a bit cliché. But, for those who are willing to pick and choose from within this collection there are gems to be found.