Written by: Matthew J. Barbour
Poppy Z. Brite was among the premiere authors of splatterpunk and erotic horror. Brite’s ultraviolent tales focused on gay and transgender characters living in the south. Before the author’s self-imposed retirement in 2010, Brite was both loved and reviled by elements of the horror genre community. To fans, Brite’s writing was the perfection of goth and gore. To the naysayer, it was little more than shock and smut.
Are You Loathsome Tonight? is a collection of many of Brite’s short stories from the late 1990s. The stories include:
Introduction by Peter Straub
In Vermis Veritas
Saved (with Christa Faust)
King of Cats (with David Ferguson)
Entertaining Mr. Orton
Vine of the Soul
Mussolini and the Axeman’s Jazz
Are You Loathsome Tonight?
As with any collection some of the stories are better than others. However, deciding which the best stories are will depend entirely on the reader’s taste. There is a little something for everyone in the collection.
“Self-Made Man,” for example, clearly draws inspiration from Jeffrey Dahmer. It is in many ways the companion piece to Exquisite Corpse, but diverges from Brite’s third novel in that it delves into the fantastical. In doing so, “Self-Made Man” is a zombie tale like no other.
Many of the stories are historical fiction. In “Mussolini and the Axeman’s Jazz,” Brite combines the rise of Benito Mussolini in Italy with the Axeman of New Orleans. The result is a narrative which is equal parts compelling and bizarre as the Axeman seeks to destroy the Italian mage Cagliostro.
For fans of Lost Souls there is even a tale which features Steve and Ghost. “America” is not so much a standalone story, but more of a teaser which follows the duo as they head west. Lost Souls II, which was never published, reportedly featured the wayward musicians in California.
Poppy Z. Brite never disappoints. The sex and violence is there. The familiar settings of North Carolina and Louisiana are present. There is even exploration of gay, bisexual, and transgender identities.
This is not Brite’s greatest work, or even greatest short story collection. Yet, the stories are still better than most of what passes for horror literature today. Brite is a voice whose absence is devastating to the genre. Read Are You Loathsome Tonight? Pray the God(ess) of Goth and Gore returns to us.