Written by: Matthew J. Barbour
During the 1990s, Poppy Z. Brite’s narratives served to define the subgenres of erotic horror, splatterpunk, and southern gothic. Brite wrote ultraviolent and extremely sexual tales centered in the American South. Filled with bisexual, gay, and transgender characters, Brite pushed boundaries well past mainstream horror.
Brite’s first novel, Lost Souls, was released in 1992. It combined the sultry decadence of Interview with a Vampire, by Ann Rice, with the unabashed violence of The Light at the End, by John Skipp and Craig Spector. Like its predecessors, it was a vampire novel. However, unlike many other author’s interpretations, the vampires in Lost Souls were not transformed humans, but a breed apart from humanity.
Lost Souls followed a myriad of characters, including the infamous Steve and Ghost which figure prominently in a number of Brite’s stories. Together, the duo form the band “Lost Souls” for which the novel is named. This particular story deals with the two’s run in with a young fan, known as “Nothing.”
Nothing was born a vampire. Abandoned by his kind, Nothing is an outsider among the humans, but he is also a blank slate. He sets off to find out who he is and where he comes from. This leads him to a “Lost Souls” concert and the place of his birth in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Through his journey, Nothing will come face to face with the being that sired him and the humans from which he craves comradery.
Nothing, as well as the humans and vampires he encounters, are the engine by which the author explores identity, the complexity of human relationships, and Brite’s own sexual ambiguity. It is a tale of how alienation and acceptance go hand in hand. Key to this discussion is Nothing’s incestuous relationship with his father, the vampire Zillah. Zillah is inherently evil, the cause for Nothing’s birth, and the reasons for his mother’s demise. To Nothing, Zillah is lover and father. To Zillah, Nothing is a pet and curiosity.
Steve and Ghost find themselves intertwined with the fate of these two vampires, when Steve’s ex-girlfriend Ann becomes impregnated by Zillah. It is death sentence. Vampires are not so much born, but devour their way from the womb, killing the host. Can Steve and Ghost save Ann from such a fate? The conclusion will shock you.
To many, Lost Souls was Poppy Z. Brite’s greatest achievement before settling into a self-inflicted retirement in 2010. While such claims are certainly debatable, it remains a classic. It is one of most memorable vampire novels ever written. The only question that remains is will we ever see a Lost Souls II?