Short Stories 365/253

“Saint Louis, 1990” by Jewelle Gomez from Night Shadows: Queer Horror (Bold Strokes Books 2012). Edited by Greg Herren and J.M. Redmann.

“Gilda was more than alive.”

What a great opening line. Who in their right mind could look away after that? What a way to characterize vampirism. Not “undead” but “more than alive”. That’s fantastic.

In the last review I didn’t go into the mechanics of the immortality in this series. Gilda and the members of her vampire family do not kill when they feed, and they always give something back in the form of a psychological boon. They are somewhat telepathic in that they can read a person’s thoughts, or maybe sense their emotions. They can get a bead on what it is that a person—I hesitate to use the term “victim”—fears or desires most, and they implant an idea related to that in their minds, in exchange for the blood they’ve taken. They boost the person’s confidence or allay their fears. That might not be the sort of vampire story you’re seeking, but it works for me.

When we catch up to Gilda this time she’s hurrying home to her partner, Effie. She’s waylaid by Samuel, a rogue member of their vampire family. He holds a grudge against Gilda because he feels she replaced him as the favorite of the vampire who created them. He’s right, but it’s not Gilda’s fault, not owing to any action she took. Samuel can’t understand that, though, and he’s seeking revenge.

Gilda arrives home to find Effie gone, but no signs of foul play. Instead there’s a note telling her that she’s gone to meet up with two other members of their vampire family, who are back in town. Sorel and Anthony were mentioned in yesterday’s story, and it was nice to learn more about them here. I wasn’t expecting to change viewpoints to Sorel, and that was a bit jarring, but overall the shift was welcome. I liked being able to see Gilda and the entire situation from another perspective. Sorel is even older than Gilda, and doesn’t share her romantic notions about existence. His take on the disgruntled vampire Samuel and what must be done about him is not nearly as sympathetic as hers.

There’s a lot of back story interspersed with the current action in this installment. Now, I’m one for lots and lots of detail, but even I began to feel somewhat overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the information I was being asked to digest. That said, I absolutely loved the unfolding theme of the piece, about the dangers of ignorance and self-pity combining to create a fear-filled, destructive, and ultimately irredeemable being.

I can’t wait to read the rest of Gilda’s stories.

Short Stories 365/252

“Storyville 1910” by Jewelle Gomez from Saints & Sinners 2010: New Fiction from the Festival (Queer Mojo).

We’re taking a small detour because the next story up in Night Shadows and this one are both part of The Gilda Stories. I skipped reviewing this story in January because the author was the guest judge for the Saints and Sinners New Fiction contest  which I’d entered, and it seemed like a conflict of interest.

I was not expecting the anthology to include a vampire story, and it was a welcome surprise. I like some vampire stories quite a lot. That is to say I like vampire fiction that reads more like historical fiction and makes a lot of social commentary as it goes.

Go figure, I really like this.

The story is set in the New Orleans district called Storyville, the city’s red light district, created by politicians to keep undesirable businesses out of the tonier neighborhoods. Gilda is a vampire who started life in 1850 as a slave. She’s come back to Storyville looking for one of the two vampires who gave her refuge and immortality after she escaped the plantation. Instead, she finds another character from her past (and an actual figure in New Orleans history). They’ve barely had a chance to speak when there’s a knock at the door. They discover two half-frozen young girls on the doorstep, and soon learn that they fled an abusive boss in a nearby brothel. Of course they give them refuge, and of course the girls’ abuser comes after them. The drama provides a perfect framework for the author to tell us all about Gilda’s life after the plantation, and comment on the mistreatment of people of color and women in this country. It was fascinating and prescient, as only history can be. Consider this passage:

“But the world had gone crazy since Jack Johnson won the heavyweight championship. White men wrapped up their worst hatred and insecurities in the black boxer’s win over his white opponent earlier in the year. Gilda didn’t want to engage with another one who blamed the world’s ills on a black man’s success.”

Naturally, I added the collection to my list of things to read.

Short Stories 365/123

“Stained Glass” by Karis Walsh from Saints and Sinners 2013: New Fiction from the Festival (Bold Strokes Books).

Full disclosure: I have a story in this anthology.

The method the author uses to tell this story is fascinating. She alternates between the point of view of each of the two characters and sections of “Stained Glass”, the graphic novel they are creating together, by mail, without ever having met in person or even spoken on the phone. They can’t do those things because Anne is a virtual prisoner, subject to having very nearly every move she makes tracked by her domineering, violent husband. She manages to carve out thin slivers of time in which to write installments of the “book” (to steal a term from musical theatre) for the graphic novel and send them off to Rory, who is every bit as trapped by her own situation.

Possibly Rory is agoraphobic; maybe she’s OCD; or it could also be that her affliction is a combination of those disorders, I’m not sure. Regardless, drawing is her means of escape. Together they’ve crafted a story about a woman, Sage, who is abducted by a dark figure with the specious self-bestowed moniker The Redeemer, and a heroine named Kristall who must come to her rescue. Communicating via the book and illustrations, they’ve also built a fascinating and unusual relationship, and found the encouragement each needed to push the boundaries of her confinement. But is the bond they’ve forged strong enough to allow each woman to fully break free from her respective prison and join forces for real? The story is extremely open ended. It seems likely that this is the beginning of a larger story. I’d love to know what happens next.

A familiar question.

I’m watching Frontline, about a 13 year old girl in Pakistan who accuses four men of gang-raping her. The local leaders expected her family to kill her, but instead they fled their home, left everything behind, and are supporting her claim and seeking justice through the courts.

Her attorney just said that in Pakistan there is no such thing as the police collecting forensic evidence or securing a crime scene, no way to prove guilt or innocence. Because of this, the attorney says, before he agrees to represent a client he asks himself “Why would this girl lie? In a traditionalist society? She will be an outcast. She will never get married. She’s destined to be killed by someone from her own family, because she’s impure now. So why will this girl lie? She must have a very strong motive, or she must be mad.”