Swamp Foetus – Poppy Z. Brite

Swamp Foetus – Poppy Z. Brite


Penguin Books – 1995 (Originally published 1993)

I read Poppy Z. Brite’s novel, Lost Souls, a few years ago, and this, his first collection of short stories, is more of the same. I’m a straight guy in my mid 30s, and I enjoyed the Hell out of this book, but if, by chance, you’re a queer goth teenager, throw whatever the fuck you’re reading in the garbage and read this instead. This reminds me so much of people I used to hang out with when I was younger that it made me quite nostalgic.

These are mostly stories about skinny, sensitive, gay goth boys who drink too much. They encounter geeks, zombies, corpse thieves and other freaks. ‘His Mouth Will Taste of Wormwood’ might be my favourite story of the bunch, but I also really enjoyed reading about Steve and Ghost from Lost Souls in ‘How to Get ahead in New York’ and ‘Angels’. I know that Brite’s 2nd novel also features characters from that Lost Souls, and I intend to read that one soon too.

I realised about halfway through ‘Xenophobia’ that I had read it before in the second Splatterpunks anthology. I have seen Poppy Z. Brite associated with Splatterpunk but I don’t know why. His writing is too good. The last story in this collection, while plenty violent, reminded me more of Ligotti than anything else.

A few years back, I wrote a fairly critical review of a book of Vampiric black magic. Somebody, probably the author, made fun of me for it by saying I should stick to Poppy Z. Brite books. I am happy to take this very good advice. Poppy Z. Brite books are awesome.

What a dick!

If you want to read this collection, it might be easier to find the Dell edition titled Wormwood. It’s the same book. Be careful though, because there is also a collection by Brite titled His Mouth Will Taste of Wormwood. That one only contains 4 of these stories.

I really enjoyed Swamp Foetus. There was one story about a little kid dying that was a bit upsetting, but it ended the way I hoped it would. I am looking forward to reading more Poppy Z. Brite in the future.

More Fuckin’ Vampires – Poppy Z. Brite’s Lost Souls

poppy z brite lost soulsLost Souls – Poppy Z. Brite
Penguin – 1994 (first published 1992)

I had no idea what this book was going to be about when I bought it. I was a bit disappointed once I realised it was about vampires, but I was already too far in to consider switching to something else.

It turned out to be far gayer (it’s absolutely full of dudes kissing dudes) and far more goth than I was expecting, but I actually really liked it.

Lost Souls ticks all of the necessary boxes for it to be classified as Gothic literature. I know wikipedia isn’t authoritative by any means, but it currently lists the following as the defining elements of Gothic fiction:

Virginal maiden – “young, beautiful, pure, innocent, kind, virtuous and sensitive. Usually starts out with a mysterious past and it is later revealed that she is the daughter of an aristocratic or noble family.” Nothing, the mysterious teenager is revealed to be the son of a Vampire. He’s virginal in the sense that he has not yet drank blood.
Hero Ghost, the sensitive, caring weirdo is undoubtedly the hero of this story.
Tyrant/villain/evil characters Zillah is a classic Gothic villain, absolutely self-absorbed and evil.
Bandits/ruffians Zillah’s two goons, Twig and Molochai.
The setting – “The plot is usually set in a castle, an abbey, a monastery, or some other, usually religious edifice, and it is acknowledged that this building has secrets of its own. This gloomy and frightening scenery sets the scene for what the audience has already come to expect. “ Most of the book is set in New Orleans graveyards, dingy, dimly lit rock concerts, and an archaic magic shop.
Night journeys Ghost and Steve do an awful lot of driving at night, the vampires also.
Madness The vampire’s bloodlust/Steve’s lack of self control
Miraculous survivals Christian survives being shot in the chest. Zillah recovers from a baseball-bat smashed face.

Lost Souls is clearly a Gothic novel, but more noticeably, it’s a goth novel. I use the word “goth” here in the teenage Skinny Puppy fan sense of the word. The book takes its title from its hero’s angsty, mystical rock band, and I think all of the other characters in the book have long, dyed-black hair.

south park goth kidsLost Souls is exactly the kind of book that these kids would read.

The protagonist of the book is 15 years old, and his name is Nothing. He cuts himself and runs away from home because his parents don’t understand him… I found the 32 year old part of me cringing occasionally while reading through this, but my inner angsty teenager loved every page.

Lost Souls is a pretty cool book, quite a few steps above some of the modern horror I’ve reviewed here recently. I look forward to reading more of Poppy Z. Brite’s books in the future.