Drawing Blood – Poppy Z. Brite

Evening Star Books – 1993

I had read two Poppy Z. Brite books before starting Drawing Blood. While I enjoyed both Lost Souls and Swamp Foetus, I also felt that I would have enjoyed them even more if I had encountered them when I was younger. I felt the same way about Drawing Blood for the first few chapters. I kept telling my wife how much I was enjoying it. The story set up was weird, but it had a queer computer hacker, a haunted house, and a stripper in a Ministry t-shirt. Things were off to a very good start.

When Trevor was just a little kid, his dad went nuts and killed his whole family in a house in the small town of Missing Mile. As an adult, Trevor goes back to this house to confront his past. When he’s there, he meets Zach, a hacker who is on the run from the government. They fall madly in love with each other, but before they run away together, they try to come to terms with Trevor’s past.

Unfortunately, I found the second half of the book almost unbearable. The following paragraphs contain spoilers, so skip to the last paragraph if you’re planning to read the book.

I am a prude, and I don’t like extended descriptions of sex, straight or gay. There’s some pretty long sex scenes here. I’m sure these are really great for some readers, but I didn’t like them.

I didn’t like the fact that the climax of book occurred while the protagonists were tripping on mushrooms. I’ve read and enjoyed plenty of books about drug users and their experiences, but it felt a bit cheap for the resolution of the story to take place while the characters were high on psychedelics. They witnessed poltergeist activity in real life, and the drug trip at the end felt gratuitous and unsatisfying.

There’s a long, unnecessary scene in which Zach becomes a singer in a local rock band and plays a concert. This dude is on the run, and he agrees to perform his first concert ever. It turns out he is actually a rock god, and he gives the performance of a lifetime. This was entirely unbelievable and painfully cringey. Even as I teenager this would have made me balk. Thinking about it now is making me uncomfortable.

At the end of the book, the two protagonists escape from the United States and go and live in Jamaica. Yes, the two gay men go and live happily in Jamaica. One of them grows dreads, and they spend their days singing reggae and smoking weed with the Rastas. Makes sense, right? I mean, if Jamaica is known for anything, it’s the fact that it’s a living paradise for homosexuals.

I know some people love this book, but I found it very disappointing. I’m a straight guy in my late 30s, so I’m not the target audience for this work, but that didn’t stop me enjoying Lost Souls and Swamp Foetus. Drawing Blood was just a little too vampirefreaks.com for me. That said, I will defintely be reading Brite’s novel Exquisite Corpse in the future.,

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.