Sunday, February 21, 2016

Three erotic vampire stories from 1994: Koja & Malzberg, Holder, and Tem & Tem

I'm back on the pornographic nosferatu beat!  You like vampires, don't you?  Who doesn't?  And you like sex, yeah?  Of course!  So how can we miss with three stories from Poppy Z. Brite's 1994 anthology Love in Vein?  What's that?  The last time I read a story from Love in Vein I thought it was goofy and juvenile and wasn't even sure whether it was a genuine attempt to sexually arouse the reader or just some kind of joke?  Well, that happens to everybody sometimes!  Let's give Love in Vein another chance!  You don't really think that blue-eyed red-headed sex freak on the cover would steer us wrong, do you?

"In the Greenhouse" by Kathe Koja and Barry N. Malzberg

I've enjoyed horror work by Koja and by Malzberg in the past, and a story they did together, so I was looking forward to this one.

"In the Greenhouse" is consciously "literary," with long sentences in the present tense, many of which are poetic and consist of lists and metaphors: "Flowers surround her: plant, foliage, bonsai and bouquets, staggered floor to ceiling, wall to wall, heaped like coverlets upon and beside the refuge bed; their exhalation is gigantic in the room, their scent the smell of anguish and desire."

Lucia is a woman whom many men pursue, but while she is loved and desired, she has no feelings for any of her suitors.  A flashback suggests she enjoys teasing men both emotionally and physically, leading them on and then rejecting them, only to start leading them on again.  She absent-mindedly marries one man who courted her by sending her lots of flowers, but she finds their relationship a bore and so demands a divorce.  He sends multitudes of flowers and plants to her apartment, making it seem like a greenhouse.  The "exhalations" of the many plants, it seems, somehow kill Lucia as she sleeps, or, maybe, just put her in a coma during which she decides to change her ways--there is talk of redemption and forgiveness as well as death in the brief (six page) story's final paragraph.  Koja and Malzberg seem to be setting up an allegory--in the same way beautiful flowers arise from manure and compost and other dreadful things, perhaps a more sympathetic and kind Lucia will arise from the stink of an apartment choked with dying, rotten plants.

This story is only marginally erotic or vampiric, and it is not particularly fun or interesting.  It is a challenging puzzle, but I didn't feel much urge to figure it out, and it is so cold and distant that I didn't care about Lucia or her frustrated suitors.  Guess I gotta give this one a thumbs down.  

"Cafe Endless: Spring Rain" by Nancy Holder

I don't think I've read any of Holder's fiction before, but I was impressed by the anthology she edited with Nancy Kilpatrick, Outsiders, so I thought her fiction worth a shot.

"Cafe Endless: Spring Rain" is one of those stories about an ugly American abroad.  Americans who think themselves sophisticated, writers and academics and so forth, are always eager to express their contempt for their countrymen and tell you how much they prefer some other country.  When I was in grad school in New York the only people who ever said anything positive about the United States were the foreign students.  The American students always made sure to tell you how they only watched British TV shows and only got their news from the BBC (though some of them eventually transitioned into telling you they got all their news from that Comedy Central comedian) and how they had been to Italy or France and how those people really knew how to live and so on.  

The people in the country where this edition
of Love in Vein was published
really know how to live! 
Anyway, "Cafe Endless: Spring Rain" is about a 40-something American businesswoman, Buchner, and the 30-something Japanese businessman, Satoshi, who is showing her around Tokyo.  He has a crush on her, liking her childish, arrogant, naive American ways.  ("Americans to him were like puppies, eager, alert, bounding and fun.")  Holder talks a lot about how beautiful Tokyo is and how great Japanese culture and attitudes are, and even integrates haiku-like structures (about herons) into her text.  Satoshi and Buchner are drawn to a cafe...the very cafe where resides the lady vampire who recently seduced Satoshi at the kabuki theater and with whom he regularly has gory sado-masochistic sex sessions!

"Cafe Endless:Spring Rain" fulfills our expectations of explicit vampirism and explicit weird sex (wooden stake as sex toy!)  Mostly it is a mood piece, a love letter to Japan.  "The joy of being Japanese was that each action existed for itself, and fulfillment was possible in infinite, discrete moments."  Does it make sense to include Western folklore (all that vampire and stake and sunlight jazz) in a story about how admirable Japanese culture is?  Whatevs!

Satoshi, after drinking absinthe and coffee with Buchner, sends her back to her hotel and has sex with the vampire.  As he has been hoping for some time, the vampire woman turns him into a vampire.  Together the Japanese lovers fly to Buchner's hotel room and have sex with her and drink her blood while she sleeps.  Nowadays we call that rape, but perhaps it is just a dream that the lady vampire is providing Satoshi.  The last page of the story is very poetical and a little opaque, but I think Satoshi and his lover allow the sunlight to burn them to death, and they become beautiful ghosts that fly like herons.  (I've seen plenty of herons here in the good ol' USA, and I agree, they are beautiful.)  The reader remembers that ten pages ago Satoshi told Buchner to go to such and such a place to see ghosts, and we know she will soon see his ghost there and perhaps both Sathoshi and Buchner, across the barriers of culture and of death, will enjoy an "infinite, discrete and fulfilling moment" together.

Holder worked hard to throw a lot of Japanese stuff in there (the rising sun that kills the vampires, for example, and starting the story with a reference to the season, which an American who married a Japanese once told me is how Japanese traditionally begin correspondence) and I guess I'll judge this one acceptable to mildly recommended.

"The Marriage" by Steve Rasnic Tem and Melanie Tem

Whoa, just the title of this one is scary, right, guys?  Oh, we're just joking, ladies, you know that!  Please don't rat me out to the twitter ruling council!

I thought Melanie Tem's story "The Country of the Blind" was powerful, and awarded it five out of five empty eye sockets, and so had high hopes for this one.

The immortal vampire in this story feeds on people's feelings--negative feelings, like fear, anger, grief, etc.  He also feeds on people's bodily fluids, including those fluids we generally deposit in the toilet.  (Yuck!)  As you might expect of an evil parasitic monster with the power to become invisible and otherwise change its appearance, the vampire spends most of his time raping and murdering strangers.  This vampire embraces diversity, and doesn't discriminate based on age or sex, unlike movie vampires who are always victimizing pretty young women.

After putting in a long day raping teenage girls, their fathers, and anybody else who happens along, the vampire always returns home to his loving wife to devour her emotions, secretions and excretions.  These two have been together since she was fifteen; she is now in her nineties and near death.  The vampire's wife is a very emotional woman, prone to rages and fits of tears, and they have had a symbiotic relationship for the last eight decades--he relieves her of all that excess emotion, which provides him with sustenance.  She truly loves him, but he, as an immortal cold-blooded monster for whom a decade is like a blink of an eye, feels no love in return.

I suppose the main goal of this story is to point out how miserable our lives are: the loneliness, the fear, the way we deteriorate and die, and the inequality and exploitation that characterize our relationships.  On the last  page, when the vampire's wife has died and he is leaving their home to continue preying on the populace, the vampire, for a brief moment, suspects himself of feeling some affection for his dead wife, even of having loved her.  Do the Tems mean to suggest that, however terrible our lives may be, that generous human relationships offer some glimmer of hope?              

This is more of a character study and mood piece than a plot-driven story, but I think it works.  Mild to moderate recommendation.


Their authors put a great deal of effort into these stories, trying to make them "literary," but while the Tems' tale is pretty disgusting and a little depressing, none of them is as scary, sexy, or entertaining as I had hoped they would be.  There is something academic, flat, cold or distant about them that kept me from having the emotional reaction one expects to get from effective horror or erotica.  Maybe this material just didn't push my buttons.

I don't know if I will be reading any more stories from Love in Vein, but in our next episode we'll be exploring more 1990s horror fiction that seeks to cross boundaries and push the envelope.        

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