LostLost Souls Souls by Poppy Z Brite

Published by: Dell

Format: Paperback

Genre: Paranormal Vampire Horror

Reviewed by: Judith and Santino

Score: We didn’t bother!

[Warning] Lots of spoilers for this one…and we get wordy…

We’ve all been there: you read a book a few years back and now, brimming over with nostalgia and love for all those half-forgotten scenes you want to whip that book out and reread it.

But maybe…you’re a little trepidatious?You remember something about dirty hot vampires who liked to rip out throats and play at being rock stars. You remember a pervading sense of horror as humans and half humans and creatures of the night vie for top billing as the creepiest character. You remember one particular scene so grotesque that it’s literally haunted you FOR YEARS and that’s when you think, “Man, what this reread really needs is a buddy. Stat.”

So I found myself one…and oh yeah, it’s author Santino Hassell.

Santino and I set out to read Poppy Z Brite’s Lost Souls over the course of a week. We each pulled out our battered and tattered paperbacks from our sad emo childhoods and set to work. The result? For two people who had adored this particular read as teens, we had two rather different takes as adults…

Plot: Sex, blood and rock’n’roll – presented here from the master of gothic horror. At a club in Missing Mile, the children of the night gather. They dress in black and they’re looking for acceptance. There’s Ghost, who sees what others do not; Ann, looking for love; and Jason, whose real name is Nothing, seeking the deathless truth about his father – and himself. But into Missing Mile tonight come three beautiful, hip vagabonds: Molochai, Twig and seductive, green-eyed Zillah. They are on their own lost journey, slaking their ancient thirst for blood, aching for supple young flesh. In Nothing and Ann they find it. Now Ghost must pursue them all. To save Ann from her new friends, to save Nothing from himself. First published in the early 90s, “Lost Souls” redefined the vampire novel for a new generation and remains unsurpassed in its dark wit, graphic descriptions and its power to send shivers of panic and pleasure down your spine…

Santino’s review: I’d decided to reread Lost Souls about four years ago but never got around to it until this past month. It was something I’d put off because while I remembered having problems with it, I couldn’t recall exactly what those issues were and I was reluctant to ruin the warm feelings of nostalgia that Poppy Z Brite’s (now Billy Martin although he still goes by PZB professionally) books gave me.

I’d first read Lost Souls as a kid and I distinctly recall being stoked because it was one of the first books I’d read with gay and bisexual characters. Gay and bisexual characters who weren’t being bashed or cast away by their loved ones. The queer characters in LS were powerful in their own ways. It’s a horror novel so those ways are often disturbing  but for the first time I was reading about queer people who were not victims. That really meant something to me.

Even after a couple of decades, I still love the lushness of PZB’s prose. I loved how bleak and angsty his characters are. I love how they’re over the top and painfully 90s grunge or goth. There are so many lines that deserved to be highlighted that I won’t even begin to try to quote them all, but even now I think the world of Missing Mile is dark in this really beautiful and ethereal way. If anyone could tempt me to willfully step into a place marked by tragedy it would be PBZ. I can’t resist the siren call of his writing.

But there are still problems. And they’re problems that I can’t ignore as an adult. Namely the multiple assaults of Ann and how the other characters respond to it. Ann entered Lost Souls as someone that had been abused and victim blamed, and then she is treated as a vehicle for her attacker’s crisis while being used as a punching bag by almost every character until she finally dies. It’s awful and tragic and deeply disturbing. Instead of walking away from this book with satisfaction that my nostalgia was warranted, I wandered away disappointed and distressed.

Judith’s review:  As the title suggests, Lost Souls is ultimately a story about being lost and found, about discovering your true place in a world that cares nothing about you. It uses a trio of sexy, murderous vampires as a means to drive home the point that everyone has a place and absolutely nothing is black and white. That there’s no good and no evil. That monsters exist every day. And while sometimes they can be uber-sexed up and overly violent creatures of the night, Brite spends the entire book very clearly pointing out the fact that the true monsters in the world are the humans. [spoilers] There’s an overbearing and religious father who commits incest with his teenage daughter; a main character who is reeling from a breakup and chooses rape as his method of rage release; and a set of adoptive parents who clearly want to be seen as forward thinking but instead end up stifling their son and forcing him down a path that leads to drugs and possibly death. This approach to the traditional horror novel is refreshing and intriguing now in a way it wasn’t when I read it years ago. Flipping the table of what should read as horrific and disturbing? Genius.

One of the highlights of Lost Souls is how extremely LGBTQ friendly it is. While it may seem pedestrian now, there were so few books in the 80s and 90s that included diverse characters of any kind. Yet Brite threw in so many that it makes them feel normal and common place. It’s an awesome attitude to have at the time and as Santino mentions, a great touchstone for a lot of LGBTQ youth who might not have seen many characters like this before.

Other than these two bits of novelty, I gotta admit: this whole book falls flat for me. The vampires are what they are – erotic, hedonistic blood suckers who live their lives to the fullest with no thought for the future – but they are completely over the top and more often than not, read as caricatures of what vampires should be. They are aimless and have seemingly nothing more important in their lives than enjoying the night through sex, blood, and rock n’ roll.  That’s all well and good but I seriously cannot fathom why someone would live for potentially hundreds of years and do nothing more exciting than eat hohos and drink blood infused alcohol. It just seems like a waste of life to me and a failed attempt at the author to make this sort of lifestyle edgy.

All in all, I came away from this reread with my gold-burnished nostalgia tainted and wilting. It was lovely to revisit such an integral part of my past but I’ll be the first to admit, it didn’t make me happy. Definitely get Lost Souls to understand what influenced a lot of modern day horror and paranormal authors but be ready, like Santino, for the possibility of disappointment.

————

This Buddy Read review is part of a bimonthly series I’ll be doing along with other authors and book readers. Check back periodically to see the list of who’s up next.

For more information about Santino Hassell and his writing, please check out:

www.santinohassell.com | www.inthecompanyofshadows.com

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