Tag Archives: Edgar Allan Poe

Suffered from the Night: Queering Stoker’s Dracula – Steve Berman, ed. (Lethe Press)

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Hot on the heels of Berman’s Where Thy Dark Eye Glances, a queering of Edgar Allan Poe, and Joseph DeMarco’s A Study in Lavender, which gave the same treatment to Sherlock Holmes, comes Suffered from the Night, which takes on the Dracula mythos. With these three volumes, Lethe Press is quickly becoming the go-to publisher for the re-imagining of icons. And that’s a mighty sweet place to be. Even sweeter is the fact that the stories get better and better.

As with the other two books, the authors represented in Suffered from the Night draw their inspirations from major and minor characters in the text–some even unnamed–as well as those who present us their takes on the vampire myth in general. The kickoff story, Lee Thomas’s chilling “The Tattered Boy” is among those. This tale of a vampire boy and the college professor he terrorizes puts the reader in the appropriate time frame and mood. When beginning a vampire book, you can hardly go wrong with a Lee Thomas story. Just as literary, but more Stoker-based is Livia Llewellyn’s “Yours is the Right to Begin,” which plumbs the origins and attitudes of Dracula’s three “weird sisters,” as Jonathan Harker calls them, and does so with such sumptuous language as to take your breath away. Ed Madden‘s poem, “Self Portrait as Jonathan Harker,” continues the text-based entries.

Damon Shaw’s magnificently engaging “Seven Lovers and the Sea” explores from the sailor’s point of view what happened aboard the Demeter on that fateful voyage departing from Varna Quay, and Jason Andrew’s stately, moody “The Calm of Despair” tells the immediate aftermath of the Demeter’s landing through the eyes of one of Count Dracula’s solicitors. Elka Cloke’s epistolary and wholly successful “Bloofer Ladies” explores the relationship (which always had a lesbian subtext to me) between Mina Harker and Lucy Westerna complete with a darkly disturbing ending that sees Harker and Westerna reuniting in a ruined abbey several years hence.

Back to the epistolary form (an unsurprising choice, considering the source material) for William P. Coleman’s “The Powers of Evil,” which retells the last chapter of the story and includes Arthur Holmwood’s unrequited love for not only Jonathan Harker but an old lust for Jack Seward as well. Holmwood and Westerna also play key roles in Traci Castleberry’s “My Arms Are Hungry,” told from the point of view of one of the “bloofer lady” children. One of the most creative entries, Jeff Mann’s “Protect the King,” takes the unnamed gypsy driving the cart containing Dracula’s body, and invents a wonderful servant named Boldo for the vampire lord. As usual, Mann’s research into the Romany culture is thorough and totally entwined in the story.

Rajan Khanna’s “Hungers” is a nicely paced, action-packed romp with a nice twist or two that sees the offspring of the major human characters in the original text carrying on their forefathers’ (and foremothers’) work in doing battle with the undead race, this time with the evil Baron Winters. Steve Berman‘s own “The Letter that Doomed Nosferatu” strikes an uneasy balance between comedy and foreboding as it looks at the cinematic premiere of F.W. Murnau‘s Nosferatu as attended by a man and his companion, who might just be the film’s subject. This, however, is a perfect set-up for perhaps the oddest, yet most compelling story here–Laird Barron’s “Ardor,” which combines vampires, snuff films, and an Alaskan aircrash in a totally engaging and perverse read. Sven Davisson updates the undead for the texting Twitter generation in his New Orleans-set “A Closer Walk With Thee,” and Seth Cadin ends the collection with an oddly wistful “Unhallowed Ground.”

Nothing in this collection seems out of place or lacking in any respect. It’s of a piece with the other two anthologies referencing Holmes and Poe, which makes this the last entry in an anthologic trilogy. One can only hope Berman’s visionary stance never shifts and we get something equally as wonderful. Soon.

©  2013  Jerry L. Wheeler

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My Dear Watson – L.A. Fields (Lethe Press)

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I started my love affair with Sherlock Holmes when I was a pre-teen, sometime after Edgar Allan Poe and before Ray Bradbury, so I was well acquainted with reading stories with one hand on an open dictionary. I had, of course, enjoyed the movies with Basil Rathbone, but something about the character grabbed me more than the mysteries did. Oh, they were interesting enough, but not as interesting as Holmes himself. The queerling in me recognized a kindred soul, but I would never have thought Watson shared his bed. In L.A. Fields’ wonderfully imagined My Dear Watson, this relationship is explored in detail.

And who explores this relationship? It’s seen in detail by Watson’s second wife, and in a particular bit of genius, Fields chooses to have her review Watson’s affair with Holmes on a chronological basis according to case. Thus, she begins with their meeting in 1874 on “The Adventure of the Gloria Scott” and sees them through their ups and downs (including Watson’s first marriage) to their final case together, “The Last Bow” in 1914. But this is, in itself, framed and commented on by Mrs. Watson during a visit Holmes makes to them after his retirement in 1919.

Naturally, she dislikes the effect Holmes has on Watson; the inexorable pull he maintains on the doctor would be enough to drive anyone close to Watson round the bend, and in the segments about Holmes’ visit in 1919 are fraught with tension as she and Holmes do a bit of sparring:

“Hmmmm,” I hum brightly at him, and once again his face goes sour. I’m sure he heard every subtle facet of that noise, my implication that I know his nature, that I imagine he would be Watson’s wife if he could, my lording over him the fact that I have that official status in Watson’s life, that I have won. It is a hit against him, a palpable hit. Alas, however, I am playing against a master, and I can admit when I’ve clearly been outdone. “You are such a unique person,” Holmes says poisonously. “What a shame that history will most likely never remember your name.”

Holmes can be such a bitch. But we always knew that about him, didn’t we?

All Holmesiana is covered, from his cocaine addiction (“The Sign of the Four”) to his faked death and three year disappearance at the hands of the evil Professor Moriarty (“The Final Solution”) as well as the effects all of these events have on his paramour, Dr. Watson. What I find most admirable about My Dear Watson is how familiar Fields is with the Casebook and how effortlessly she weaves some of the principal characters from the mysteries themselves into the relationship between Holmes and Watson, creating jealousy, confusion, and empathy at times between the men. It’s masterful work, and only someone with a thorough knowledge of the stories could have accomplished it.

Fields also does masterful work voicing Watson’s second wife, a woman with wit and intelligence who not only realizes her husband’s faults, but knows that they are outweighed by his virtues. As seen above, she is wary of Holmes but respects his hold on her husband and does not try to break those bonds for fear they would only grow stronger. Fields finds her voice from the very get-go and never once falters. Kudos are also due to Lethe Press, which seems to be scoring well in the “queering” genre, as evidenced by its recent queering of Edgar Allan Poe (Where Thy Dark Eye Glances) as well another upcoming volume queering Dracula. This volume fits well with those.

Extremely readable and undeniably creative, My Dear Watson should be on your bookshelf if you have even a passing interest in Sherlock Holmes. And even if you don’t, this is a remarkable portrait of fame, its effects, and the power one man can hold over another.

©  2013  Jerry L. Wheeler

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