Books with Bite: The Evolution of the Vampire in Contemporary Literature

Featuring reviews of:

  • I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. Tor Books, 2007 (Reprint), 320 pp., $14.95 (paper)
  • Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist, Ebba Segerberg (translator). St. Martin’s Press, 2008, 480 pp., $15.95 (paper)
  • Dracula The Un-Dead by Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt. Dutton Adult, 2009, 432 pp., $15 (paper)
  • The Passage by Justin Cronin. Ballantine Books, 2010, 784 pp., $2 (paper)

At Home in Storyville: the Brothel Pictures of Ernest Bellocq

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On Loneliness

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At twenty-two, I joined the Peace Corps. There are plenty of reasons why people do this; some are ill conceived and don’t get shared aloud, perhaps because they can’t be articulated. For me, it was the need to escape what seemed the loneliest feeling in the world: I was in my twenties and sure I’d never be loved, equally sure that no one but I had ever felt this way before. I was years away from reading Lyn Hejinian, who illuminated the direness the woman I was at that time was certain of but couldn’t have expressed. “I would be single all my life and lonely in old age,” she explains of her own thoughts as a young woman. “In such a situation it is necessary to make a choice between contempt and an attempt at understanding, and yet it is difficult to know which is the form of retreat.” My retreat?  I left the “Country Preference” line blank on my application and hoped whereever I was sent would be far enough away that nothing could follow me. I was assigned to a small village in the middle of Uzbekistan. It could have been anywhere: Africa or China or South America; it didn’t matter.

U.S. and Them, 1971

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My father worked in a white T-shirt, off-white overalls and construction boots that were spattered with paint and crusted with Spackle. His fingers looked like wooden spindles, whitish as if they’d been stripped and then antiqued, and no matter how he scrubbed or what he wore, my father always smelled like turpentine: kind of clean and kind of poisonous. Maria said her father was an executive at General Electric. Terri’s father worked at the New York Stock Exchange. Donna told me her dad was a corporate attorney, and I had heard enough. Corporate attorney, commodities trader, CEO: suit-and-tie occupations. With the luxury of sitting behind a desk, my classmates’ fathers might as well be wearing slippers, too. I never went out of my way to tell anyone that my father was a house painter but I never denied him or what he did for a living. Whenever someone asked me who my father worked for, I was happy to announce that he worked for himself. I took pride in the fact that my father really worked for our bread and butter.

Helpline

Winner of the 2010 Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize for Essay.

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Although we weren’t exactly drug-dependent, at least in terms of how drug dependency had been defined in the mimeographed packet we’d been handed while undergoing volunteer Helpline training, and we weren’t stoners compared to some of our friends who toked even more than we did, most of us who worked shifts at the university’s telephone crisis line smoked a lot of marijuana. We joked that it was an occupational hazard. All that stress. All those panicked calls from people not right at that moment enjoying the effects of their own drugs of choice, or telling us at great length the ways their lives truly and deeply sucked. We lit up the second our shifts were over, often on the way to our cars in the union building parking lot, sharing a joint and, if someone had thought ahead, a bottle of something, anything, alcoholic. And then, weather permitting, adjournment to a nearby city park to smoke and drink some more. All that drug talk on the phone; all that human misery we couldn’t avoid ingesting a fair amount of as it cascaded over the phone: fears of where bad trips were heading, thoughts of suicide, more mundane yet really depressing narratives of loneliness—I’m so ugly, I’m so alone, I’m so pathetic I’m calling you.

A Conversation with Jo Ann Beard

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Poetry Feature: Nadine Sabra Meyer

Featuring the poems:

Poetry Feature: George Looney

Winner of the 2010 Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize for Poetry

  • To Account for Such Grace (featured as Poem of the Week, April 21, 2011)
  • Early Pastoral
  • The Consolation of a Company of Acrobats
  • A Temporary Delaying of the Inevitable

 

To Account for Such Grace

Some nights, light’s particle nature is italicized

by the downward emphasis of a steady rain.

 

History is the distance between what happened

and what we say happened. A woman without

 

an umbrella is a frail shadow hunched over

a small flame flickering between her palms

 

in a shallow alcove, the only light the flame

cupped in her hands and a sixty-watt bulb

 

somewhere behind her in the niche she’s found

that almost keeps her out of the frenzied rain.

 

If this were being painted in sixteenth-century Florence,

the woman would be a statue of the only woman

 

the church could love, the mother of God

the son, and cupped in her delicate, trembling hands

 

would be the burning heart of God become man,

having flown out of his dying chest with a last wheeze

 

from the cross. Rain, in the painting, would be

an occasion for the artist to show off his brilliance

 

with reflective surfaces, nothing more. History

might ask us to ignore the woman’s hands, the calluses,

 

how they tremble and seem too delicate to hold up

under her grief. No matter is as delicate

 

as light. Or as alluring as the face of this woman,

having a smoke, waiting out the rain. Entire histories

 

have been imagined to account for such grace.

Music has transformed the human voice

 

to make possible even a vague hint of the delicacy

of this woman’s fragrant hands, moist with mist,

 

reflecting light in ways a Renaissance master

would have bowed down to, envious, rapt.

Poetry Feature: Josh Booton

Featuring the poems:

  • Sketch with Yellow Asterisk (featured as Poem of the Week, June 14, 2011)
  • As One Stone May Be Used to Shape Another
  • Strange Shapes the Night Makes
  • Finches

 

Sketch with Yellow Asterisk

for Tommy

 

What first strikes you is the scale, the man — we know he’s a man

because she’s drawn a black hat–

looms as tall as the house beside him, the woman

in her triangle skirt to his left,

half his height, and stationed slightly closer

to the girl, a self-portrait

with a polka dot rectangle dress and spaghetti hair.

In reality, this girl beside me,

with her consolation of crayons,

has hair more russet, less curly, a nest

of tangles I’ve never noticed.  (In reality, this was years ago,

the last time I saw her, though

I still keep the picture in my bottom desk drawer).

Her figures all float a half-inch above

the grass, grass grown as long as the girl’s legs,

obscuring the threshold

of the door that leads, I would guess, to this very couch,

this room littered with toys, coverless books, therapy equipment.

I’m waiting for her mother, in the other room,

to sign the papers so I can close the file.

The girl hums beside me,

adding a second green to the grass, two windows

though this house has only one,

a few birds just so we know

the sky is there.  Outside, the sky is almost paper-white,

but more intricate, so many gradations

from cotton to milk to baby powder

to that bluish white they paint dead people on TV.

A man is walking his dog, a dachshund, like comic relief

too early in the scene, and I want to follow them

home or out into the streets of Portland

where people are

eating pastries or waiting for the bus

or singing badly a pop song while they drive.  I want

to ignore the box of donated clothes his mother handed me,

each item folded with care

like a memory, to leave this room behind,

one-dimensional as the picture the girl

tells me is finished.  There are flowers now

because, in childhood, it is always or almost

spring.  She’s added a chimney with smoke, I’ll say

to symbolize the fire at the heart of things.

And in the background, atop a small, floating hill, more

chimneys or upright cigarettes,

the same smoke snaking skyward in the same smoke-gray shade,

and one tiny star, an asterisk in canary yellow

off to the side.  I’ll ask her now, for you,

what it’s supposed to be, though I remember clearly

that yellow sweatshirt he always wore,

and how she told me, that’s Tommy. 

Mom says he’s with Grandma and Grandpa now.

And when I hesitated, still unsure of what she’d drawn,

she added, they live in Pittsburgh.

And so I’m writing this

because I found the picture yesterday while hunting for thumb tacks

and remembered him

growing thin, and thinner, and now so thin

he can live inside this picture his sister drew.

And now I can almost convince myself

she’s right: the dead living together in some city

tough enough to make them feel alive again,

pulling double shifts down at the plant

because eternity can get tedious,

smoke blooming from the stacks

because how else could heaven rest on a girder of cloud.

And we, the living, go on

pulling shifts or making love or writing poems and then, done,

stroll the neighborhood

looking for ourselves and those recesses

where the dead silver birches or kindle the throats

of small birds, and sometimes

the scale seems funny, and dusk is a window

flung suddenly open.  And you just stand there,

hearing the wind, a sound like someone sweeping up in all that

grass gone long.

The Wrong Man

This story is not currently available online.

On the evening of June 17, 1994, when Al Cowlings drove O.J.’s white Bronco fifty miles down I-405 followed by twenty helicopters and god knows how many police cars, I was working in nearby El Segundo, California, at a halfway house for men, debating what to do with the rest of my life. Through the first half of college I had planned to apply to law school, but my parents had gotten me a job at their firm the summer before my junior year, and most of my time was spent in a storage closet searching cases for mention of water rights, which made law school look much less appealing. That fall I took a social work elective on human development and began working with underprivileged children, a job I liked because it suited my nosy nature and gave me the opportunity to tell people what to do. As a lawyer I would only be involved in one side of a case (and a boring one at that, it seemed), with the verdict left in someone else’s hands, but as a social worker, I learned, I’d be making actual decisions with consequences that would better people’s lives. Plus, I wouldn’t have to go to grad school to start practicing. So I switched majors my junior year and started my job a week after graduation.