Nocturnal House: Lost Souls

Guess what, Snarklings? It’s time for another visit to The Nocturnal House! Here, let me light a few candles and pour a glass of absinthe ”¦ though a glass of Chartreuse would be more thematically appropriate, considering the book I’m going to talk about this time.

Let me set the WayBack Machine to September of 1992. Fangoria magazine had just released a special all-vampire issue, featuring articles on the upcoming movie of Dracula, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, the Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie, Innocent Blood, and other vampire-themed content. I bought it, of course; how could I not? And amongst all the movie news, there was an article about the “10 best vampire books”. There were some obvious choices, such as Dracula (Vintage Classics) and Interview with the Vampire. Then there were ones that I had never heard of, such as George R. R. Martin’s Fevre Dream, or Delicate Dependency: A Novel of Vampire Life by Michael Talbot. (I ended up tracking both of those down, and I’m sure I’ll end up featuring them in future wanderings through The Nocturnal House.)

The “10 best” list also included a book that hadn’t been released yet:

Lost Souls, by Poppy Z. Brite.

Brite takes the vampiric themes of estrangement and love of the dark and perfectly grafts them onto an underground punk subculture, casting a spell in wet lace and smudged eyeliner.

I knew I had to read it. My parents, ever-amused and tolerant of my endlessly-growing collection of horror novels, gave me a copy of the hardback for Christmas that year. I feverishly read it from cover to cover in a few hours that day, sitting in a corner at the family gathering. (Which is not as anti-social/tortured Goth -behavior as you may think: my family was used to me sitting in a corner and reading a book during the holidays. Christmas always means new books! That must be read!)

Three vampires who could be easily mistaken for ferociously-partying rock stars blaze into New Orleans at the close of Mardi Gras, and find a small, dim bar owned by another of their kind. While Twig and Molochi share blood with Christian, the bar owner, Zillah, the leader of the hedonistic three, seduces Jessie, the teen-aged runaway girl who hangs out at Christian’s bar. The next day, Zillah, Twig, and Molochi leave town, headed for wherever strikes their fancy.

However, Jessie is pregnant. And while humans and vampires are close enough to breed, the birth is always fatal to the mother. Christian, hoping to spare the baby a lifetime of blood-soaked nights, spirits him away to a nameless, prosperous-looking suburb. He leaves the baby on the doorstep of a house, with a note saying “His name is Nothing. Care for him and he will bring you luck” pinned to the blanket.

Little Nothing is taken in by the couple who found him. They call him Jason, and he grows up feeling alienated, alone, and that there has to be something more to life than hanging out with other disaffected teens and waiting for life in the suburbs to suffocate him. Searching through his parents’ things, he finds the note that arrived with him, latches onto it as proof that he doesn’t belong, and decides to run away. His vague destination is Missing Mile, the home of the band Lost Souls?, who’s music he idolizes. While on the road, he catches a ride in a van housing three punkish party animals, who induct him into a life of drugs, sex, and blood.

“He had drunk from the bottle of blood without choking, without spitting or gagging . To the contrary — the blood had seemed to revive him, freshen his skin, brighten his eyes.

Most hitchhikers were glad enough to party with them, to share a pipe or a tab of acid or a tumble on the mattress. Then — always after these pleasures, for it made their blood sweeter — the wine bottle was brought out. Or the whiskey bottle, or whatever they had put the latest batch in. This was Molochi and Twig’s favorite part: the hitchhiker, already drunk or high or fried on acid, would swig eagerly from the bottle. Then his eyes — or her eyes — would grow big and frightened, and his mouth — or her mouth — would twist in terror and disgust as the blood drooled back out of it, and Molochi, Twig, and Zillah would be upon him. Or her. One rescuing the wine bottle, one holding the hitchhiker’s panicked hands, and one at the throat. The sweet, rended, pulsing throat. Or the belly. Or the crotch. Anywhere would do, any spot that would bleed.”

There’s more to the book, of course. There’s the two friends who make up Lost Souls? — quiet, spooky, possibly psychic Ghost, and Steve, the surly rocker boy who is secretly being devoured by his broken heart. There’s Anne, Steve’s ex-girlfriend who has an unfortunate taste for danger and dangerous people. And there’s Christian — ancient, taciturn, tired of feeling alone, but of a different time and generation than the raucous trio of Twig, Molochi, and Zillah. All of these people end up colliding in the worst possible way.

It’s a little difficult to explain what a world-changer Lost Souls was when it was first published. Sure, there were other vampire books with blood-splattered violence and punkish characters (such as Skipp and Spector’s The Light At The End), but Lost Souls was one of the first books to portray the strange, grimy allure of blood-soaked nihilism combined with lurid sex, and it was certainly the first vampire book I know of that spoke to the black-clad Goth shadows; not just spoke to us, but was built on the chiming undertones from our music and armored with our leather jackets and torn lace:

“Right now it was sainted Bauhaus, the pale long-boned gods of this crowd, doing “Bela Lugosi’s Dead.” The eyeliner eyes glazed and the black lipstick lips moved in time with the words, and the children danced slowly, for their blood was thin, and they were under the spell of the DJ and the music and the night.”

For all the morbid creatures of the night who thrilled to being afraid of the possibility of monsters in the dark while simultaneously wanting to become monsters themselves, Lost Souls was heady, heady stuff. It was everyone’s worst (and needless to say, wrong) suspicions about Goth, wrapped up in a sticky-sweet, darkly decadent confection that tasted of clove cigarettes, mysterious herbal liqueurs that glowed green, and blood. In other words, if you were a spooky gothling in your late teens or early twenties, Lost Souls hit you like a baseball bat to the head.

“‘such a fine, straight, hard hard piece of wood. But so plain. It needs brightening up, don’t you think? ”¦ with some pretty red GORE? ”¦ and some silky blond HAIR? ”¦ and some MAGIC BRAAAINS?”‘

Zillah’s voice rose to a shriek on the last word, and he raised the bat high above his head.”

Lost Souls is not for everyone, not by a long shot. There are people who are disgusted by the violence, there are people who don’t want to read vampire sex scenes (of all types and orientations), and there are people who find everyone in the book too damaged and reprehensible to want to spend any time with. All of which are understandable reactions. But to me, Lost Souls is a classic. It’s the literary bad boy (very bad boy) cousin to the movie The Lost Boys; the sex, drugs, and violence are very explicitly shown, and there’s no plucky younger brother, oddball friends, or quirky grandfather to save the day. When I want to indulge in nostalgia for my confused and wildly over-emotional younger self who had a taste for the wrong sorts of guys and for situations she probably should have thought (more than) twice about, Lost Souls is the first thing I reach for.

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22 Responses to Nocturnal House: Lost Souls

  1. Lucy says:

    This sounds amazing. I particularly like the last extract, probably because I’m a bloodthirtsy little demon. ^_^ I’ll have to get this from the library!

  2. laura cooper says:

    Great Article, but just a quick question, any idea of what else was on that list of Fangoria’s greatest vampire novels?(at least a few titles) I can’t find it anywhere online and I always trust fangoria’s lists for horror recommendations.

  3. Brandy says:

    I haven’t read this book since my own teen gothling days, but this review is going to make me go home and pick it up again tonight. You captured it beautifully!

  4. Matthew says:

    That seems right up my interests, that will have to be one of my many future buys, Thank you.

  5. Ashley says:

    I recently read Lost Souls at the beginning of the summer and I absolutely loved it! But I have to agree that the book is not for everyone, even if they are a fan of vampire books. Excellent review!

  6. Becky says:

    This was my introduction to Poppy Brite too! Amazing to think that he was just 19 years old when he wrote it. I’ve also read his other two novels from this era, Drawing Blood and Exquisite Corpse and I have to say on balance I think Drawing Blood is probably a better novel even though it has no vampires (though it does feature many of the same characters from Lost Souls). I feel it’s such a shame that Poppy Brite has moved away from writing these sorts of novels. When asked about it he reacts with ‘that was a phase I grew out of’ type answers. Grrrr.

  7. N.V.R says:

    I’m glad to see Lost Souls featured here, it’s one of my favourites (though not my favourite Brite, that’d have to be Drawing Blood) and doesn’t seem to be as well known as people might think, which is a shame. Hopefully your review will introduce more readers to it, though as you say it’s not for everyone.

    Everyone would surely love to have a friend like Ghost, or at least I would.

  8. Rhonda Willard says:

    I read this book for the first time about 12 years ago. It was my first venture into Poppy Z Brite. Since then I’ve ready it probably a dozen times. And anyone I loan the book out to is threatened with their lives if they lose it. It was like a baseball bat to the head.. and I’m not a 20 something spookling goth wannabe. I’m a 50 year old grandma who devours this book every time I read it.It along with a few other things have helped me to embrace the real me.

  9. Lady of the Manners says:

    laura, the full top 10 according to that issue of Fangoria are:

    I Am Legend
    Some of Your Blood
    ‘Salem’s Lot
    Interview with the Vampire
    The Vampire Tapestry
    The Hunger
    The Delicate Dependency
    The Light at the End

    Waitaminute! I could have sworn Fevre Dream was on that list. How very interesting.

  10. Juushika says:

    Oh, this is every reason I love Lost Souls, and it is glorious. My review is here but says basically the same thing. The book is a hedonistic delight, and I have no guilt in the pleasure I take in it. I only wish I’d found it earlier, because I may have loved it even more as a teen.

  11. Rikibeth says:

    For all of the leather-jacket-and-torn-lace atmospherics of Lost Souls, when I go back to it I find that it doesn’t hold up the way that Drawing Blood does. This may be because I’m actually a terrible sentimentalist with a craving for unsullied romance, and, for all their damage, Zach and Trevor are one of the most romantic fictional couples I’ve ever met. Poppy (Doc? Billy? I guess I’ll stick to Poppy when talking about the books) said in his journal a few years back that now he thinks that Nothing should have been told to stop moping and mow the lawn, which kind of cracks me up.

    Of the Anne Rice books, only The Vampire Lestat has proved to have staying power for me. Still, it’s hard to deny the continued appeal of the setting as a whole, when I was dressing up as Armand at 19, and just last week I picked up a porcelain doll to add the finishing touch to my 16-year-old’s Claudia cosplay outfit.

  12. MoonMelody says:

    I have probably reread this book more than any other, aside from DRACULA. It’s an untouchable source of nostalgia and deviant escapism.

  13. Betty says:

    Back in my baby bat days I had no friends. So, you would often find me in a shadowy corner of my local library reading vampire novels, monster novels, or poetry. Which is how I was able to stumble upon Lost Souls and a slew of other great books and authors. The library was my gothling paradise. LOL! 🙂

    Anyway, great book. Now I feel like reading it again. It has been terrible long since I have.

  14. Maria says:

    Mmm, sounds like it’s up my alley. I love gore, and since not a lot of books I read have gratituous sex scenes, it’s…refreshing, I guess? In any case, I’ll be sure to check it out and give it a read.

  15. Zaratha says:

    As an aging goth myself, who else remembers the vicious fandom wars between Poppy Z. Brite fans and Anne Rice fans back in those days? So many huffy arguments in so many clubs over these books, and who had the better take on vampires! Don’t forget the indignant declarations that REAL goths only read Brite or Rice (depending on whom was making the declaration). So hilarious that years later, we all get along these days, having banded together against the Twilight menace…

    For the record, I was (and always will be) Team Lestat. 😉

  16. lisbet says:

    Well, I loved her books myself when I was in high school. Though I liked Drawing Blood a lot more, actually. Poppy Z. Brite certainly fell off the face of the earth, didn’t she, after the 90s? I only rarely hear about her now.

  17. devonsego says:

    Oh, the memories. You hit the nail on the head when you said it hit like a bat (baseball or otherwise) when I first read it. I remember trying desperately to make my handwriting wet and spiderwebby like Nothing’s. And staring at my hip bones beneath the sheets, wishing they made a more stark relief (tragic, since I was awfully underweight at 15). A recent attempt to revisit Brite’s work left me wanting, sadly. Her short stories hold up fairly well but her novels have lost all the dangerous mystery that captivated me in my youth. I think that while as youths we feel connected to the dispossessed and angsty, as adults we’ve hopefully moved past that and come to some sort of peace with ourselves. Either way, I can’t deny the book’s very special place inside of my youth. It still has a place on my bookshelf, even if it’s not one I’ll likely revisit anytime soon.

  18. Aia~ says:

    Might give this one a read, not sure yet. Not really a hard core vampire-genre fan but I’ve read a fair share. Fevre Dream, I’ve read. It’s soooooo good. I picked that up not even knowing it was a vampire book. I highly recommend people read it. It’s a great read <3

  19. Erin says:

    This sounds like the book i’ve been waiting my whole life to read. <3 Thank you for posting Lady of Manners!

  20. Dolly says:

    Thank you so much for this suggestion! At first I wasn’t terribly eager to read it but did want some more vampire fiction to read. I’ve been so reluctant to touch anything labelled supernaturla since the Twilight craze because everything now bares such a strong resemblance to this tweeny romance. I ordered it anyway and gave it a try.

    I just finished it today and I haven’t been that enraptured in a book since I read Lolita two years ago. I was so jittery the entire way through the novel and almost cried when I finished it (I probably would have if I hadn’t been sitting in culinary class). I dragged it out for a week (a long time for someone like myself) because I couldnt stand to let it end. While I wouldn’t want to personally meet any of the characters for fear of my own safety and am a bit too old and rational to identify with Nothing, I loved them all for everything about them. I wanted so much more out of them but also was very pleased with how Brite decided to end the novel. It was fitting and realistic. Needless to say I will be purchasing more of Brite’s earlier work.

    Thank-you so much Lady of the Manners. ^^

  21. Valentine says:

    I read this recently, after meaning to for several years. I loved it. I was completely captured by it, and I think it has definitely changed something within me during the time I spent reading it (I had to fit it in around my university reading list, which, as I do English, it hectic to say the least!). I felt like, when I wasn’t reading, it, I was having withdrawal. It is a book that completely captures you, mind, body and spirit. The loneliness within the characters, mixed with the crazed lifestyle, and the search for people to connect to really connected with me, as I have recently moved away from home, and found where I feel I belong – my friends have a band, I spend my weekends with them, and I no longer feel so alone.
    Reading Lost Souls was the perfect accompaniment for this transitional period in my life. Simply? It really has change my life.
    Anamelia x

  22. xcupcakexheartagramx says:

    I just want to say thank you so much for recommending this! I probably wouldn’t have found it otherwise. It’s easily one of the best books I’ve ever read. Looks like Lestat will have to fight Zillah for the place of favorite vampire in my heart. <3

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