Summary Judgement:  A well-written story that is effective in bucking the conventions that orbit contemporary vampire fiction.

Story by: Siobhan Carroll

Originally Published on AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review

(Minor but unavoidable spoilers ahead)

Notwithstanding Dracula by Bram Stoker, I’ve never gone cover to cover on a vampire novel.  This is partly an issue of taste in genre literature but also due to the fact that most vampire stories seem the same to me.  If the protagonist of a vampire story isn’t on the hero’s quest to avenge somebody or something, they are most likely going to end up in bed with the undead.  Therefore, I’ll admit to writing this review with some fairly substantial prejudices in play.  Those prejudices, however, are what make Siobhan Carroll’s Remains stand out as a rather unique story in a subgenre that is flooded with people falling all over each other for vampire lovin’.

Carroll’s story eschews a focus on either the vampire or its prey/lover/wannabe.  Instead, the narrative deals with families and friends who have witnessed their loved ones submit to the temptation of the undead.  As a reader might expect, the predominant motifs within the story are of loss, sadness and regret. Despite my limited familiarity with literary vampire fiction, the author’s focus on the shattered lives of people left to languish in their own mortality, while loved ones embrace the darkness, seems to be a unique concept.  It also has the benefit of grounding the story in emotions that are more universal than the narcissism that comes with vampire fiction.

While grief and loss open the story to a broad audience, it is in Remains’ depiction of victimization that the soul of the narrative begins to emerge.  Within the first few paragraphs, where it is not immediately obvious that this is a piece of vampire fiction, Carroll’s words strike a tone that put this reader in the mindset of witnessing the aftermath of an assault, perhaps even a sexual assault.  The mood is both striking and powerful, serving to add a degree of seriousness to a brand of stories that seem as fixated on selfish gratification as Peter Pan dragging Wendy off to Neverland – granted a Neverland with more humping and feasting on mortal flesh.  Remains presents a relationship with a vampire as a crime against mortality.  The idea that being fed upon is an act of sexual liberation or at the very least the realization of a pain fetish is so far removed from the story that the very idea seems laughable.

Carroll’s words show not only the pain of death, but the impossible emotions that would inevitably come with seeing a loved one rise from the dead.  With those emotions in play, the narrative focus seems to shift from grief to guilt.  Dare I say, when that transition occurs, the true nature of this story emerges.  Remains is a story about suicide, specifically the people that are left behind after an act of suicide.

True to form, the story offers a view on vampire fiction that never seems to make it into popular consciousness; to surrender one’s life to the vampire is a conscious act of self-destruction.  Rather than celebrate the vanity of immortality, Remains asks the hard questions that come with the loss of a loved one to suicide: Could I have done something to stop them?  Why didn’t I notice?  Why didn’t I take the warning signs more seriously?  The feelings of guilt and recrimination practically leap off the page.  Given the culture of controversy that surrounds suicide, I’d offer that this is a brave subtext to work into a short story.  Arguably, courageous story telling is necessary if vampire fiction is to be redeemed from the likes of True Blood and Twilight.

The only potential problem with this story is that it inserts a rather serious social concern into a piece of genre fiction.  From my perspective, the writing is wholly respectful of the psychological traumas that suicide can evoke.  A reader need only look at the last three paragraphs of the story to see the author’s thoughts on how suicide affects those who are not directly involved in the act.  On those grounds, Remains is no more objectionable than any other story that explores pain, guilt and loss.

Remains goes a long way in proving that contemporary vampire fiction need not obsess with full frontal grinding or contrived teenage angst.  Any fan of genre lit would do well to give this story a read.

Overall Score: +4

Click here to read Remains.