Friday, January 28, 2005

Short Stories by Charnas

Like many people who love the written word, I have a condition that prevents me from leaving a book store or library without being weighed down by books. This malady goes back to my early childhood when we'd get those thin papered, tissuey Scholastic Books catalogues in school. By the time I got home after school, mine would always be filled with marks indicating the many books I wanted. It was never enough to get just one. I wanted them all and I wanted them NOW!

This is something I've never outgrown. To this day I am incapable of walking out of a bookstore or library with only the book I came to get. I tend to browse and end up finding lots of things that I want. I've come across many good books this way. One of my recent discovers is Stagestruck Vampires and other Phantasms, a collection of short stories by Suzy McKee Charnas. I had never heard of Charnas before the day I found her book sitting on the new books shelf of my local library, but was drawn to it, because of the word "vampire" in the title. I have a thing for folklore and tend to enjoy vampire stories. It's taken me a couple of weeks to read through the books and I have found it pretty mixed.

There are a couple of stories that are brilliant, but the majority did not grip me as much. In fairness, this may have something to do with the fact that I was on the bus sitting in front of a loud talker on a cell phone when I tried to read them, so perhaps I will give them another chance. At any rate, even if there were a few duds in the collection, the stories I did enjoy more than made up for them. My favorites were "Beauty and the Opéra or the Phantom Beast", "Unicorn Tapestry", and "Evil Thoughts".

These stories demonstrate Charnas' gift for taking a concept or story we all know and twisting it into an uncommon perspective. For example, even though not everyone has read Gaston Leroux's Phantom of the Opera, most people are familiar with The Phantom thanks to the efforts of Andrew Lloydd Webber and, more recently, Hollywood. Charnas gives the story an unexpected twist by filling in the gaps. Using Christine's voice, she describes what happens to her in the catacombs beneath the opera.

Instead of a submissive victim, the Christine of Charnas' story subtly manages to turn the tables on her kidnapper by setting the terms of her own detainment. Indeed one could say that she exerts a lot of control over her abductor. For me, the exploration of power in the story is fascinating, especially because it flows in quite an unexpected direction.

"Unicorn Tapestry" offers a similarly unexpected perspective on vampirism - that of the therapist treating a patient. Again, the tables are ultimately turned and the therapist ends up the one in need of therapy as her concept of sanity begins to unravel. She goes from wanting to cure her patient of the belief that he is a vampire to realizing that to cure him would mean robbing him of the essence of who he is. Ultimately this shift causes the doctor to face her own idea of sanity, professional ethics, etc.

Although "Evil Thoughts", the last of the three stories I found memorable, did not speak to me as much as the first two, I really liked the idea of one's negative thoughts manifesting themselves corporeally as an infestation of mushrooms on the protagonist's lawn. The whole story is a testament to how negative thoughts can eat away at a person and demonstrates really nicely how they chip away at a person, leaving only ugliness in their wake.

So, here ends this edition of "What I Read on the Way to Jury Duty". I'm off to the library again tomorrow, so I'm sure I'll come home with lots of interesting, new things to read and talk about!


Jen said...

Ooh - are you finished with the Charnas? Because I will put it on hold if you are. It sounds interesting. I was thinking what you wrote on the Unicorn Tapestryreminds me a little of several times I've seen a similar therapist/special patient realationship in movies or TV. Wasn't there some movie with Richard Gere where he was manic depressive, and his manic phases were so wonderful oh-what-a-joy-the-world-is that he didn't want to lose them, so his therapist (who of course has fallen in love with him) lets him go off his meds? I am sure he then dies tragically and horribly but in love with the world. Just checked the imdb, it was called Mr. Jones, and the tagline was : Everything That Makes Him Dangerous Makes Her Love Him More. I am sure it would have been better if he were a manic depressive vampire.
Another one that come to mind is the show Cupid (in which the patient thinks he is Cupid put on earth in human form as some sort of punishment - he has to get 100 couples together in order to return to Olympus or wherever it is the ones with the roman names go.) His therapist of course thinks he's a nut.... or IS HE?? The show never answered the question of if he actually *was* or not. It sounds terrible, but it was actually pretty good.
The other example I can think of is Clarice/ Lector in Silence of the Lambs (which isn't therapy, but they had a similar sort of "I know all about you and I know you know I know" profiler/profilee bond. You know there is no way in hell I could actually *watch* any of those movies, (even through my fingers!), but they are so culturally prevalent that there is a lot of information out there. Interesting that all of these (including the one in the story you were talking about) are all female shrink/FBI to male patient/cannibal. Hmmmm. Not exactly parallel, but one thing made me think of the other, and since this is the internet I felt compelled to share.

Martina said...

You should definitely read them. Some of them have some interesting twists. From what I gather, the vampire in "The Unicorn Tapestry" shows up in other stories too - at least he did in that other one that she wrote with a partner. I didn't really care so much for that one, though.

Funny you mention Cupid. I was just reading some of Paul Verlaine's poetry the other day and there is one about Cupid falling to earth. It's kind of anti-VD day (even though I am certain he was not thing about Valentines as he wrote it). I'll have to find the book and post the translation in honor of the holiday.