by Suzy McKee Charnas
“Extraordinary, he thought: I provide their nightmares, and they provide mine.”
Dr. Weyland, a successful and aloof professor at a small but respectable college, has been experimenting on students for his sleep program by studying their dreams when a female staff member is approached to join the study. Uneducated compared to those around her, she had quickly jumped to superstition and begun to worry the professor was a vampire feeding off his subjects and had armed herself against both the vampire and a rapist that had been terrorizing the campus lately. At the approach the professor becomes forceful with the girl, reveals he is a vampire and means to feed on her, and she shoots him twice in retaliation.
He manages to flee the scene, severely injured, but falls into the hands of an unscrupulous youth who eventually recognizes the professor as a monster and begins to exploit his capture, including inviting a dangerous Satanist to the cell where the vampire is held. Reese, the cult leader, convinces the captors to starve the vampire for 1 week after which he’ll perform a ceremony that will solve everything. The youngest of the captors, Mark, is the main caregiver and becomes attached to the professor who is trapped like an animal and weakening daily, and eventually Mark is manipulated into aiding the vampire’s escape. Weyland moves to a University in New Mexico and begins psychological treatment, stating he believes he’s a vampire and needs help. A letter of recommendation from the psychologist after successful treatment will get him reinstated after the ‘mental breakdown’ he suffered at the first college where he can resume his experiments.
A large portion of the book takes place in therapy, as the nature of predator and prey is studied in depth. Weyland believes he isn’t human, and doesn’t inherently recognize the emotional range we take for granted. He recognizes survival, as any predator would, and anything that threatens his survival is mercilessly cut from his life. Yes, he’s dangerous; he’s the most advanced predator on the planet. No, he’s not a monster any more than a tiger is for bringing down a gazelle.
It’s a bizarre melding of the traditional, powerful and angry monster and the recent, sympathetic one, but again, when a bear mauls a human it’s not exactly Jack the Ripper. It’s nature, and the book never deviates from this refreshing viewpoint. We can be sympathetic to the grizzly, but that doesn’t extend to wanting to be close to one. It can kill you and not feel the slightest tinge of regret or shame.
The book is an extremely insightful look into what the realities of the creature might actually be, should it exist in our world. It’s superbly written and in an environment still saturated by ridiculous teen monster romance it stands tall and alone for its intellectual take on the subject.
“To have someone spring on you like a tiger and suck your blood with savage and single-minded intensity—how could anybody imagine that was sexy?”
You’ve likely never read a clinical deconstruction of the vampire like what is written here, being heavy on psychology with a good bit of biology attempting to explain Weyland’s characteristics. There is nothing supernatural about this very real, very dangerous creature. This is a must read even if you’re sick of the vampire story, mostly because that’s not what this is. It’s the story of a grizzly that looks like us and acts like us but is not subject to normal human emotion and has evolved into the ultimate, real-world predator just trying to survive.