Despite its silly title and remote, slow-moving beginning, The Vampire Tapestry by Suzy Charnas turns into a powerful meditation on humanity [well, that’s how I interpret it]. Through several interconnected stories, Tapestry follows Edward Weyland, one of the most realistic vampires ever designed. A long-lived, emotionally remote predator who resembles his human prey due to extensive mimicking capabilities, Weyland approaches his existence without sentiment, moral qualm or engagement with the human world. He masquerades as a brilliant university professor involved in dream research, but a rare hunting mistake leads him to injury at the hands of a would-be vampire hunter. The rest of the stories follow Weyland imprisoned and harassed by New Age weirdos, in therapy (!) with a woman who falls in lust with him, viewing opera that touches him emotionally [much to his alarm] and otherwise forming a close bond with his prey.
Charnas exerts herself mightily to make Weyland a non-human and comprehensible being, which she does, but, since the whole point of the book has him taking on humane characteristics, I do not read Weyland as an alien being, no matter how much Charnas wishes me to. Instead, I read him as an alienated person. He starts off as unreflective and sociopathic, but grows more emotionally expressive and reflective as the stories progress. His development toward humanity occurs not because he develops a moral scale, but because he develops a sense of himself as a social being, affected by other people, their feelings and actions. In a way, Charnas may be putting forth the interesting argument here that it is our sociality, rather than our morality, that defines us as human.
Charnas’ story about a man struggling to become human without being overwhelmed by empathy takes on poignant dimensions in the end, when Weyland feels less like an aloof predator and more like a sponge overrun with the feelings of other people. He can’t take it any more, so he chooses to enter a period of hibernation, which effectively means death for the Weyland persona and all memories and experiences associated with it. For me, the ending is heartbreaking because Weyland feels assaulted by all that emotion, but also promising; though overwhelmed, he realizes that his hibernation will not end everything, but will send him back into the cycle and prompt a new rehumanization. He seems to accept his humanity, however grudgingly, because he keeps choosing to subject himself to it. It’s an expert use of vampiric metaphors to explore the very human themes of life, death, hope and redemption.