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Where vampirism is human nature and the end is death [The Vampire Tapestry by S. Charnas]

Where vampirism is human nature and the end is death [The Vampire Tapestry by S. Charnas] published on 1 Comment on Where vampirism is human nature and the end is death [The Vampire Tapestry by S. Charnas]

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.

1 Comment

Hi, pleased to meet you and glad you liked my book! It’s pretty old now — god, almost 30 yrs! — but I’m happy to report that it’s due for a fresh release from Forge in August, so I’m really happy to have your review show up now.

And thanks for the content of your comments; I also see W’s story as tragic, in that he clearly has gone this whole route countless times in the past, but has never been able to summon the courage to try making the jump to humanity at last. You’ll remember that at one point he tells Floria, I think it was, that animals do not have courage because courage springs from imagination (“what awful things will happen to me if I try to do x and fail? Never mind, I’m gonna do it anyway!”) and from the ability to time-bind as humans do. But I hadn’t thought of his return to sleep as acceptance of the cycle but more as his refuge from the choice of trying to live with his new humanity: he goes to sleep *instead* of proceeding toward acceptance of the human potential in himself. The other alternative, after all, is — to choose death, with is something else that animals do not do, although W. is human enough to consider it.

So it’s interesting to me to think about his return to sleep as choosing to try again, as it were, instead of, say, jumping off a bridge and putting an end to the whole enterprise of his weird succession of lifetimes passing for human. Thanks for bringing a new slant to this old story; I do sometimes think about writing more about him, and your remarks are another nudge in that direction.

And in any case, I assure you that there is nothing more rewarding for a serious writer of fiction than feedback from someone who is clearly a serious, perceptive *reader*.

Thanks again.

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