Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Uncle Vampire

When I first read UNCLE VAMPIRE (1993), an unusual, deeply disturbing YA novel by Cynthia D. Grant, I waffled about whether to include it in my vampire fiction bibliography update. Does its content fall under the "delusion" category of my classification list, or does the author simply use "vampirism" as an extended metaphor for incestuous sexual abuse? On the latest reread, I've concluded that teenage narrator Carolyn actually does believe, on some level, that her uncle is draining blood from her and her twin sister, Honey. Yes, this information is a spoiler, since the truth isn't revealed until near the end of the book. Long before that point, though, Carolyn's first-person, present tense, stream of consciousness story drops hints to the reader that she's an unreliable narrator at best and has a shaky grasp on consensus reality. Nevertheless, it turns out that her uncle does almost literally, as she accuses, suck the life from her family and transform the household into a zombie version of itself.

Wrongness pervades this family under their facade of normality. The mother has been mentally ill in the past, although now supposedly cured. Carolyn's parents sometimes fight over thirty-five-year-old, under-employed Uncle Toddy, who lives with them. Her grades have dropped, and her teachers and friends notice her growing detachment. Her brother, Richie, also in high school, has become sullen and rebellious. Their older sister, Maggie, in whom Carolyn might be able to confide, makes excuses not to come home from college for holidays. Twin sister Honey, the perky, popular cheerleader, insists on maintaining the pretense that everything is fine. She berates Carolyn for bringing up Uncle Toddy's vampirism and won't consider telling anyone else the secret of his predation. Maggie's one long letter to Carolyn summarizes their plight ever since their mother's hospitalization: "Suddenly everything's supposed to be peachy—except we're tiptoeing around the house like it's a minefield."

Until the novel's climax, Grant skillfully maintains ambiguity about the true nature of "Uncle Vampire." Until that point, the book reads like a horror story of a literal bloodsucking vampire and a victim who can't speak out for fear of being considered insane like her mother. The climactic revelation includes another twist that I won't spoil for you. I didn't catch on in advance, although a sharper reader might. Viewing the world through the eyes of desperate, trapped Carolyn is truly chilling, but hope finally dawns. As the narrator eventually tells us, "It's hard to get rid of vampires. You have to drag them into the light." Grant creates a unique treatment of this serious real-life issue by framing it in supernatural imagery.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

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