Thursday, March 15, 2018

Look for Me by Moonlight

Mary Downing Hahn's excellent YA vampire novel LOOK FOR ME BY MOONLIGHT (1995) reads uncannily like a deconstruction of TWILIGHT (2005), aside from the fact that the better-known work came out a decade later. Cynda, the teenage first-person narrator of Hahn's story, leaves her mother's household to live with a father she's seen very little of since the divorce; in her new home, Cynda meets a ravishingly handsome, poetic vampire who makes her feel appreciated and grown-up. The title comes from Alfred Noyes's melodramatically romantic poem "The Highwayman": "Then look for me by moonlight. . . . I'll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way." Echoing throughout the text, the lines sound enchanting at first but later become ominous.

Cynda's parents divorced when she was six, after which her father remarried (to a younger woman, a former student of his) and moved to Maine. Her mother married a naval officer, so that Cynda has also had to adjust to frequent cross-country moves. As the novel opens, when she is a rebellious sixteen-year-old, her stepfather gets assigned to a three-year tour of duty in Italy. It's decided that Cynda will try living with her father and stepmother in their small town in Maine, where they operate an eighteenth-century ocean-front house as an inn and her father writes bestselling mysteries. Although it's an isolated existence, and she finds the old house more forbidding than attractive, at first things aren't bad. She likes her five-year-old half-brother, Todd, and gets along reasonably well with her young, pregnant stepmother. Local lore claims the house is haunted by the ghost of a teenage girl who was thrown into the sea with her throat slashed. Cynda later learns that the history of the property includes other girls murdered in the same way. She doesn't encounter any ghosts to begin with, though. Although it's the off-season, when the inn is usually empty, the pale, handsome, reclusive poet Vincent Morthanos shows up out of nowhere to rent a room. He spends the days shut away, allegedly writing. In the evenings, he charms Cynda and her father and stepmother. Todd and the family cat, on the other hand, abhor and fear the unusual guest. Cynda sneaks out of her room night after night to meet this man, who appears about thirty years old. Meanwhile, her relationship with her family deteriorates. She has become acquainted with Will, the housekeeper's teenage grandson, but in Cynda's eyes he lacks appeal compared to the sophisticated older man secretly courting her.

Despite Vincent's romantic facade, he isn't actually a "good" vampire. That's not much of a spoiler, since it's foreshadowed by the story of the murdered girls. Furthermore, the reader can easily perceive the warning signs under the surface of Cynda's slanted narrative. The more deeply she gets involved with Vincent, the more isolated from her family and Will she becomes. By the time she realizes Vincent's true nature, it's almost too late. His hypnotic power prevents her from even speaking the word "vampire."

This novel foregrounds the pedophile implications of a love affair between a teenage girl and a man who has lived longer than a normal human lifespan. And Vincent, unlike Edward in TWILIGHT, doesn't even pretend to be close to her age. Most readers would find the seductive behavior of an apparent thirty-year-old toward a sixteen-year-old disturbing even if he weren't ruining her health by drinking her blood. The narrative reinforces the analogy through Cynda's feelings of shame and her inability to tell her father and stepmother the truth, even if she could speak freely, because they wouldn't believe her. Only reaching out to Will finally gives her a chance at freedom, along with a bit of help from the ghosts of Vincent's earlier victims. This novel has a mass-market edition in print, so if you're a fan of YA vampire fiction, do check it out.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

No comments: