Master of Horror: Poppy Z. Brite

Revisiting Lost Souls, Drawing Blood, and Wormwood

Some books feel like coming home again – if home is a ramshackle house out on Violin Road in Missing Mile, North Carolina.

I recently decided it was time to revisit some old favorites and it’s been more than twenty years since I’ve picked up these novels and short story collection from Poppy Z. Brite. These books got me through high school. I was a goth kid in a surfer town and it brought me unbelievable comfort knowing there were other kids like me out there in the world – even if they were fiction.

First up was Drawing Blood. This was my favorite when I was younger and I found it to still be my favorite even now. Trevor’s father is a struggling artist whose inability to draw has turned him onto the bottle. One night, when Trevor is just five years old, his dad takes a hammer and kills his mother, brother, and then hangs himself – leaving Trevor alive. Fast forward twenty years and Trevor has returned to Missing Mile, to the house where it happened, looking for answers. Zach, a hacker on the run from the cops, is also newly arrived in town. The two meet and have an immediate bond. As Trevor tries to get to the bottom of the mystery as to why he was left alive, Zach keeps him grounded with one foot still in our world while the other swings wildly into the supernatural. I love how untraditional this haunted house novel is and I’m not sure that I have yet read its equal.

Next up was Lost Souls. Technically a prequel to Drawing Blood, this novel takes place predominately in Missing Mile and New Orleans. They do not have to be read in order, but there are nods to events and such in Drawing Blood that happen in Lost Souls. Nothing is a baby left on a doorstep and by the time he is fifteen he realizes that he just doesn’t belong where he is. He steals a $100 from his parents and buys a bus ticket as far south as he can go. His favorite band is a group call Lost Souls? and he decides to head to where they’re from, hoping to meet them. Once the bus money runs out, Nothing starts hitching and fate brings him to the van carrying Zillah, Molochai, and Twig – three vampires. What Poppy Z. Brite did for the haunted house trope in Drawing Blood, he does for the vampires in this novel.

Finally, I took a dive into Wormwood (formerly titled Swamp Foetus). This is a short story collection that contains twelve short stories. Including two that feature Steve and Ghost of the band Lost Souls? They are two of my favorite characters so it was a pleasure to see them again here. Other standouts for me are The Sixth Sentinel about the ghost of Jean Lafitte; A Georgia Story about the lives of four boys who once lived in an abandoned church; The Elder about a man’s love for his son; and His Mouth Will Taste of Wormwood, about two men who can never be satisfied. There is truly not a bad story in this collection.

What’s the takeaway, you may ask? Reading these books again, at almost forty, I found that they still held up extremely well. Some horror dates itself, and not in a good way. Poppy’s books are cloaked in nostalgia and are so character-driven that they could almost happen at any place, during at any time. Poppy knows the south and it flows through these books like very few others. Long story short, I hope it’s not another twenty years before I pick these books up again and I hope you’ll pick them up with me.

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