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Review: Drawing Blood by Poppy Z. Brite

Friday, October 17, 2014

Drawing Blood
Poppy Z. Brite

Genre: LGBQTHorror
Paperback: 403 Pages
Publication: October 1994
by Dell

Robert McGee is a man living under a dark cloud. Acclaimed cartoonist of the underground comic book Birdland, he has moved his family from Texas to New Orleans and finally to Missing Mile, North Carolina. But Robert is unable to escape the drinking and the violence that have become as natural to him as breathing. Soon after he and his family settle into a decrepit farmhouse, Robert kills his wife, his younger son, and then himself. Only his five-year-old son, Trevor, is left alive. 
Twenty years later Trevor McGee, also a cartoonist, returns to Missing Mile to the house in which his family once lived. He has been running from the truth for years, and finally realizes he must face his demons. He fears that what happened to his father will happen to him. But if it does, Trevor thinks, at least I won't have anyone to kill. Then he befriends Zachary Bosch, a computer hacker from New Orleans running from the law. In the house, which Trevor calls Birdland, they must confront much more than bad memories. For the house itself carries its own dark force, which threatens to envelop Trevor in the past and destroy him.


After falling in love with his short stories my freshman year of college, I knew that I had to have more Poppy Z. Brite on my bookshelves. I'd actually seen this book at my local used bookstore a few times before deciding to actually buy it. Even though the title threw me for a bit of a loop, the book didn't disappoint at all.

Brite never ceases to amaze with his attention to detail, in particular to settings. The places we visit in New Orleans come across as exotic and fascinating, ranging from a shady strip club to the French Market, the latter of which contained the most beautiful description of produce I've ever read and made me crave some sugar cane. Brite's hardcore fans will immediately recognize the kudzu and small-town feel of Missing Mile, and it was great to explore more parts of the small town. Even if this is your first time rolling into the town, there are plenty of details given for you to remember it in the future, and some of these even expand knowledge of the town for those who have read Brite before.

Once again, we follow four characters (for the most part) in alternating chapters; besides Trevor and Zach, we see bar owner Kinsey Hummingbird and Zach's best friend, stripper Eddy Sung. Even though Brite's Steve and Ghost are my favorite duo to read about, I really loved Zach and Trevor. They serve as great complements to each other and stand incredibly well individually. Kinsey, a character previously introduced in the novel Lost Souls, gets a considerably bigger role in this book and is one of my favorite secondary characters in the Brite universe. Sassy and the only woman for most of the story, Eddy is a strong female character; her relationship with Zach was portrayed as strong and showed how much mutual respect and caring there was between them, though more in a platonic light.

When it comes to horror stories, I'm usually not a big fan of haunted house stories and tend to be more of a creature-feature girl. That being said, I genuinely liked the atmosphere of the house on Violin Road. Since we see the events leading up to the McGee murder-suicide, there is no denying what will become of the house. The things that happen when Trevor and Zach live there are way beyond anything you would see in one of the Paranormal Activity movies, including terrifying hallucinations that regularly made them question their sanity. As I once heard said about haunted house stories, the question on all our minds is "Why don't the characters leave?". The answer is pretty straightforward in this book: they have nowhere else to go. Trevor wants to know why his father let him live, and Zach is on the run. These two really have no other place they can go but the house on Violin Road.

What I really loved about this book was how it raised questions that could lead to some really interesting discussions. Little events sprinkled throughout the novel make you wonder about the nature of relationships, not just between romantic partners but also between friends and family members. One of my favorite moments that poses such a question is when Trevor thinks he can count Zach and Kinsey as his family because of what they have done for him. The purpose of life, what things are worth their risk, and how much a person can mean to you are some of the other big themes brought up in the story, and how they manage to come up in a story such as this honestly amazes me (in a good way, of course).

Since I've been a Brite fan for a few years now, I had a lot of fun spotting all of the references to some of his other works. The ever-popular Steve and Ghost are mentioned a few times; we are told that they have gone on tour after a gig they played in New York (which is the basis of the short story "How To Get Ahead in New York," printed in the collection Wormwood, which those of you curious enough can check out here). Kinsey and his bar, the Sacred Yew, were already familiar from Lost Souls, as were Terry Buckett, his best friend R.J. Miller, and Terry's record store, the Whirling Disc. Fun fact: Brite's original title for this book was Birdland, but the publishers told him to change it because of the references to places and characters mentioned in Lost Souls (you can check out my review on it here). I think Birdland made more sense as a title but I'll give the publishers points for wanting to tie the books together. You don't have to read one to get the other but doing so lets you in on more of the references.

This is one of the few of Poppy Brite's stories that actually has a somewhat happy ending. The tale of Trevor and Zach came to what I thought was a good close, but they happened to pop up in another short story titled "Vine of the Soul" (printed in the collection Are You Loathsome Tonight?, which you can check out here). It takes place seven years after the events of Drawing Blood, and they seem to still be as happy in the short story as they come to be in the novel.

There's no other way for me to put it: this book was a real pleasure to read (or re-read, in my case). Brite's writing is always a welcome sight for me, and these characters were fun to meet and, in some cases, reconnect with. The relationships between characters were rendered really well, and the romance that develops has a good end. The scares were great, but ultimately the questions the book makes you ponder are even better.

Rating: 5 stars

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Similar Books
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  • Strong language
  • Graphic violence
  • Sex
  • Frequent drug references
  • Disturbing imagery

2 comments on "Review: Drawing Blood by Poppy Z. Brite"
  1. I haven't read anything by this author and, while I'll fully admit to being a coward when it comes to scary/horror (even mildly frightening. A total chicken.), I might have to give this one a go. Five stars is a big temptation...

    1. Believe me, I can understand being afraid of horror stories. Back when I was a little girl, I was terrified of the Goosebumps books, not because of the stories but the covers. (Seriously, Tim Jacobus did an AMAZING job with some of those illustrations.) I didn't read one until I was a teenager and realized that the stories weren't so bad; it was just the covers that creeped me out (and some still do to this day). This book is a horror book for starters, but the themes and questions that come up while you read really are great to look at. When I was first introduced to Poppy Brite, it was in my freshman English class in college. We read two short stories, "Angels" and "Optional Music For Voice and Piano." which respectively asked the questions about family and the power of music. Even if you end up skipping over the freaky stuff, Brite's prose is a joy to read. Making me crave sugar cane isn't exactly an everyday occurrence. Up to you whether or not you want to read a little.


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