Jewelle Gomez,
The Gilda Stories
(Firebrand Press, 1991)

In The Gilda Stories, Jewelle Gomez presents an unusual first novel, a distinctive take on vampires from an African-American point-of-view. The text of this episodic work is divided into eight segments depicting the life of the eponymous protagonist from the time she was a runaway slave rescued by and incorporated into a vampire "family" in Louisiana in 1850 to a troubled but not hopeless future 200 years later, when the secret is out and the hidden society of vampires-among-us is revealed to the world.

The interval between, the story of Gilda's life, is also the story of African-Americans in the USA -- as social, political and technological changes necessitate growth, adaptation, maturation and wisdom. Gomez excels in not only describing each phase of Gilda's life in vivid local, geographical, social and economic detail as she moves from one area to another in the course of her now immortal life, she also is exemplary in depicting a form of benevolent vampirism. This involves the non-fatal sharing of blood that happens alongside the sharing of dreams and life-force to the mutual benefit of both individuals involved in the encounter. Yet the author makes it clear, in scenes that add a chilling excitement and drama to the narrative, this power can be abused and used to exploit victims as well.

The Gilda Stories' positive portrayal of the undead compares favorably to a popular, more mainstream, long-running, multi-volume vampire-as-hero series by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro about the Count St. Germaine, but Gilda dares to go beyond the relentless heterosexuality of Yarbro's character to sensitively, tastefully and even poetically getting involved in lesbian and bisexual blends of vampirism and eroticism. The narrative is also distinguished by the sensitive and positive way relationships of all kinds are portrayed between Gilda and those she cares for, most notably Bird, the Native American immortal who initiated Gilda into the hidden world of the vampires in the first segment of the story.

Gomez deserves the highest praise for producing this book, beautifully written in gorgeous, poetic, emotionally intense prose that dares to be unique -- a lesbian, feminist vampire novel, character-driven yet full of exciting events and thoroughly satisfying as it enlightens about and illuminates for the reader, the lives of people of color in the last 100 years in America and extrapolates into the future. I don't hesitate to recommend this book for adventurous readers of all persuasions willing to try something different and really special.

[ by Amy Harlib ]

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