Desmond: A Novel of Love and the Modern Vampire

A version of this review will appear in The Vampire's Crypt 18 (Fall 1998). The Vampire's Crypt web site is:

Ulysses G. Dietz. Desmond: A Novel of Love and the Modern Vampire. Los Angeles: Alyson Books, July 1998; ISBN 1-55583-470-1; $13.95/#8.99 U.K.

Roger's visits always leave Desmond feeling desolate. Roger is Desmond's oldest and only real friend. He is also straight and a social butterfly, currently residing on the other side of the continent. Prowling the city to take the edge off his loneliness and other hungers, Desmond meets a young man, Tony, in a bar. Tony's knowledge and love of antiques make him more than just a potential one-night stand and meal: Desmond's house (itself a relic) is filled with objects acquired over his two-hundred-year history, and Desmond has few opportunities to share them with an appreciative audience. Despite his apprehensiveness about taking someone he has picked up at a bar to a home that sees so few visitors, Desmond hosts Tony for a night of antiques, sex, and (unknown to Tony) blood drinking.

The narrative alternates between Desmond's past and his developing relationship with Tony. We see the details of how Desmond met Roger in Revolution-era France, rescuing him from a group of vampires with murderous and intolerant habits. As a human, Desmond had only one lover, his personal manservant Jeffrey. When Jeffrey was fatally wounded on their Grand Tour of Europe, an old vampire, Baron Tsolnay, tried (with Desmond's consent) to save him with an infusion of vampire blood. It was too late for Jeffrey, but on learning the realities of vampire existence, Desmond asked to be transformed -- in order that he not have to pretend love for a woman to produce an heir (he could be his own heir) and in hopes of one day finding love again. Could Tony be that love? The longer they know each other, the more likely it seems; but Desmond wonders how they will deal with it when he regenerates to his turning-age of 21, as he regularly does on reaching (apparent) age 65.

The earlier parts of DESMOND seem forced, as if Dietz became more sure of himself as the narrative progressed but couldn't figure out how to rework the earlier material. The opening scene, Roger and Desmond's discussion of contemporary vampire fiction, has a particular hollowness. "Come on, Des," says Roger, "don't you get tired of reading about vampires as little better than great white sharks?" "The authors' fertile imaginations haven't let them take the one step that could change the whole genre: the vampire as nice guy." Evidently Dietz thinks he's written the first vampire romance. He hasn't even written the first *gay* vampire romance (cf. DIARY OF A VAMPIRE by Gary Bowen). And describing Roger's erstwhile company as "the malignant presence of Charlon's morbid society" gilds the lily a tinge too purple to be taken seriously. These, however, are minor quibbles.

Besides showing vampires who are nice guys, DESMOND tackles another of the criticisms introduced in that first scene. Roger complains, "Does any writer ever give vampires a real sense of humor? Never." So when Tony is taken aback at Desmond's not understanding a LEAVE IT TO BEAVER allusion, Desmond ripostes with "Some of my best friends have televisions." Probably the novel's funniest scene is Roger's meeting Tony: despite having cautioned Desmond against coming out as a vampire, Roger drops innumerable hints that are as opaque and funny to Tony as they are transparent and alarming to Desmond. "Did you ever notice that there are no family portraits around, and none of Desmond, either?" [Pause for effect] "It's because they all made Quasimodo look good."

Because your humble Mad Bibliographer has been reading genre fiction for so long, and to the exclusion of much that her English professors (most of them) would have approved of, I kept expecting dark elements of Desmond's past to reappear and avenge themselves (or try to) for his previous victories. I don't feel I'm spoiling the book when I say nothing like that happens -- which is not to say that there's an absence of suspense or conflict. DESMOND, however, isn't a book about vampire politics or fights to the death: despite the wealth, age, and state of existence of a few, its characters are pointedly *not* larger than life. Aptly, Desmond's library includes Dickens, Hawthorne, and Melville, and his story is told with a timeless leisure reminiscent of the nineteenth-century classics.

Boring? Sometimes the technical discussions of antique furniture got that way for me, but I've always been a happy Philistine. Those of you who like White Wolf-style political squabbles and physical tooth-, claw-, and swordfighting will probably find DESMOND a bit tame. It truly is a gay romance, focused on the blossoming love between two men -- one of whom happens not to be human in the conventional sense. Although not a happily-ever-after story, DESMOND has its share of happy moments -- as well as sad, frightening, and suspenseful times. With its emphasis on relationships (not to mention vampire as nice guy), DESMOND is a refreshing change from us-vs.-them conflicts that comprise so many vampire fiction plots. Whether it's literature masquerading as genre fiction or genre fiction classy enough to stand up there with literature, I'm still not sure, but DESMOND dares to be different in a way that warms your heart instead of knocking your socks off.

The Mad Bibliographer
Cathy Krusberg

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From the Library

As the 20th century evolved, rational man turned to science to explain mythology that had pervaded for thousands of years. How could a man be mistaken for a vampire? How could someone appear to have been the victim of a vampire attack? Science, in time, came back with answers that may surprise you.Anemia
A million fancies strike you when you hear the name: Nosferatu!N O S F E R A T Udoes not die!What do you expect of the first showing of this great work?Aren't you afraid? - Men must die. But legend has it that a vampire, Nosferatu, 'der Untote' (the Undead), lives on men's blood! You want to see a symphony of horror? You may expect more. Be careful. Nosferatu is not just fun, not something to be taken lightly. Once more: beware.- Publicity for Nosferatu in the German magazine Buhne und Film, 1922  

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