"Of course her real name is not Poppy Z. Brite. It's a pseudonym used by Melissa Ann Brite, born May 25, 1967 in New Orleans, Louisiana."
I got that much by glancing at Brite's Wikipedia entry. But further down the page I picked up this bit of information: "Brite is a transgender man, born biologically female. He has written and talked much about his gender dysphoria/gender identity issues. He self-identifies with gay males, and as of August 2010, has begun the process of gender reassignment. "
That I didn't know, but it goes some ways towards explaining why almost all of Brite's male characters, whether they are vampires, musicians, artists, drug dealers, or serial killers tend to be gay men.
|An early publicity photo.|
You don't want to know what she's thinking.
Brite's horror publishing career lasted only half a decade and produced three novels and two volumes of short stories. His first novel, Lost Souls, he began while still a teenager. When his last horror novel, Exquisite Corpse came out in 1996, he was 29. Brite then turned to writing comic novels centered around the New Orleans restaurant scene. For the past several years, he as been on an official hiatus from writing at all. But I think with Lost Souls, Drawing Blood, and Exquisite Corpse Brite has left a significant legacy in the horror genre. (I have not read the short stories.)
Lost Souls is a lushly over-written, almost plotless tale of vampires traveling the country in what must be a very smelly van given their sloppy feeding habits. Their handsome leader, Zillah, keeps things somewhat under control with his more party-minded friends Molochai and Twig. They meet up with a confused, not yet out of the vampire closet fifteen-year old named Nothing. Nothing and Zillah almost instantly hit the sack,. In a scene that involves killing his best friend, Nothing learns he is a vampire. Later he learns that Zillah, due to a one night stand in New Orleans many years ago, is his father, a fact that does not put a crimp in the sexual activity. They hang out in Missing Mile, NC, which is a much hipper place than it sounds. They seduce some people, they kill some people, they meet up with an old friend from New Orleans and relocate. There they get involved with some other kinky types -- there's no point in going any further with this. Brite's enthusiastic prose keeps things happening if not exactly moving in any particular direction. It's fun, although long.
|Poppy Z. Brite is now Billy Martin|
And what to make of Exquisite Corpse? Brite says his original publishers turned it down because it was too extreme. They would have had a point. The descriptions of necrophilia, torture, and cannibalism are like nothing in the previous novels. The book has at least a couple of images that unfortunately will most likely always be with me. But her publishers might also rightly have considered this novel something of a mess. HIV and AIDS are prominent elements in the story, and perhaps the serial killers are meant to represent the death sentence the disease was considered at the time. This is Brite's best writing. The grotesque sex is like the Marquis de Sade minus all the frou-frou. or Georges Baitaille without the pretension. What ever was intended, Exquisite Corpse might best be considered grand guignol fun. It is also a book I would never recommend to anybody I know, fearing recriminations.
Brite's three novels are quickly becoming period pieces, and you have to find them squeezed onto the shelves surrounded by all the paranormal romance and zombie crap that dominates the field. I like to imagine some unsuspecting Laura K. Hamilton fan will pick up Exquisite Corpse and live to regret it.
Read my reviews of individual Poppy Z. Brite novels on Worlds Without End