Dr. Edward Lewis Weyland is handsome, "in a sour, arrogant way." He's tall, "lean and lonely-looking," with intense eyes, a "stubborn jaw," and "vigorous iron-gray hair." Women are drawn to him. Men regard him jealously.
A cultural anthropologist of some scholarly repute -- he's authored the book, Notes on a Vanished People, which was a "stupendous find for anthropology" -- Weyland is a professor at Cayslin College in upstate New York. He heads the school's sleep research lab, recording volunteers' dreams in a new kind of research called "dream mapping."
Being a bastion of the young, the college provides Dr. Weyland with an ample supply of fresh, supple participants for his research. But Dr. Weyland doesn't just observe their sleep patterns and record details of their dreams. No, he uses his volunteers for other, more malevolent purposes.
He feeds on them.
Because Dr. Weyland is a vampire: a centuries-old monster, a predator who amuses himself by playing with his prey.
Suzy McKee Charnas' The Vampire Tapestry is a smart, sexy, successful, and suspenseful vampire tale. Originally published by Simon & Schuster in 1980, The Vampire Tapestry has recently been released in eBook format by ElectricStory, a Washington-based publisher of new and reprint books in electronic form.
Charnas, author of The Holdfast Chronicles; The Sorcery Hall Trilogy; the children's book, The Kingdom of Kevin Malone; Music of the Night (also available from ElectricStory); and a memoir due out this year, My Father's Ghost, writes in a diversity of genres. Science fiction and fantasy are Charnas' specialties, and she's collected awards for her notable supernatural fiction, including a Nebula (given by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) and a Hugo (bestowed by the World Science Fiction Society).
The Vampire Tapestry's stylishness, imagery, and originality of plot illustrate Charnas' reputation as a fabulist of uncommon talent. It's a novel divided into five parts, each of which has Weyland encountering a new array of characters and the humanity of his "despised victims." "Humans are my food," Weyland declares. "I draw the life out of their veins. Sometimes I kill them. I am greater than they are. Yet I must spend my time thinking about their habits and their drives, scheming to avoid the dangers they pose -- I hate them."
As Charnas herself wrote, her vampire chronicle is not a lurid Anne Rice rip-off, nor is Charnas' Dr. Weyland a hackneyed or reworked version of Count Dracula. Hardly. Weyland scoffs at Stoker's "meandering, inaccurate" novel, and he especially dislikes the Count's "absurd" fangs. Weyland is "at base one quite different from your standard strolling corpse with an aversion to crosses," or your "blood-sipping phantom who cringes from a clove of garlic."
In fact, Dr. Weyland's favorite pastime is to zoom around the countryside in his much-loved Mercedes-Benz. But, he's only able to do this for a short time. While at Cayslin, Weyland plays the serious, broodingly intelligent scholar, considered a genius by some and a "ruthless, self-centered bastard" by others. He also complacently underestimates the intuition of Katje de Groot.
Katje de Groot is onto Weyland. The fiftyish, widowed-faculty-wife-turned-campus-housekeeper sees through his finely manufactured façade. A native of Africa, where she viewed life "from the heights of white privilege," Katje longs to return to her Boer way of life. An avid and adept hunter, trained to stalk and kill game since girlhood, Katje senses Weyland's predatory nature. Her instincts are roused, and she realizes "with a nervous little jump of the heart" that she has become involved in "stalking a dangerous animal." She knows Weyland as the merciless predator that he soon shows himself to be.
An incident occurs between Dr. Weyland and de Groot, resulting in Weyland's sudden disappearance from Cayslin College. It is here that Charnas ends Weyland's Cayslin days and takes readers on to Part II, and Weyland's next set of malicious feedings: "My hunger is so roused I can scarcely restrain myself," Weyland drones, "A powerful hunger, not like yours -- mine compels."
Weyland-the-vampire's survival and safety depend upon a sophisticated set of precepts. If he fails to follow them, he faces certain detection and danger. The ingenuity of Charnas' Vampire-Rules-to-Live-By truly brings her novel -- and the vampire, for that matter -- into the realm of the realistic, modern, and elegant monster-tale. Charnas imbues Weyland with the ability to endure and prosper throughout the centuries. Her basis for Weyland's staying power seems plausible, inspiring the bristling feeling that urbane vampires might very well walk among us:
The corporeal vampire . . . would be by definition the greatest of all predators, living as he would off the top of the food chain. Man is the most dangerous animal, the devourer or destroyer of all others, and the vampire preys on man.
He would learn to live on as little as he could -- perhaps a half liter of blood per day -- since he could hardly leave a trail of drained corpses and remain unnoticed. Periodically he would withdraw for his own safety and to give . . . [society] time to recover from his depredations. A sleep several generations long would provide him with an untouched, ignorant population in the same location.
. . . [U]pon each waking he must quickly adapt to his new surroundings, a task which, we may imagine, has grown progressively more difficult with the rapid acceleration of cultural change since the Industrial Revolution. . . . [A] perpetually self-educating vampire would always have to find himself a place in a center of learning in order to have access to the information he would need. . . .
But in Part II, Weyland's camouflage is pierced, and he falls into the possession of a band of disreputable opportunists. Had it not been for Mark, a 14-year-old streetwise, kindhearted-but-not-naïve kid, Weyland's time with these "devil nuts" -- Satanists, High Priestesses, and brainless worshipper girls whose "shapeless torrent of 'wows' and 'terrifics' and other general terms of awe . . . kept [them] from ever concluding a thought or a sentence" -- might well have resulted in his demise.
Weyland is caged and ailing. Through conversation and mutual need, Mark and Weyland strike a wary, delicate rapport, and Mark's empathy for Weyland is unmistakable: "He knew how it felt to pretend composure and confidence in a situation where you were at the mercy of other people. It felt horrible."
A cryptic event is being planned for Weyland on the celebratory night of "May Eve" by these self-interested revelers. Mark is the voice of reason shouting out unheard pleas for common sense and decency. It is Mark's youngster level-headedness and humanity that throw into relief the adults' absurdity and special cruelty.
The most successful and penetrating section of The Vampire Tapestry, Part II flows with ever-increasing tension and momentum until its frantic, blood-sucking end. It tempts you to feel something more kindly than repulsion for this creature who feeds on humans at will. It also invites reflection on a poignant dilemma: who is more the animal? the bestial anomaly in the cage, or the one who cages the beast?
Dr. Floria Landauer stars as Part III's foil to Dr. Weyland. An overworked, overwrought clinical psychologist, Landauer takes on a new client who seems "to have fallen victim to a delusion of being a vampire." On the day of the client's appointment:
He entered the office on the dot of the hour, a gaunt but graceful figure. He was impressive. Wiry gray hair, worn short, emphasized the massiveness of his face with its . . . high cheekbones and granite cheeks grooved as if by winters of hard weather. His name, typed in caps on the initial information sheet . . . was Edward Lewis Weyland.
In a premise that lacks persuasiveness and never really feels authentic, Charnas has Weyland baring all to his emotionally fragile therapist. While Charnas' writing of the psychological banter between Landauer and Weyland is nothing short of brilliant -- and in Floria, Charnas has certainly created a most believable character -- sentimental self-indulgence runs rampant. Floria is enticed by "the lure of the great outlaw" and Weyland finds himself "expos[ing] an unexpected weakness."
As Charnas has laid out, however, the vampire must be an ever-evolving creature if he is to survive, and perhaps it is inevitable that he must do more than mimic the humans among whom he lives and off of whom he feeds. Parts IV and V -- which bring Weyland back into daily and professional contact with his prey, and even have him contemplate the artistic side of humankind, represented here by the "love story" / "vulgar thriller" opera, Tosca -- pursue the intriguing transformation Charnas has set up for Weyland. "He was disturbed by a sense of something new in himself," Charnas tell us eerily.
Weyland's necessary evolution leads him to a defining moment in which he must make a fundamental decision. The Vampire Tapestry's conclusion exhibits finesse and precision. Charnas chooses not to end with the clichéd gore-drenched wrap-up. That would be too easy, and wouldn't fit into this creative, polished tale of modern dread. Charnas' methodical pen taps an exceptional vein in the mythological narrative of the vampire. Those who feast on her words will be left satiated.
Amy O'Loughlin is an award-winning book review columnist and freelance writer. Her work has appeared in Worcester Magazine, The Boston Book Review, Calyx, Moxie, and American History. She is a contributor to the upcoming reference work The Encyclopedia of the World Press and the anthology of women's writing Women Forged in Fire. Her previous publications at Strange Horizons can be found in our archive.