Lost Souls: Audio adaptation of a classic vampire novel

I've just finished listening to Crossroad Press's audio adaptation of Poppy Z Brite's classic debut novel, Lost Souls. Lost Souls was first published in 1992, when I was working as a bookseller, and while I loved it then (and sold it by the crate, shoving it into the hands of everyone who came into the store), I haven't read it since. Brite wrote some very celebrated vampire fiction around that period, characterized by romantic and gritty portrayals of subcultures and dropouts, homoerotic imagery, and explicit, graphic violence; all in all, a potent cocktail, and I very much enjoyed it then.

Brite later moved away from the vampire stuff, and began to write novels about New Orleans restaurateurs. Some of Brite's fans were displeased by this, but I really like these books too. I got the impression through mutual friends that Brite had disavowed her earlier work and wasn't happy to be known for it, so I was surprised to see a new adaptation of Lost Souls. The people at Crossroad assure me that the edition has Brite's approval, though.

The adaptation is good and sometimes great. The reader, Chris Patton, does generally excellent work with Brite's material, and the production values are very high, with the exception of a couple of minor read-os -- nothing fatal or even particularly off-putting. At $12.99 for 12 hours' worth of DRM-free MP3, this is a damned good bargain.

And what's more, it is a brilliant book, even more enjoyable today, 20 years later, than it was when I first read it. It's a book that reminds you that the first novel contains material that the author has saved up for her entire life, literally, and the resulting story is so rich and, well, enthusiastic that I was swept away with it.

Lost Souls is the story of Nothing, the bastard child of a callous, erotically charged vampire named Zilla, who carelessly impregnated Nothing's human mother one Mardi Gras night in New Orleans, even though he knew that human women who carry vampire children to term always die in delivery. Christian, the older vampire who cared for Nothing's mother after Zilla abandoned her, sends Nothing away to a small town in Maryland and leaves him on the doorstep of a middle-class couple.

15 years later, Nothing is a gloomy, strange subculture kid, trying to lose himself in indiscriminate sex and drugs and drink, without success. Though his adoptive parents hid the strange circumstances of his origins, he has lately uncovered them and this has widened the gap between him and the adults around him. One day, he simply leaves, taking $100 from his mother's emergency stash and heading vaguely out of town, thinking to visit Missing Mile, North Carolina, because he's fallen in love with the music of Lost Souls, an indie band whose homemade cassette he's happened upon, and Missing Mile is the address on the cassette's liner.

Lost Souls are a duo, Steve and Ghost, close friends who live for their music and who experience a brotherly bond that is strained but never broken, despite Steve's violent, fraught affair with Ann, his ex-girlfriend, and Ghost's odd, psychic gifts. Neither of them is really able to survive in the world, but together, they make almost a whole person, keeping one another from going beyond the self-destructive brink.

As Christian, Zilla (and his two vampire lovers, Twig and Molochai), Lost Souls, and Nothing cross the American south, heading for one another, drifting in and out of New Orleans, a story of raw, erotically charged nihilism unfolds. Brite's work is unselfconsciously brutal and matter-of-fact about rapes, prostitution, murder, beatings; it is simultaneously gloomy and gothic and exuberant and modern, a trick of authenticity that puts the likes of Stephanie Meyer and Anne Rice to shame.

Brite's characters blow past the point of no-return again and again, neither seeking nor receiving redemption, and yet throughout, they remain likable and even sympathetic. There, perhaps, is Brite's greatest gift, her capacity to romanticize the careening, self-regarding, the awful so well that you have to admit that there's a part of you that wants to let go, cut loose all bonds of propriety and empathy, some predator chained up in your psyche's basement.

Brite's recent work is awfully good, and I respect any artist who turns his back on what's easy and popular to follow his muse, but whether Brite loves this book any longer or not, I still love it. I'm delighted to discover that it's back in a new form, and hope it finds another generation to thrill and terrorize.

Lost Souls Unabridged Audiobook


  1. This was a wonderful book and I was always recommend it to ‘new’ vampire readers. Cure kid vamps trump glowing emo hipster vamps any day, fangs down.

    “I like to drink my watercolor paint water”..

  2. I found her “Exquisite Corpse,” the only book I’ve read by Brite, to be gratuitous and pointless…but maybe I should give her another chance?

    1. My thoughts about Exquisite Corpse exactly. It was one of the most ridiculous suspense novels I have ever read. Considering that people seem to enjoy Brite’s other work, perhaps I made a poor selection in my choice to read it prior to any other of his body of work.

  3. “a trick of authenticity”

    Trying to wrap my head around this phrase. Be back after coffee.

  4. Never read her but I checked out her website. Looks like another case of SMeyers ripping off yet another more talented author for her watered down sparklepire crap.

    Regarding Lost Souls, PzB is a bit disparaging:
    “There’s a plot in there somewhere, involving trips to New Orleans during which the noxious green liqueur Chartreuse is consumed, love and betrayal, babies who eat their way out of the womb”

    Sounds like you’re right about her disavowing her older books. She says she’s tired of the goth crap and doesn’t care what you do with those old characters. Don’t you dare write fanfiction about her newer books though:

    “At this point, I don’t want fan fiction published about Rickey, G-man, or the other characters in the Liquor world, and yes, I’m afraid I am willing to back that up legally — not to be an asshole, but because I plan to continue writing about these characters for a long time to come … when someone else writes without permission about characters that are still very much a part of my life, it feels a lot like having someone sleep with my husband, or rather more like having someone sneak up behind him and stick a finger up his butt.”

    So… dramatic…

    I might read her old stuff.

  5. Wait, you get to choose who writes fanfiction about what? Does this mean Kirk/Spock was done with a wink and a nod? My world is upside-down.

    “a trick of authenticity” still baffles, even after coffee.

  6. I first found Brite while reading Borderlands anthologies…and for a short story writer, I thought her work was great. But the longer novels felt like a broke ass Anne Rice, where the hidden sexuality was thrown in the forefront and you were just waiting for vampires to graphically get it on.

    I generally felt dirty reading them, but considering the dearth of books in that vein, and my reading needs, I picked it up anyways and readily suggested it to others of the goth persuasion because I knew, they had no taste and wouldn’t get the clue that it really was badly plotted, one dimensional characters, who were picking up scraps of other novelists that could have actually made this work but didn’t feel the need to degrade themselves any further than they needed.

    Really horrible work. Its work that hacks read to make them feel better about their own lacking works. Almost everyone I knew that read her were either bad writers, or goths with no taste. I was both. And when I realize this, and realized that a manuscript sent to a publisher was compared to hers…I decided against following my dreams of being a writer and quit writing altogether as it was a sign.

    Still, some of her short stories were nothing more than genius. To the point and excellent. Almost reminds me of Steven King’s style of being able to write an excellent short but anything longer than 50 pages is going to need to kill an entire tree and the fact is, if you rip out the middle 800 pages of a King novel — you might find a story worth reading.

    I’m wondering if I should pick up her new works…getting away from the tired goth line and ripping others works badly (and making a lot of money for!) might actually mean that she can focus on something great again.

  7. I interviewed her back in ’93/94 have signed first editions and really wanted to buy a copy of the ones that smelled of burnt human flesh. hell I’ve even got the copy of Rage (not your fathers porn mag) with her lounging around nekkid in it (Did she do a BB spread?).

    Lost Souls & Drawing Blood meant a LOT to me back when they came out. Perhaps because of how much I identified with Brite’s work I’m really disappointing she disavowed it. It’s almost personally painful.

    I re-read Lost Souls a couple years ago it’s not a masterpiece of literature, but it’s still a good vampire read. and if you’re of the goth bent, young and uncertain it will probably retain the same resonance it did for me all those years ago.

  8. After reading Lost Souls for the first time waaaay back in the day (when I was still a pretty uncritical reader), I couldn’t figure out what about it bugged me. Then I started a second of her books. And it hit me. All of the female characters were pathetic.

    Made me sad. Still does.

  9. Sigh. Every time I hear some one going on and on about the Twilight series I think back to my youth and reflect on Brite’s ‘Lost Souls’ and Colloins ‘Sunglasses After Dark’. Damn those where good vampire books. Full of eroticism, violence and body fluids! Now thats what makes a great vampire story. Not this romantic dribble you currently find on the shelves.

  10. Gods, no. I thought Lost Souls was dead and buried, but, I guess, much like “real” vampires–NOT dipshit goth teens who think jizz is blood–it just keeps rising from the friggin’ grave. That’s it: I’m buying that vampire-slaying kit off eBay and taking this POS out once and for all.

  11. I prefer “Drawing Blood”, a related – but – not – sequel, also set partly in New Orleans and partly in Missing Mile. The computer hacking parts are naturally really dated, but I think it holds up.

  12. I remember meeting Poppy while sitting at the bar at Molly’s on the Market, and was told how she once tried to hire a ,,,. ( I would be sued, if I filled in the rest of that sentence, and am not kidding.)

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