(this review and criticism contains no spoilers)
Lost Souls was published in 1992, and was Poppy Z. Brite's first novel. It is based on a short story by the title of "The Seed of Lost Souls". A book by that title was indeed published later, and is known as the book about the book (i.e Lost Souls). The Seed of Lost Souls contains the short story itself, but also the story about how 20 year old Poppy managed to get her first novel published
About the story
Lost Souls is written in classical Southern Gothic style (see American Gothic), and is set in Missing Mile, North Carolina (a nonexistant place, afaik), and in New Orleans.
The story itself is that of Ghost and Steve, who play in a goth-rock band called Lost Souls?, Ann, who is a relatively innocent bystander, and Nothing, who isn't. Their roads cross with Zillah, Molochai and Twig, three vampires who are full of themselves and others - in more ways than could possibly be imagined.
All of the mentioned characters get involved in a relatively manic roadtrip, full of petrol burning on near-empty tanks, splattered blood, unevenly distributed gore, sticky sperm, a surprising lack of hangovers (considering the amount of substance abuse), and salty tears.
Oh yes, you heard me. Sperm. And a lot of it: Lost Souls is a very sexual book indeed, with scenes of more or less explicit sex - especially of the homosexual kind - surprisingly tastefully described. Quite interesting that it would take a women to write decent gay soft porn, but there you go.
The book is filled with a "mass" of people. A load of characters you don't get into - they are just part of the general Cure-listening, wrist-slitting, black-makeup-wearing i-want-to-be-individualistic-so-I-dress-in-black-just-like-every-other-individualist-in-the-world crowd, which is what sparks the storyline's fuse: In classic Southern Gothic style, the maladjusted youth set out on a search for something - possibly their souls. Throughout the story, it becomes apparent that Ghost is the only character in posession of such a thing (a soul). Well, with the possible exception of Steve, but he loses his in an unspeakable act. Which, for an unspeakable act, is suspiciously well described.
The book has a decent amount of blood and gore-type horror, but it completely failed to catch my interest. The gay softporn, while well written, seemed aimed at a cocooned audience: An audience that has been protected from such horrible things as porn and eroticism. To be quite honest, halfway through the book, I found myself thinking that "hey, If I had been raised in the American South, going to church two times a week, but being protected from seing a single nipple on mainstream television all of my life, learning that gay people are the spawn of the devil, this would actually be quite shocking". But I wasn't, and it wasn't.
The novel's main shortcoming is that it just seems like a maladjusted youth's fantasy. Oh, it is well written, but - without being able to pinpoint why - it fails to uphold the concept of suspension of disbelief. The writer's youthful inexperience shines through, and the actions of some of the characters seem erratic without the erraticness seeming planned - kind of like the book itself, unfortunately.
Poppy, I am sorry. Your writing style is exciting and the pace in the story is good. But if you don't really have something to tell us, then trying is a waste of time - yours for writing it, and ours for reading.
I have been told that Brite's other novels are significantly better than Lost Souls
- if this is true, that means they are probably well worth a read. And perhaps it is better to leave Lost Souls for later. I wish I had.