We all know what it means to see life through ‘rose-coloured spectacles’ but no-one ever talks about the bruise-coloured glasses that cover our eyes when love goes wrong. I imagine that a simple ‘growing apart’ would result in purple specs but what kind of glasses would you wear if you discovered your fiance in bed with another woman… just two weeks before your wedding? Is there a filter deeper than black?
In ‘Bram Stoker’s Summer Sublet’, Willie is that woman betrayed but we don’t know that at the start. Her story begins in an unfamiliar bed with an unfamiliar the dog wanting to go for his morning walk. The apartment in which Willie wakes is not her own. The neighbourhood is not her own and Quincy the dog is not her own either. We learn that Willie is pet-sitting Quincy and Renfield [a talking parrot] for a month while their owner is away on holiday.
Everything seems very normal, even mundane until you begin to see that Willie is not just pet-sitting, she is in hiding from her own life because she can’t face what HE has done to her, HE being the fiance who cheated on her. She can’t face HIM and she can’t face the apartment they shared so she is literally homeless until her new apartment is refurbished. She could have taken her small suitcase and gone to stay with friends or her family but she can’t face them either. And she most certainly can’t face Facebook, not with her wall plastered with wedding news, so it’s just as well that she left her computer behind with everything and everyone else.
Willie believes that pet-sitting in a strange place where no-one knows her is the perfect way to retreat from the world while she licks her wounds but she is not aware of how isolation can distort the dark lens through which she already views the world. She begins to see significance in small things – a cab goes by showing an advertisement for a sexy new vampire movie and we learn that she is attracted to bad boys like her fiance. She says ‘HE wasn’t a vampire – although he certainly sucked the life out of me when I found him in bed with another woman…’ A little later she notices that the “coffin corner” on her floor is empty of decoration ‘as if it were ready for the undertakers.’ [In older buildings coffin corners were built into the bends of the stairwell to allow coffins to be carried down stairs.]
A little further in the story Willie catches the tail end of a news flash on tv, about the sudden increase in violent crimes… in her new temporary neighbourhood. Small things given special significance by a dark lens. I could go on but I think you can see the pattern unfolding.
When I read the Sublet just over a week ago I was too enthralled by the story to give much thought to how it was written but now I can appreciate the cunning way in which Candy Korman has woven these moment of special significance into the mundane world of dog poop, misery and day-time TV. It all feels so real and so normal yet with every page the influence of the dark lens becomes deeper and the impossible starts to feel… plausible.
Where is the dark lens leading Willie? That is the question that kept me turning page after page. By three quarters of the way through I could see where the story was headed yet I still did not want to believe because I’m a normal person and I know vampires aren’t real. Are they?
And that is all I am going to tell you, except perhaps to say that ‘Bram Stoker’s Summer Sublet’ is one of the best psychological thriller-cum-literary monster stories I have read in a very long time. The writing is superb, of course, but you won’t notice that until the end because you will be too busy wondering who the real monster truly is.
I knew that Candy Korman was a great indie writer when I read her first novella, ‘The Mary Shelley Game’, but now I know she is a great writer, full-stop because ‘Bram Stoker’s Summer Sublet’ is a great book. Great as in one of the classics. Great as in ‘will be remembered’. Great as in ‘would have been published in a bygone era when traditional publishers still cared about merit’.
This is a book you MUST read and I do not say that often. 5/5
[Note : Those of you who have followed my reviews from the beginning may have noticed that they have changed, becoming more and more positive as the months have rolled along. You may have wondered whether my reviews could be trusted. I just thought I’d take this opportunity to explain that I still read books that leave me dissatisfied but I no longer review them. This was a conscious decision on my part because I find negative, or even just so-so reviews very hard to do. They upset me. I put them off. I feel guilty. Then, when I finally force myself to write them I spend far too much time trying to be diplomatic, time I should be spending on my own writing. So I decided that I would only review books that made my greatness antennae go bzzzzzz. You may still disagree with me about what makes a given book great but I promise you that I’m not faking it!]