Orem (Killer of Crying Deer, 2010, etc.) delivers a fictionalized account of the life of Dracula author Bram Stoker and the incidents that led him to create one of literature’s greatest monsters.
How does a single story command the high and low, the beautiful and the ghastly, the sacred and the profane? Or, as this novel asks, how does a single man contain these multitudes? In flowing, lyrical, and sometimes-unsettling third-person narration, Orem offers dark speculations on the life and mind of Abraham “Bram” Stoker. As the novel tells it, Bram is haunted from a young age—first by his own childhood illness and then, possibly, by literal ghosts. Despite the fact that his father seemed to give up on the possibility that he’d thrive or succeed in life, Stoker eventually joins the Lyceum Theatre as an aide to renowned actor Henry Irving. But life behind the footlights is not all well, and although Bram gets the opportunity to mix with high society and literary idols such as Arthur Conan Doyle, Walt Whitman, and Oscar Wilde, he remains very much in Irving’s shadow. The book is at its most powerful when the distant narration combines with Bram’s psychology to create a feverish, even horrifying landscape of thought; on the one hand, Bram idolizes Irving and treasures his own proximity to greatness, but on the other, he’s sickened by his own lack of literary success and seems overcome by envy. He’s also shown to be torn between his wife, Florence—a beautiful, aristocratic woman who’s emblematic of the society he wishes to join—and Lujzi Sido, a sweatshop worker who lives in squalid conditions but who makes him feel more alive than anyone else does. Personal and historical parallels later appear in Stoker’s greatest work, as faith, class differences, violence, beauty, and death coalesce in the figure of Dracula. But intriguingly, where Bram sees himself in that tale remains a constantly moving target.
A brilliant and imaginative tale of love, death, and literature.