When the blood creeps, and the nerves prick and tingle

FULL DISCLOSURE – quite the opposite of CONFIDENTIAL.

I see a lot of reviews marked up with “disclosure” or “disclaimer” or something similar these days – a note to cover the reviewer’s back, because of how they got the particular book in hand.

Well, full disclosure: the book in my hand just now came to me not as a review copy (it is over 50 years old, after all) but as a sort of payment in kind. Lots of small magazines offer their authors a nominal fee – enough to buy a “thank you” drink, though no more than that – but perhaps only Mythaxis offers its contributors a choice of books in return for their writing.

Last time I picked this, and received a first print 1961 pulp paperback, yellowed pages turning brown at the edges – a much finer reward than a fistful of paltry dollars:

Theodore Sturgeon is best known for his science fiction novel More Than Human (fine, yes: he also killed Dr. McCoy, gave Mr. Spock his world famous greeting, and staged the most musically significant fight until The Matrix came along), but with a title like Some of Your Blood there’s only one conclusion to be jumped to: vampire. And you wouldn’t be wrong to do so, but you wouldn’t really be right, either, because to suggest that the central character here is anything other than human would be to very much miss the point (not least because he is, no more, no less).

Some of Your Blood is, as vampire yarns post-Bram Stoker sometimes happen to be, an epistolary novel – which is to say, it takes the form of written documents: letters,  telegrams, reports, interview transcripts, and (in this case) a long, confessional statement that comprises about half of the entire book. The main text focuses on “George Smith”, an uncommunicative young mechanic in the US Army, sectioned for psychological evaluation after attacking an officer, while many of the other documents comprise a back-and-forth between a military doctor and his friend and superior as they discuss the case. One of the unexpected strengths of the book is the relationship we are able to witness within the communiqués between these two, even if some of their language (and attitudes) occasionally show their age.

We and they come to know George very well, and the picture Sturgeon paints is a highly sympathetic one. Raised in a troubled home by a cold and sickly mother and a violent, alcoholic father, George takes refuge from his traumatic environment in the wild, teaching himself to become a hunter and trapper of some skill. At first he develops a growing obsession with this hobby but, as the circumstances of his life change and change again, his need to hunt comes and goes, seemingly just one facet of an introverted, but largely harmless, personality. And yet there was that inexplicable, seemingly unprovoked explosion of violence, and the suspicions of his doctor that there is more lurking beneath George’s simple – possibly deceptively simple – surface.

There is a slight peculiarity that sets Some of Your Blood apart from the typical epistolary novel. It begins and ends on a message to the reader, a set of instructions which direct us to enter the office of Dr. Philip Outerbridge (he who, of course, studied George Smith) and lead us to a folder marked Confidential, in which we find the texts that follow. However, this same speaker precedes each new section to define the source in flat terms (Here is the carbon copy of a letter; The third or fourth carbon of a typed transcription; A sheaf of handwritten notes on yellow paper; Another telegram, etc.).

I found something vaguely unsettling about this extra detail: it isn’t just that we are to believe real documents tell this tale, but also that an unidentified person is right there, compelling us to read and, maybe, to believe it all too. With each brief line of introduction I was reminded of the dead voice of Tom Noonan in Manhunter, reciting captions for unseen slides of murdered families (“Mrs. Leeds, later, her husband beside her”; “Mrs. Jacobi, after her changing, the dragon rampant”; etc.) to the most chilling effect.

The most powerful scene in Some of Your Blood boasts a similar blending of superficial calm with indirectly perceived horror – not the first indication that, if this is a vampire story, it is not a supernatural one, but certainly the most explicit. It reveals undeniably that the stakes regarding George Smith are, in their potential, as high as those posed by the threat of Francis Dollarhyde, in both of whom awfulness is made all the stronger by glimpses of their humanity.

This is not a horror novel in the usual sense, though when the horror does rear its head there is no mistaking it. It is also a moving, engaging study of a complex character, and of how that study effects a moving and engaging relationship in turn. All in less than 150 old, yellow pages.

If you’re interested, the title quote:

Be near me when my light is low,
When the blood creeps, and the nerves prick
And tingle; and the heart is sick,
And all the wheels of Being are slow.

~ William Temple


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