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An unusual, meditative collection of linked stories about an African-American vampire as she lives through the centuries, starting with her “birth” as an escaped slave in 1850 Louisiana, and concluding in an apocalyptic 2050.

As a young slave, she is taken in by a 500-year-old white vampire, Gilda, who teaches her, bonds with her, and finally passes on her name before swimming out to her much-delayed death. The original Gilda had hoped that the new one would also take on her lover Bird, a Lakota vampire, but the angry and grief-stricken Bird takes off instead. The new Gilda meets other vampires, helps people in need, and watches time go by and history march on. Periodically, vampires from her past return, to reconcile or attempt revenge. As she was taught, she takes only as much blood as she needs to survive, without killing anyone; in exchange, she leaves behind new ideas, new insights, and, most often, hope.

This is known as “the black lesbian vampire book,” but that’s not quite accurate. While Gilda seems to prefer women for romantic relationships, feeding has a distinctly sensual aspect, and she feeds on both men and women. But it’s not a romance, paranormal or otherwise. Nor is it a horror story. It’s mainstream literature, with mainstream conventions, which happens to be about vampires. Even when there’s a lot of action and drama, with Gilda fighting for her life, it has a slow, thoughtful, philosophical, humane tone to it. (It’s in omniscient POV, which is probably a good choice for a story with this much sweep.)

I liked this but found it uneven. The stories have a through-line and continuity but also stand on their own, and some are much stronger than others. (It looks like at least some of them were originally published separately.) The emphasis on daily life, complex emotions, and moral quandaries works very well in some stories, but feels dry or slow in others. The first story is wonderful; the others vary between nearly coming up to that standard, and failing to come up to it.

Gilda doesn’t have anywhere near as much culture shock (“time shock?”) as I expected given the entire premise of the book, and I think that’s a flaw. There's also almost no addressing of historical attitudes toward lesbianism, which I would have liked to have seen. In general, though bad things happen and racism exists, the focus is on resilience, hope, love, and endurance. This works beautifully in some stories, but makes others feel unlikely or slight.

Note that there is an attempted rape right at the beginning, and that the story set in the 1950s is way more graphically violent than anything else in the book. (The cover I’ve linked below is misleading. Most of the book isn’t violent at all, other than some gentle, humane, sensual – albeit often nonconsensual – bloodletting. My copy has a much more representative cover, with a black and white photo of a black woman in a white dress.)

The Gilda Stories
Help me prioritize my to-read stacks! Please comment to tell me which I should read first and why, and if there's anything I should avoid and why.

Note: This is just the first poll.

Other note: I have already read and enjoyed other books by Butler, Myers, Johnson, and Liu.

[Poll #1342964]
Help me prioritize my to-read stacks! Please comment to tell me which I should read first and why, and if there's anything I should avoid and why.

Note: This is just the first poll.

Other note: I have already read and enjoyed other books by Butler, Myers, Johnson, and Liu.

[Poll #1342964]
.

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