Throwback Thursday: The Gilda Stories by Jewelle L. Gomez

30138108The Gilda Stories by Jewelle Gomez. ★★★

Trigger warning: sexual assault 

This collection of black lesbian vampire stories is more focused on the idea of immortality than vampire lore. The Girl was born a slave in the American South. She escapes and is on the run when a slave catcher finds her and tries to rape her; she kills him and is soon after found by Gilda, a woman who turns out to be a vampire. Gilda gives the Girl immortality, and the Girl takes on her name in her memory. The Gilda Stories are the stories of the Girl’s (now Gilda’s) life from 1850 to 2050.

The stories are not directly related, and the book does not have much of an overarching plot. It’s more focused on Gilda’s character and her life as the world changes around her. Gilda is immortal in a sea of mortals, and she tries to remain tied into their world rather than stand apart from it. In the two hundred years the book covers, she lives in different communities in different parts of the country, presenting through Gilda’s immortality a look at African American history and experience. The intertwining of black identity and immortality reminded me of Wild Seed by Octavia Butler, although The Gilda Stories is very much its own narrative. It’s a lot more of a literary book than I usually read, and I can see how it won the Lamda Award for lesbian science fiction.

Unfortunately, The Gilda Stories also furthers some stereotypes about bisexual people. There is only one character who is depicted as being attracted to multiple genders, Elanor. She’s an alluring, seductive redhead who takes a shine to Gilda. Gilda’s enchanted by her, despite warnings of others. As it turns out, Elanor gets off on manipulating and using people. She previously seduced both a husband and wife for the amusement of turning them against each other with jealousy. Biphobia is an issue within the queer community as well as without, so Gilda’s lesbian identity doesn’t affect the troubling depiction of bisexuality in The Gilda Stories.

The Gilda Stories is more interested in the heroine’s immortality than her dependence on blood. While Gilda’s vampiric nature is not the focus of the story, there were some interesting takes on vampire lore. Gilda’s protected from the sun as long as she has the dirt of her homeland sewn into her clothes and in her bed, a take I’ve never seen before. It’s also interesting how The Gilda Stories mixed vampires in with science fiction, through continuing the stories into 2050, when the human population is aware that vampires exist. I’m not sure if I’ve seen futuristic vampires before!

There’s a lot to love about The Gilda Stories, including it’s portrayal of queer subcultures and found families. However, it wasn’t to my taste. Primarily, the structure didn’t work for me. I tend to want more of an overarching story and wasn’t feeling the slower paced, short story like format. I also felt like there wasn’t any sort of conclusion — the book just ends. There’s nothing special about the last story; the narrative just as easily could have kept going. Throw in a biphobic stereotype and the overdone opening scene of the heroine killing an attempted rapist, and you get a book I’m iffy on. There are reasons to recommend The Gilda Stories, but I don’t know how often I will be doing so.


4 Comments Add yours

  1. Pyo says:

    “Gilda’s protected from the sun as long as she has the dirt of her homeland sewn into her clothes and in her bed, a take I’ve never seen before.”
    I wouldn’t describe myself as a fan of vampire novels, but I think it’s always fun comparing the different lore. It often feels as if I’ve seen every combination possible and then authors still think of something new.

    “I’m not sure if I’ve seen futuristic vampires before!”
    If you ever feel like reading something really “out there”, give Elizabeth Watasin’s Monster Stalker (Lone Nico and Bear) a try. “Unique” doesn’t do the novel justice.

    1. Wow, Monster Stalker looks like it’s really something. I’m worried it might be a bit too horror for my tastes though.

      1. Pyo says:

        Nico’s backstory is horrifying in the truest sense of the word. I read some messed up novels (for some reason particular LGBT characters have one horrifying childhood after another – cannibalistic serial killer grand parent? Forced into drugs and child prostitution? Sure, let’s think of something even worse..) but the way Nico was physically and mentally tortured is high up on the “worst list”, at least by my standards.

        But it’s only backstory, told in a few glimpses with few details. And the current plot, while violent, isn’t really full of tension. It never particularly feels as if Nico is threatened by anything anymore (how could she, she has Bear after all). Instead, a lot of it is exploring the weird setting and a cute, unconventional romance (the right word might be “adorkable”).

        It’s truly a one of a kind novel.

      2. Okay, I might check it out then! Thank you for the rec. 🙂

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