Before Bella and Edward, before Bill and Sookie, before Elena and Stefan there was Zoe and Simon…
Published in 1990, “The Silver Kiss” by Annette Curtis Klause (of “Blood and Chocolate” fame) tells a story that these days seems cliché. Yet it was not so then. The story is about a lonely teenage girl who meets and falls in love with lonely, guilt-ridden vampire. Ho hum? Been there, done that? Seen the movies, watched the t.v. shows, have the t-shirt and all the associated merchandise?
Not really. At heart “Twilight” is about redemption and the power of moral courage. Yeah, it is also a love story that is pure fantasy fulfillment–the most beautiful and gallant boy in the entire world falls for you and you alone, and eventually you get to live (kinda sorta) happily ever after. Forever. “True Blood” is a different, (much) more adult version of the same idea. “The Vampire Diaries” is about the complicated mine field that is growing up, about the transition from teenager to grown up. Plus the fantasy. “The Silver Kiss” has a similar fantasy, but its theme and heart is an even more serious matter–Death.
Don’t be afraid. Death is the theme of “Lord of the Rings.” And Harry Potter.
The book alternates viewpoints between the star-crossed lovers. Zoe is a teenaged girl who (like most of us sooner or later) feels utterly alone. Her mother is dying, has been for some time. Her father, in a misguided effort to spare her pain, tends to keep Zoe away from her mother in the hospital. Of course it doesn’t feel like that. Zoe feels rejected, especially since her father, suffocating in his own grief, withdraws. Then Zoe’s only real friend announces she’s moving away. All these seem pedestrian don’t they? Simple, almost laughable. But this is Zoe’s whole world, and honestly haven’t we all been there? We aren’t supposed to lose our parents until we are ourselves adults, capable of dealing with it. Just like parents are never supposed to outlive their children. But it happens. No vast disaster, like a hurricane or earthquake or murder spree. Most tragedies are like this. Intimate. Personal. A tiny holocaust that sets only one or two hearts bleeding.
Simon is a vampire, a white-haired boy in his teens or so he appears. He never had a chance to grow up, not really. Misunderstandings and poor luck wrecked his family long ago. Now he prowls the night, disgusted at what he is, holding on to a single purpose–the need to destroy the cruel child who did this to him. Vampires in this tale can make their bite feel however they choose. But the creature who created Simon and murdered his mother thrives on pain and fear. Simon, confused and angry, can frighten when threatened but much prefers to leave his victims very much alive, with a sweet dreamlike memory.
One night, he sees Zoe. And she in turn sees him.
What perhaps every lonely person on Earth really fantasizes about is a friend, a soul-mate, some one who understands what we say and how we feel. Zoe and Simon come together in mutual comprehension. Loss of parents, loss of friendship, eager desire for companionship as well as appreciation of what the other loves. The plot in which Zoe volunteers to help Simon complete his quest could potentially make for a fine vampire film. These vampires must avoid daylight, can shift into mist, face final death if pierced through the heart by a wooden stake. Likewise, they need their native earth. So, more traditional than some of its successors. But it shares with “Twilight” and others a focus on the emotional story rather than the exciting action scenes. After all, given the plot might it not just as well be called “BloodQuest” or “Revenge of the Vampire.” But no, it takes its name from the moment when a sixteen-year-old girl gives her blood to a lonely boy she has come to trust. And because he deserves that trust, his bite is not pain. It is bliss.
“The Silver Kiss” is not a long or deep book. Marketed, correctly, for the Young Adult audience it is a short adventure of the heart, in which Zoe does not in fact go on to spend an eternity with her beloved. As was mentioned earlier, the theme here is death. The parting of the ways, at least in this life. Zoe’s tale is not of gaining the perfect boyfriend but rather of finding a strength she did not know was hers. She is still going to see her wonderful mother die, and her loving father all-but-scream with grief. Her friend is moving away, and they may never see each other again. All that will hurt. But what Zoe does gain from Simon is something more precious–the courage with which to face her life.
Simon gains something from Zoe as well. He finally finds love. More, despite a clear if desperate purpose, he achieves a kind of perspective. He sees himself as something other than a monster or a victim. Through her, he becomes human in his own eyes, able to see beyond his own pain.
Not a great love story. Not a great vampire story. But a very, very good one. One worth reading. For that matter, one worth adapting into a film of great atmosphere and beauty. That was a hint to any producers who might be reading…
Edit: Please check Moonlight’s post on The Silver Kiss from last year.