Vampires are a popular staple in fiction. They’ve been romantic, gothic, monstrous, mysterious, and metaphors for all kinds of things.
Author Andy Davidson’s debut novel In the Valley of the Sun takes its own track with the staples of the monster. His work, nominated for a Bram Stoker award, has what looks like a vampire or two in 1980s rural Texas.
Now, to be fair, the creatures in this book look and act a lot like vampires. Davidson just never directly calls them that. It’s more implied which is the best way to describe Davidson’s whole book.
The novel opens with Travis Stillwell, an itinerant cowboy. Travis meets an attractive redhead name Rue one night at a bar. He doesn’t remember much the next day, but he wakes up in the parking lot for a motel. The young widow who runs the place, Annabelle Gaskin, sees he can’t pay her usual fees for letting him park his truck and cabover trailer there over night, so she hires him to do odd jobs around her struggling business. Her young son Sandy takes a liking to the mysterious man. What did happen to Travis?
Short answer: Rue did something to him. Now he craves blood.
That said, Travis is no innocent victim. Before he’d even met Rue, the novel makes it clear he just murdered a young woman. A Texas Ranger named Reader is after Travis already. He was a serial killer even before he got a new taste for death.
Davidson sets up his world by flipping between perspectives of his five main characters: Travis, Annabelle, Sandy, Rue, and Reader. Reader is mostly separated from the others as he’s just investigating the crime. That said, Davidson doesn’t skimp on Reader, giving him an extensive backstory with his own tragedies. That more or less describes all the characters. Rue may be something of a monster, but her backstory shows she is more of a victim than Travis when he changes. And Travis’ own childhood shows a lot of disturbing details of a very human variety. About the only one who seems to be doing somewhat OK is Sandy. True, he misses his dead father and knows more of what’s going on than his mother assumes, but he’s a lot more innocent than the adults around him.
Now, I did say Davidson never uses the word “vampire,” but he does have a few interesting twists on the vampire. He doesn’t say what their strengths or weaknesses are. What he does say is more implied as Travis hides from the sun and feels an undefined hunger. Neither he nor Rue have fangs. These monsters use knives. Considering Travis was a monster to begin with, Davidson seems to suggest his transformation may be making him a better person. He’s still a monster, but he trying to be a better man than he ever was before. He seems to be seeking some kind of redemption when it is arguably too late to get it.
That may be what this book is about: Travis seeking redemption while other characters seek some sense of solace in a hard life. Rue wants a family. Lonely Annabelle wants forgiveness for a past sin. Sandy wants a father figure. Reader, the most well-adjusted adult in the group, wants justice. Will any of them get what they want? That’s not for me to say here, but it is a great ride to get there. Davidson digs deep into his characters’ psyches, and he does so effectively. Vampire fans may want to check this out. 9 out of 10 missing rabbits.