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Sunglasses After Dark, by Nancy A. Collins
Genre: Dark Fantasy
Publisher: Onyx
Published: 1989
Review Posted: 1/2/2007
Reviewer Rating:
Reader Rating: 9 out of 10

Sunglasses After Dark, by Nancy A. Collins

Book Review by James Michael White

Have you read this book?

Vampire novels these days are passé in an oversaturated market, but back in 1989 Nancy Collins wrote what became a Bram Stoker award-winning novel, Sunglasses After Dark, in which a poor little rich girl gets kidnapped and turned into a vampire.

Not so simply as all that, of course. The poor little rich girl starts out, years after her vampiric transformation, in an insane asylum run by a crooked doctor. Girl's name is Sonja Blue, and she's watched over by a big lug named Claude, who's about as useful as all those doomed security guards in old Star Trek episodes. She escapes one night and Claude, blaming himself, tries to find her.

But out in the big world again, Sonja is at odds with herself, at once clinging to the image of her former self -- poor little rich girl Denise Thorne -- while at the same time trying to keep at arm's length the "Other," a murderous and bloodthirsty split in her mind that enjoys havoc, blood, destruction. Here is the psychological weight of the story: the internal struggle between good and evil, between self acknowledgement and self loathing, between recognizing that she has irrevocably changed and that she has to, finally, deal with it.

Yet making this matter all the more difficult to deal with is a father who chooses to no longer recognize her as his own, another kind of infernal father who created and tossed her aside, and a religious madwoman possessed of supernatural powers.

Easily read as a female power fantasy, in which men are ineffective and weak and women are abused, potent, badasses, Sunglasses After Dark nonetheless dodges romantic vampire fantasies and turns upon a determinedly noire path where folks are rough, angry, and mean, stabbing at sham religions and whipping up a fairly common "humans are the cattle of vampires" mythology wherein -- and perhaps surprisingly -- more than mere vampires populate the Real World. This Real World is one that unattuned folks almost never see, yet which has always existed right along with them. There are ogres, seraphim, and demons here, which seems to make Collins' vampires of uncertain theology. If there are demons and seraphim, are there likewise a God and Satan? If there is not a God and a Satan, then what accounts for these terms, seraphim (who are good) and demons (who are evil)? And if those terms, God and Satan, possess no theological currency in this Real World, what, then, are the mythological rules at work? What, then, are these Other beings? What are their origins?

These questions are not quite answered, but a huge portion of the novel grinds to a near halt at about the halfway mark as Collins' version of "how to make a vampire" is told in the unfolding of Denise Thorne's doom and the mythic birthing of her transformed self who becomes rechristened Sonja Blue. This latter process is aided by the ever helpful (and ever so ubiquitous), Wise Old Man -- here named Erich Ghilardi --who assists our heroine in her journey through the underworld, likewise assisting her transformation from would-be wastrel to slayer of all that she hates -- namely, vampires -- who took the life she had and gave her one she didn't want.

Matters then lurch from prolonged background to foreground story once more, just in time for Sonja to unravel the mystery of her imprisonment in an insane asylum, come to terms with the life she can never regain while stuck in one moderately preferable to death, almost patch things up with dad, and knit back together her discorporate psychology, forging a newer, stronger personality, perhaps even a finished one, via her battle with the tale's TV-evangelist arch villainess.

It's mostly this latter trick, the putting back together of a broken mind, at least a divided one, that pushes Sunglasses After Dark out of the shadows of "ah, another vampire book," and into the silvery moonbeams of something just a little more than that. Sonja has issues, and seeing the hows and whys and whatfors displaces "female power fantasy" with a twisted trip through personality formation.

Not a bad first effort at all, and engagingly written, it's perhaps little wonder that Collins spun a three-book series from Sonja, though for all its merits as entertainment, this one remains hampered by those long explorations of background that seriously puncture the jugular of a story that starts out pulsing with life and vigor, only to find itself nearly drained of vitality before rising one last time for an almost-too-late hurrah.
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