Review: THE GILDA STORIES by Jewelle Gomez (1991)

Genre: Adult Horror
Year Release: 1991 (25th anniversary edition 2016)
Source: Library Kindle

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Content warning: slavery, attempted sexual assault (depicted), domestic abuse, murder

The Girl runs away from a plantation and murders an assailant on the way. She’s taken in by an older woman who runs a brothel where she learns about a life of freedom. The woman grants her extended vampire life, but warns her not to use the gift for death. The Girl takes on her name, Gilda, and then a series of adventures spanning over 200 years across all of America. It’s unequivocally American with sharp insights and commentary across all time periods.

Told with great conviction about the sanctity of life and the beauty of chosen family, this is a really cool vampire story that will linger once the final chapter closes.

With the passing of every chapter, I had to actively remind myself when this book was published. It’s older than I am, yet the depiction of women-driven and centered narratives within vampirism feel groundbreaking even for today. My personal favorite of the stories is “South Bend, 1955.” Many of the themes of community, protection, and what it means to survive are exemplified in this one.

What’s also nice is that each chapter can almost be read as its own vignette. There’s some continuity because Gilda is the same character throughout, though she experiences much development and growth, despite never aging (because vampire). The tension between respecting blood as the source of life and retribution is so compelling throughout. There are moments when even Gilda asks why can’t she just kill that guy. The idea of reveling in death as a white supremacist paradigm has such teeth in these works. The work wants to give compassion to everyone involved, and the sense of resistance and belief in better is so palpable.

The intersection of romantic and platonic relationships gets crossed in each story. There’s a tenderness and a sensuality to it that feels very different to the deep romance of more popular vampire works. Survival and joy is a communal endeavor. This idea as the work’s thesis runs from start to finish, and it’s unwavering in its conviction.

Definitely give this a read if you’re interested in less individual stories featuring lesbian vampires navigating the world that doesn’t shy away from issues contemporary to each respective time period.

3 thoughts on “Review: THE GILDA STORIES by Jewelle Gomez (1991)

  1. Pingback: February 2022 Reading Recap | Jo Writes Fantasy

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