My Soul to Keep by Tananarive Due (thoughts)
This is my third experience with Due: I’ve read two of her ghost stories (The Between and The Good House) with mixed success. But I could feel a bit of a spark, something that told me I could really connect with her writing if I just found the right book. And I’m delighted to report My Soul to Keep was just the ticket!
I’ve been in a horror-ish mood in general lately, although I prefer my horror to be of the psychological/suspense variety. So I actually thought this was another ghost story until I started reading, when I discovered that it’s actually a kind of riff on vampires. David, one of the main characters, is an ‘immortal’: centuries ago, in his native Ethiopia, he met a wise man who used some kind of blood ritual to make a group of other men immortal. The intent was to create an eternal company of scholars: together, the men study various liberal arts (as I would call them) as well as more religious/spiritual traditions (is any other nerd out there thinking this sounds like the best thing ever?). Other than their immortality, they don’t have much in common with vampires, though: no drinking blood, avoiding sunlight, etc. Anyway, David has kind of ‘gone rogue’ by creating a family and settling down in modern-day Miami: the book’s plot hinges on the pull between his desire to be a family man and his dark-ish past, which he’s desperate to keep hidden from Jessica, his wife.
I loved Jessica: she’s a strong, independent woman, and as an investigative reporter she’s anything but an oblivious heroine. While she does love David (who, in a fun role reversal, is a stay-at-home dad), she’s not willing to excuse anything in the name of that love. Due kept the pacing spot-on, and I enjoyed the shift in perspective between Jessica and David as the plot unfolded.
My Soul to Keep will probably never make it into a literary ‘canon’, but it’s a smart, refreshing, suspenseful novel that perfectly satisfied my readerly mood. You can’t ask for more than that! It’s actually the first in a series, so I’m looking forward to seeing what happens with the characters next. I definitely recommend this for those who enjoy psychological horror/speculative fiction, especially for it’s non-Eurocentrism (Ethiopia is so fascinating, and it makes complete sense as an epicenter for ‘immortals’!). Even if you’ve been overloaded by vampire fiction. ;)
Suggested Companion Reads
- Fledgling by Octavia Butler (Another neat take on vampires, which hews more closely to the ‘traditional’ aspect and is a bit more ‘literary’.)
- Notes From the Hyena’s Belly by Nega Mezlekia (If the brief bits of the novel set in Ethiopia make you curious, this is a wonderful memoir by an Ethiopian.
- The Witching Hour by Anne Rice (I have to include a nod to the mother of the contemporary vampire genre! ;) This is actually about witches and ghosts, not vampires, but it’s my favourite.)