A Review of Karen Dales’ The Guest (http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/139342)
By Derek Newman-Stille
Set in a Buddhist temple, Karen Dales’ short story The Guest is a vampire tale about the escape from a very human monstrosity. Outside the temple, the vampire is treated with discrimination and hatred: feared and not accepted – it is a world of fear that is resisted by the monks in the temple.
The vampire’s presence in the temple is situated initially as a disruption to meditative life. Chanting ceases, discomfort shivers through the temple. Even the vampire’s spiritual presence causes an instinctive unsettling that the monks of the temple resist with tempered understanding. It is this ability to resist the unsettling feeling evoked by the vampire that illustrates that the monks are the embodiment of compassion. But, the vampire is gradually revealed to be an expected guest rather than an intruder. He has returned to this space that served for him as the only refuge from a discriminatory, fearful, and hate-filled humanity.
Dales explores the alterity of the vampire, making him a creature with blood red irises surrounding a pool of deeper crimson. These eyes could speak to a hunger for blood – they could be hungry eyes mirroring the lust within. But Dales humanises the vampire in a way that transcends normative humanity. The pools of blood that are his eyes emote sadness, compassion, and love (not lust).
Dales plays on Stoker’s similarly titled Dracula’s Guest, creating a counternarative. Whereas Stoker’s vampire was a violation of holiness, hospitality, and the natural, Dales’ vampire is a reversal, a guest himself in a foreign place, the vampire is treated with hospitality, taught by the monks, and treated with understanding that he returns to them. Her tale also intertextually evokes Buddhist tales of demons who come into temples to be tamed by the monks and learn compassion and
understanding from them. Her vampire is transformative.
Rather than an agent of disruption to the natural order, Dales’ vampire has reconciled his role with Buddhist philosophy, seen by the monks as an agent whose role is to escort the dying to Nirvana. Dales reminds her reader of the notion of Yin and Yang, balance – and that life is balanced by death. Like the vampire itself, the life of the Buddhist is about life in death – rebirth and eternity. Buddhism and the vampire are in dialogue in this narrative, speaking to one another in chants and the ringing of temple bells.
You can read Dales’ The Guest for free at
http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/139342 and you can explore her site at http://karendales.com/