A review of Kelley Armstrong’s “Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word” from “Expiration Date”, Edited by Nancy Kilpatrick (Edge, 2015)
By Derek Newman-Stille
It is always exciting to see a collection on the notion of the “Expiration Date” open with a vampire story – a monster developed as a fundamental question to the notion of death itself and occupying a liminal status between life and death while complicating both ideas. Kelley Armstrong’s “Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word” reintroduces some of the vampires from Kelley’s other fiction including Zoe, the Toronto vampire who people feel doesn’t really count as a vampire, and Cassandra, a vampire who has lived well beyond the date at which most vampires die. In Armstrong’s Otherworld stories, vampires are only able to live a certain number of years and each year, on their birthday, they must kill a human being and drink the last of their blood. As vampires age (still well beyond a human lifespan), they begin to experience the effects of aging and eventually die. Cassandra is seeking a replacement for herself on the supernatural council as the vampire representative and she has identified Zoe as a potential replacement.
Armstrong’s vampires, like many vampires in fiction, embody the clashing of past and present – figures who blur the understanding of the past by carrying memory into the present. Cassandra embodies this clash of temporalities by being an antique dealer, working with items from the past and bringing them into the present. Zoe embodies her resistance to the timeline by being an antique thief, stealing those moments of the past as she does by living beyond her years. But, Zoe and Cassandra’s strange relationship to time is most important in the notion of what is remembered and what is forgotten or left in the past. When Zoe’s young, human protage, Brittany the (former) Vampire Slayer (yes, she is definitely an Armstronged Buffy) begins asking Cassandra about Zoe’s past, the vampire obscures the details of Zoe’s past to hide the more unsavoury details of her life, hiding the rawness of Zoe’s memories and her previous identity from Brittany. This desire to hide the past only highlights how much Zoe has changed and how much she is concerned about her changes. Yet, this is also a narrative about wanting an apology for a past wrong done to Zoe and apologies are a way of coping with the past.
To further the issues of time and long life embodied by the vampire, Zoe is also facing an influx of “immortality questers” into the Toronto area – supernaturals who dissect vampires as a way to try to gain immortality. This act of questing for immortality underlines the role of the vampire as a question about immortality and survival as well as the obsession our society has with finding ways to life forever.
Armstrong’s “Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word” is about the uncertainty of time and memory and about the loss that long lives can imprint on the undead. Situated in a collection about death, this story serves as a question about death and the social power it has.
To discover more about Kelley Armstrong, visit her website at http://www.kelleyarmstrong.com
To find out more about Expiration Date, visit Edge’s website at http://edgewebsite.com/books/expirationdate/expirationdate-catalog.html