Andrew Katz’s The Vampire Gideon’s Suicide Hotline & Halfway House for Orphaned Girls (Lantern Fish Press) at its core is a novel about a vampire—one that asks us to take an alternate look at the infamous (often scoffed at) vampire trope. However, its main character, Gideon, is nothing like the glowing, sex-throbs of the Twilight Saga; he does not have a brooding, full head of hair and, in fact, has no interest in sex whatsoever. Instead, he is a modest and lonely older man, living in a decaying house of memories, eating expired blood from the local morgue. Spiraling outward, this is also a story of an isolated man and a despairing teen (Margot) stumbling upon a make-shift familial bond as they navigate the cartography for which to understand each other’s views of the dim and fragile world Katz builds.
The novel begins with Gideon taking a series of calls on the suicide hotline he has set up in the basement of his aging mansion where he has made his chambers and sometimes feasts on the blood of humans he has deemed “bad” (usually, toxic masculine beings he is vigilante-style punishing for their abuses on society) making Gideon the “Robin Hood Vampire” of sorts. In this first montage of call transcripts, we begin to hear suicide voiced in a range of perspectives from old to young, male to female, rich to poor, complex to simple, drunk to sober, etc., as we will hear throughout the novel. The last of these voices is Margot’s, a sixteen year old girl who is a victim of domestic abuse by her drug-addicted foster father. After a flip yet desperate exchange, Gideon slips into story—a narrative move into memory we will come to expect during these hotline call medleys. He begins the story of his life with a woman named Rachel that we will see unfold over the course of the novel as the crux to understanding Gideon as both a human and a supernatural.
As with most of Gideon’s stories, we come out the other side a little closer to figuring out Gideon’s life prior to becoming a vampire and with a simple example that is meant to bring the caller to the conclusion that suicide is not the answer. Gideon says, “‘Because I can tell you without a shadow of doubt that dying is worse than any possible outcome of living. When people tell you there are fates worse than death, they are speaking from a necessarily uninformed position. They have not experienced it. If they had, they would never be able to utter those worlds with any confidence’” (5).
I must say that as a writer who often explores both mental illness and suicide in my own writing, I was a bit skeptical of the concept of a fantastical man who is “undead” (or already dead or immortal, depending on how you look at vampires) unraveling the vampire stereotype, while dishing out sage advice about killing yourself (or rather, not killing yourself). I was concerned with the way it could become a dark joke and make light of suicide altogether. Or the way it could fall into oversimplifying the severity of suicidal ideology for those who are suffering or supporting loved one’s who are suffering—those real humans who might need to be encouraged to call a hotline for help. Because of this, I admittedly put the novel under great scrutiny to expose its purpose for pairing suicide and vampires together in the first place. However, Katz does not put forth any great adages about why not to kill yourself, as it would be easy for a writer to be tempted to do while on such a delicate platform. Yes, Gideon does assert that there are things worse than death and that suicide is not the answer, as expected. However, he does so from such a flawed (sometimes broken) point of view that it becomes more a reflection on his own regrets.
Gideon does try to help the other’s that call, sometimes to extreme (i.e. taking in sixteen year old Margot and attempting to parent her), but he mostly “helps” through listening and sharing rather than doling out large prophecies. Throughout the novel, he is often found making small suggestions to a routine college-aged caller. Katz writes:
The boomerang hammers into the sand five feet to the left of me and ten behind. With a sigh, I go and retrieve the toy to try again. I dance across the sand, hopping and throwing until my forehead is beaded with sweat and my back is dripping. In all this time the boomerang returns to my hand a total of one time. It is so exhilarating that I promise not to stop until I reach three. My prospects of success do not look good. Still I hop and throw. Hop and throw. (177)
Gideon’s suggestions seem silly and trivial: hop and throw and maybe it will lead to talking to someone in person who you were supposed to meet, as it does in his case. Yet, the suggestions reveal this ultimate ache and longing for human connection that surprising Gideon often finds in common with his human callers.
At the end of the day, we are all humans reaching out into some kind of relative darkness for others hoping for a positive reaction, but often finding hurt and trauma—whether that be rejection, neglect, abuse, or being turned into a Vampire doomed forever to an eternity of memories of the aforementioned. This is never more clear that in the imperfect father/daughter relationship Margot and Gideon form in which each routinely pushes away the other only to find them their the next day on the couch in the basement with a book or waiting in the kitchen to share a meal together. They need to feed off each other (thankfully not literally!) and that inspires them to keep coming back to connect once again. Gideon muses that this reaching out is what is vital; we see this in his exchanges with his would-be, foster daughter, his nostalgia for his family with Rachel, and of course, his odd-ball suicide hotline advice. As Gideon concludes, it is never too late to start over.
Andrew Katz, when not reading and writing fiction, enjoys puppers and doggos, black coffee, hiking and writing bios that read like poorly made dating profiles. He is also the proud owner of several paintings he did himself and hides from the world because they’re bad. He lives and works in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.