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Literature / Drawing Blood

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Drawing Blood is a 1993 horror novel by Poppy Z. Brite.

After twenty years of questions, Survivor Guilt, and self-loathing, artist Trevor McGee returns to the house on Violin Road where his father murdered Trevor's mother and younger brother before killing himself. The mystery of Trevor's life is why his father spared him from the massacre, and he hopes that by coming back, he will find the answer.

What he finds instead is a wily computer hacker named Zachary Bosch, currently on the run from the Feds and with plenty of family demons of his own. Together the two explore the abandoned house, which seems to be all too aware of their presence and taunts them with indecipherable messages and ominous threats. In spite of the growing danger, and much to their own surprise, Trevor and Zach find themselves falling in love for the first time in their troubled lives.

But the house is a gateway to Birdland, the wild, dangerous world of Trevor's father's fevered imagination, and in Birdland, the only rule is that every true artist must kill the thing he loves.

Tropes used in this novel include:

  • Arbitrarily Large Bank Account: Zach's hacking skills mean that whenever he needs money, he can alter his bank account to whatever amount he happens to require (a favor he bestows on Eddy before leaving town). He seldom needs cash for anything other than day-to-day expenses, considering he's also hacked the utility companies (a favor he bestows upon Kinsey). The combination means that even when he's living out of his car, he's loaded.
  • Abusive Parents: Zach's father beat him repeatedly with his belt. Trevor's, well...
  • Acid-Trip Dimension: Birdland, which is accessed by the characters through drug use.
  • Alcoholic Parent: Robert McGee's lapse in sanity coincides with his Descent into Addiction.
  • The Bartender: Kinsey's lifelong dream has been to open a club as a refuge for the kids of Missing Mile. The only time he gets really serious is whenever anyone does anything that jeopardizes it...such as underage Zach trying to score beer.
  • Boyish Short Hair: Underneath her blonde working wig, Eddy has a black, spiky buzzcut.
  • Caught in the Rain: Played with, as Trevor and Zach dash out into the rain, rather than seeking shelter from it, but the experience leads to them acknowledging their attraction.
  • Cloudcuckooland: Birdland, which is based on the world of Trevor's father's comics. Verges on an Eldritch Location.
  • Demoted to Extra: Steve and Ghost of Lost Souls (1992) are said to be on tour for the entirety of the book. They send a postcard, though.
  • Dreadlock Rasta: Dougal St. Clair is an easy-going weed-dealer who wears Rasta and Mardi Gras colors in his long dreads and who calls everyone "irie" and "mon."
  • Driving Question: Why did Trevor's father kill his family and himself? Even after confronting him, Trevor never gets an answer.
  • Electric Love: On the only occasion they have ever kissed, Eddy feels electricity running from her lips straight to her crotch. The narration even compares Zach preparing to put his lips to hers with someone carefully connecting jumper cables to a car battery.
  • Fourth-Date Marriage: Trevor agrees to run away to Jamaica with Zach and live in hiding from the Feds for the rest of their lives. They've known each other for a week, and most of that week was spent with Trevor slowly going murderously insane. Slightly zig-zagged in that they are never legally married, simply because same-sex marriage was a far-off dream at the time (and Jamaica's less-than-kind laws and social stigma surrounding gay men and male relationships).
  • G-Rated Drug:
    • Of the many, many (many) drugs that appear in the novel, Zach has an extremely adverse reaction to caffeine, which affects him like "bad speed." This is in contrast to Trevor, who Must Have Caffeine.
    • When Zach and Trevor arrive in Birdland they finds the local drug of choice is...tea, which is smoked like marijuana. (Skeletal Sammy's drug of choice, on the other hand, is a bit more PG-13: he gets a high from injecting human blood.)
  • Haunted House: The house on Violin Road, which may have been haunted even before the McGees arrived.
  • Hippie Parents: Rosena McGee is from the peaceful, flower-power school of counterculture, while Travis is the darker, more cynical, fight-the-system drug-addicted one, but both identify as hippies and raise their kids accordingly.
  • Hopeless Suitor: Zach rejects Eddy's advances repeatedly. It's made clear that this isn't a case of Incompatible Orientation, Zach just "likes her too much" to sleep with her.
  • I Just Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Eddy is devastated when Zach, who has refused to fall in love for twenty years, finally does...but not with her. Nevertheless she risks her freedom to distract the Feds while Zach and Trevor sneak out of town.
  • Improbably Cool Car: Zach's beloved black Mustang. It's improbable considering he's outwardly unemployed, but not so much when you know the secret of his Arbitrarily Large Bank Account (see above). In the climax, Eddy takes the Mustang as compensation for helping Zach and Trevor flee town.
    • Contrasted with the McGee's alleged car, which opens the story by conking out and stranding them in Missing Mile.
  • Impossibly Cool Clothes: When they appear in Birdland, both Trev and Zach find themselves wearing awesome vintage 1940s-style suits. As Zach notes, "Birdland might fuck with you at every turn, but at least you got to dress cool."
  • Inspector Javert: Agent Cover takes Zach's case very personally.
  • Jobless Parent Drama: At the book's opening, Travis McGee has been in a creative slump and is no longer able to support the family with his art, leaving Rosena to eke out an insufficient living as an artist's model.
  • Mad Artist: Both Robert and Trevor McGee seem to believe that their art is either driving them mad or only barely keeping them sane.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: A local gris-gris vendor advises Eddy to write Agent Cover's name on an egg to make him leave her alone. For the rest of the book, whenever Cover is about to investigate a new lead that might take him to Eddy, he suffers a mysteriously egg-related mishap.
  • Murder-Suicide: Robert McGee kills his wife and his younger son, then hangs himself, leaving Trevor behind.
  • Must Have Caffeine: Trevor can drink a couple of pots in one sitting.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Bobby McGee is clearly based on Robert Crumb, an underground cartoonist with a deep and abiding love of jazz.
  • Orphanage of Fear: Trevor grew up in various state group homes, where he was bullied (and at one point nearly sexually assaulted) by the other kids. The homes themselves were horrific only for their indifference and unfairness (for example, Trevor was punished for defending himself from the kid who tried to molest him).
  • Orphan's Ordeal: Trevor's has lasted twenty years.
  • Really Gets Around: Zach, who at one point even uses sex to pay for his convenience store run.
  • Real-Person Cameo: Stephen Bissette, of all people, as the editor who receives Trevor's Birdland comic. (Bissette is probably best known currently for his work on Alan Moore's Swamp Thing and as co-creator of John Constantine.)
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Fiery, determined Eddy plays Red Oni to Dougal's more laidback Blue Oni. (With a slightly different dynamic, extroverted, thrill-seeking Zach is Red Oni to Trevor's introverted, brooding Blue Oni.)
  • The Runaway: Zach is The Abused Runaway, leaving home as a young teenager.
  • Self-Harm: Trevor has a number of self-harm scars.
  • Shameless Fanservice Guy: Zach is surprised (and intrigued) when Trevor, who he has known for all of a day, strips for a bath in front of him, but reasons that Trevor's probably pretty casual about being naked in front of other people due to growing up in group homes.
  • Stable Time Loop: Trevor inadvertently creates one when his out-of-body experience causes him to travel back to the night of the murders, where he interrupts Bobby before Bobby can murder Trevor's younger self. Upon returning to reality, the realization that he was the reason he was spared death pushes him over the edge.
  • The Stoner: Zach in particular, although Dougal St. Clair also seems to feel that all problems can be solved with pot. (Brite himself has said he rarely put down the bong while writing this book.)
  • Stripper With a Heart of Gold: Eddy, cynical stripper by day, is deep down a genuinely caring person and devoted friend (with a side of Tough Love).
  • Title Drop:
    I was right all along: the second you make yourself vulnerable to someone, they start drawing blood.