A current Professor of English at the University of Central Florida who has received teaching awards from Syracuse University, Cornell University, UCF, and the South Atlantic Administrators of Departments of English, not to mention many other educational accolades and achievements, Susan Hubbard is also an author of two critically acclaimed short story collections (Walking On Ice, Blue Money) and two chick-lit novels (Lisa Marie’s Guide for the Perplexed, Lisa Marie Takes Off). So, besides an impressive scholarly background, what was it that drew me to Ms. Hubbard’s latest novel The Society of S? In a nutshell… vampires. Of course, if you ask the author, The Society of S isn’t a vampire novel. It’s a ‘coming of age’ tale that just happens to have vampires in it. And that’s a pretty accurate assessment. So, while the inclusion of vampires is what hooked me initially to The Society of S, it was the wonderful storytelling that kept me glued to the pages.
Essentially a memoir, The Society of S is told in the first-person point of view by Ariella “Ari” Montero, chronicling her earlier years, mainly as a 12- and 13-year old. To be brief, Ari is living a sheltered life in NYC with her father Raphael Montero, the housekeeper Mrs. McGarritt, and her dad’s work associates Dennis and Mary Ellis Root. As Ari grows older, not only is she finally getting to experience all of the things that she’s been deprived of — friends, TV, riding a bicycle, etc. — but she’s also learning more about her family’s past, including the mother (Sara Stephenson) who abandoned her, and the heritage that may have been passed on to Ari. As the book progresses, be prepared for acts of self-discovery, convergences of the past and present, murder, mysteries — solved and unanswered — treachery, and yes, vampires.
So how does a book that employs two of media’s most overused clichés — coming of age stories and vampires — set itself apart from the mundane? I’ll give you two words… Susan Hubbard. It’s obvious from her teaching background that Ms. Hubbard possesses a certain pedigree and refinement in her writing that immediately separates her from other authors, and is clearly evident in The Society of S. In other words, the prose is excellent, managing to be graceful, intellectual and concise all at the same time. Characterization is superb, particularly Ari who is realistically convincing as a youth evolving into adulthood, but secondary players are also believable and interact well with one another. On top of that, Ms. Hubbard does a good job staying up to speed with current popular culture — Myspace, Wikipedia, well-known literature such as Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and Edgar Allan Poe, music (NIN, Johnny Cash, Joy Division, etc.) and role-playing all play a role in The Society of S. And finally, the pacing and command of the story is well done, so even though there’s really no pulse-pounding action, edge-of-your-seat thrills or heart-stopping frights, The Society of S is a real page-turner that is hard to put down.
As far as the vampires, I’ve seen a lot of different variations of vampirism in many diverse formats (TV, film, comics, videogames, etc.), but nothing quite like what is depicted in The Society of S. I won’t explain everything, but Ms. Hubbard’s vampires are realistically portrayed, grounded in nearly plausible scientific applications and governed by most of the same rules as humans are. So, while the vampires may possess such fantastic powers as hypnosis, reading another person’s thoughts and emutation (invisibility), their use of these abilities is regulated by ethics (or lack of) and dividing hierarchies (Colonists, Reformers, Nebulists, Society of Sanguinists, Environmentalists, etc.) that mirror our own. Personally, I found Ms. Hubbard’s version of vampirism to be quite refreshing.
At the end of the day, despite being a bit different from the novels that I usually cover, Susan Hubbard’s The Society of S is a pretty compelling story that is hard not to like, no matter your age or usual preference. After all, while the book may be wrapped up in supernatural packaging, at its heart The Society of S deals with real, everyday issues, and if you give it a chance, I think you’ll find yourself finishing the novel long before you want to…
Ethical Vampire — (2007-2010) Young adult. Publisher: “If you ever want to hide from the world, live in a small city, where everyone seems anonymous.” That’s the advice of twelve-year-old Ariella Montero, who lives with her father in Saratoga Springs, New York, in a house haunted more by secrets than by memories. The Society of S traces her journey south, to Asheville and Savannah, and on to Florida, as she learns that everything she knows about her family is a lie. When she finds her mother, she learns the truth: Ariella is a fledgling member of the Society of S. S stands for Sanguinists: a sect of environmentalists concerned with ethics and human rights — although they happen to be vampires. S also stands for synesthete: a person able to see words and letters in colors. The letter S is lucky for Sara, Ariella’s mother, who gravitates to cities such as Savannah and Sarasota. But will it be lucky for Ariella? Susan Hubbard’s novel is an intricate literary mystery that raises provocative questions about the way we live now. Ariella’s voice will lure you into a world where you’ll meet the others among us: vampires who cope with their special nature and need for blood in a variety of ways, ranging from the savage to the mundane to the scientific.