The return of Lestat

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     Poster from the controversial 1994 movie “Interview With the Vampire.”  Anne Rice balked at Tom Cruise playing her beloved Lestat but later admitted he was very good indeed

Poster from the controversial 1994 movie “Interview With the Vampire.”  Anne Rice balked at Tom Cruise playing her beloved Lestat but later admitted he was very good indeed

With Halloween-y coming up on Friday, I thought it a good moment to touch on the new Anne Rice, which brings her back to her greatest creation, the Vampire Lestat.

Or at least to his world. He seems to be the absent sun around which the other characters revolve in “Prince Lestat” (Knopf, $28.95, 451 pages). But then he often is in the later “Vampire Chronicles” novels.

It’s easy to make fun of Rice’s purple prose and bizarr-o plotting. Reviewing the book in The New York Times, Terrence Rafferty writes:

Lestat’s vampirism dates from the late 18th century, but his star quality seems very much the product of the time in which Rice gave birth to him, the 1970s: “Interview With the Vampire” reads like a People magazine profile written by Ann Radcliffe. (People had begun publication just a couple of years earlier.) Although the style, mixing celebrity-worshiping gush with Gothic portentousness, is, not to put too fine a point on it, nutty, Rice wielded it with amazing self-assurance, as if it were inevitable, something that had been waiting to be discovered. That’s what all pop-culture geniuses do, in their different ways. And over nearly four decades and many, many books, she has seen no reason to change it. In “Prince Lestat,” the first Vampire Chronicles novel in a decade, Rice’s queenly prose is unaltered. Time cannot wither nor custom stale its infinite monotony.

But back in the 1970s when the gay rights movement was young and AIDS was lurking in the wings, Rice’s homoerotic bloodsuckers tapped into the zeitgeist – something that Rafferty himself alludes to. It’s what all great pop novelists do, be they John Grisham or J.K. Rowling.

Having lost her daughter, Michele, to a blood disease – leukemia – at age 5, Rice made you understand blood as a conduit of life and death, the inevitability of loss and the tremendous longing for the home of your youth – in her case, New Orleans. Long before there were male/male romance and gay marriage, she gave us Lestat and Louis and their doomed child vampire, Claudia (the nickname of daughter Michele, after actress Claudia Cardinale), who functioned as a gay family. I myself and everyone who writes today about homoerotic relationships owe her a tremendous debt. Forget her character Akasha. Rice is truly “The Queen of the Damned.”

But the Lestat-Louis dynamic goes beyond sensuality. It was Rice’s genius to give us a relationship that contains the two basic responses to life with all its challenges. Louis consents to letting Lestat make him a vampire, then bemoans his fate for, well, eternity. Lestat resists becoming a vampire – he is, in effect, raped by one – but then surrenders to the adventure his altered state offers.

The two are like a pair of cancer patients, one of whom keeps saying, “I have cancer. I have cancer. I have cancer,” and the other of whom says, “I have cancer. And I’m going dancing tonight.”

You gotta love that about Lestat. And for that reason alone I bought the book.

It’s my Halloween treat. (Well, that and a few Godivas.)