The Undying Appeal of Anne Rice

Her vampires are born again into power and alienation

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 29:  Author Anne Rice signs books during Entertainment Weekly's PopFest at...
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Randy Potts
Night Creatures

There was a summer in 2009 when a brand new boyfriend found a brand new habit smoking meth and I, to deal with something you can’t really deal with, buried my head in Anne Rice’s vampire books. It was hot that summer in Dallas and his place was small and stuffy; I’d lie on his bed naked, propped up on my elbows reading, fully engrossed in Rice’s novels until he’d eventually come back, always sweating too. Sweating but not from the heat or, at least, not just from that; he’d lean down and kiss me, grinning, with a mouth that looked like devils pouring out: lips flared; teeth, somehow, sharper; a grin meant to prove to me everything was normal.

I suppose there was, in truth, only one summer in 2009 but it felt like so many different summers that year. I was convinced for a time that my boyfriend would die, an addict, maybe in an alley somewhere, maybe with a tourniquet, tied up, a sleeve torn off? Fantasy. Vampire fantasy, specifically — The Vampire Lestat, then Interview With A Vampire, The Vampire Armand, Memnoch the Devil — weekly trips to the nearest Barnes and Noble to get my fix. Vampires are addicted, too, but in Anne Rice’s vampire world they’re not just addicted to blood. Power, knowledge, understanding — maybe even love — and youth, and moonlight, and shadows, and the smell of flowers rotting in New Orleans spilling out into the streets like blood.

Even if at one point Rice does pull a C.S. Lewis and try to quasi-scientifically explain the power of the blood — “there is power, power, wonder working power in the precious blood of the lamb”— Rice’s books are not sci-fi, they are fantasy. The easiest read of them is that Anne Rice’s vampire chronicles are just another Boomer trying to deal with aging. Trying to find a certain power in the chill settling on suddenly brittle, bloodless, always cold hands — vampires warming their hands on hot drinks is a big thing in those books — but, of course, it’s not that simple. I remember my boyfriend warming his hands on me, too, in the air conditioning, while he sweated. Blood pressure. Up, down. Up.

Lestat is everybody’s favorite vampire among Anne Rice adepts and for good reason; the best pages Rice ever wrote include the opening of Lestat’s story in The Vampire Lestat when a wiry, muscled, fantastically-blonde 20-year-old brat born to a house of nobles in decline, astride a horse in the wintry French wilds, battles wolves with two rusted guns, a mace, and two soon-to-be-dead dogs. And yet, my favorite character, by far, is Marius — bookish, Roman, dutiful Marius.

I loved Lestat the same way I loved my boyfriend: desperately. Stupidly. Worshipfully. Lestat was glinting metal and anger and a raw, quick bleed; you could dance with him but it wouldn’t last. In the end it was every man for himself: it was blood in his eyes and on his teeth and that one time when I literally carried him home from the bar and he collapsed on the floor next to the bed and was suddenly somehow too heavy to lift. I left him there all night and, in the morning, teeth bared, he asked me why I didn’t fuck him. Like that. Prone, on the floor, that night, ass up in the air. Drugs make you want funny things. Funny, scary, dark things.

Marius and Lestat are two sides of the same coin; the same character, really, a father/son duo at times, united by their worship of Those Who Must Be Kept. Lestat’s search for Marius across the ravages of time — etching words in stone in the empty forgotten wheat and farro fields of antiquity — is quite unlike anything I’ve ever read. It’s a search for Jesus, a will to know: why was Lestat, and all other vampires, forsaken? Eli Eli Lama Sabachthani — my god, why hast thou forsaken me — was the cry they heard from Jesus on the cross and it was Lestat’s cry, too.

And mine, that summer, already disowned by family and church and suddenly watching my boyfriend’s smile become sharper the way vampires do.

Eli eli; lama sabachthani.

What Rice’s vampire books are about, maybe, is people being against their will taken from their place within the human condition and thrust into: the void. Into a new body, a new being, one that only has a parasitic relationship with the past; many Christians and gays can relate. Gays, converts to a new faith, meth smokers — they’ve all been born again. All of us have, in one way or another, and that rebirth, even when it’s something we chose —can you choose alienation? — that rebirth is never easy. Rice’s vampire novels have all the sex and drama and beauty and queer romance you could want but they mostly have a champion (me, you) and a reality — being alone, cut off from your past, the rest of your life having to settle for savoring things that will always feel unfamiliar and often, especially for certain vampires, not just deadly but plain wrong.

How the fuck do you deal with that? As a born again anything you gain new powers but you are also saddled with strict, unbending restrictions; in Rice’s world many vampires, eventually, choose to go into the fire to escape the thrust-upon-them terribly-unfair beautifully-powerful condition of: being reborn. Being a vampire. Being both hunter and prey, sleeping only in fortresses or hidden redoubts beneath the earth. Coming out in the evening when the stars twinkle and the gay bars boom and the lighters’ soft firelight flickers on reflective black leather harnesses. Smoke, and mirrors, and cold bloodless hands wrapped around a mug of hot steaming… something.

I refused to let my boyfriend go until I had to let him go; he survived, and I did too; Rice’s books, with me til the day we parted ways. I learned, years later, that most people don’t actually die from meth; even so most people are, if they smoke it long enough, born again. It’s a hard life, that new life, just a baby all over again, defenseless, unable to work, unable to pay the bills, unable to even, eventually, kiss your boyfriend. Nothing but hot, pulsing blood on the mind, no longer the warm and tender body, the beloved reduced to the taste of salt and iron and your victim, wincing, swooning, the life rushing out— that vampire life. Sexy, cool, empty — and filled with fire.

Randy Potts is a public school teacher in Washington, D.C.