Remembering Anne Rice

December 20, 2021

In the summer of 1995, when the world had yet to become infested with vampire slayers, and twilight was, at most, a witching hour, my sister and I hopped on a Greyhound bus to New Orleans in search of Anne Rice. You see, in the ’90s, we were part of that private world that young people build for themselves and that often includes the vast and generous broodiness of the occult. In our world, along with Tarot cards, white magic, and reincarnation, there was Anne Rice. Her beautiful Lestat and tragic Louis had seduced us. Their full, assured voice had told us that life could and should be exuberant, and sensual, and luminous. Thinking of her death now, at only 80 years old, so young for a vampire, I think about how her beautiful immortals, veiled in the pale moonlight of Bourbon Street, might still have something to say to us.

Unforgettable, and haunting, and extraordinary, Interview with a Vampire (1976), Rice’s debut novel, and the first in a series of sequels known as The Vampire Chronicles, follows vampire and New Orleanian Louis de Pointe du Lac’s interview with a young reporter. The novel is a gothic-horror-romance of the highest order that admits the reader into a worldview I had never seen on the page. Upon discovery, Rice’s prose was wise and sensuous; and her characters were pansexual bloodsucking superheroes in a world where labels mattered less than the possibilities of a fluid love affair with life and death. Dashing figures lingering in doorways and darkening the gloom with ruinous obsessions, Anne Rice’s vampires were and continue to be about desire, and the need for community, and the tortured human spirit.

In the best of Rice’s vampire stories, life’s philosophy, resilience, and truth-seeking carry over into an afterlife. As readers, we arrive adventurously at immortality through creatures who, though no longer human, carry humanity’s flame. We follow them into the dark because to stay behind means to reject our desire to outrun our own mortality. Theirs is an unusual, often brutal and deeply discomfiting world that is as necessary to us now as it was when my sister and I first encountered it.

Perhaps today, some forty-six years after the publication of Interview with a Vampire, and in the aftermath of a COVID outbreak, the message has to do with what life can become, if we are not careful:  a sodden, laborious, unsociable thing.An intimidating non-essential we remember only when it’s threatened, or when it becomes a haunting of better days we no longer recognize as our own. For Rice’s vampires, moments are earnest, self-contained, essential, and to lose the connection to the living is to die forever.

Because vampires die of sorrow, a profound drifting away from the self and from others can be life-threatening. While a regretful turning away from those we love and those who, if given the chance, may love us back, can be fatal. Anne Rice’s vampires, then, are creatures who remind us that life is precious and that, if given the chance, even the undead will cling to it fiercely, unabashedly. Because bloodsucking, or blood drinking, if you like, after all, is a bravely intimate, sensorially lavish experience that puts participants into direct contact with life’s source. Their communion, a kind of dialogue, a nibbling at life’s marrow and, ultimately, a feasting—a sitting at the table to commune with the other.

Some years ago, on the edge of adulthood, when my sister and I stepped off the bus in New Orleans looking for vampires, we didn’t know then what we know now: We’d found them. They were the blood-dizzy, spellbound merrymakers on the street, the ones who’d lost a vital connection with life and who clung desperately to someone’s neck, in hopes of intimacy. In the age of COVID, it becomes increasingly clear that our human crisis is inextricable from the crisis of human isolation and disillusionment. Anne Rice is more prescient now than ever given our current grappling with disconnection, disaffection, and social distancing, and the onus is on all of us — vampires in the age of COVID, the ones who, by reasons still unknown, survived our own death — to suck at the life source once again.

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Susannah Rodríguez Drissi is the author of Until We’re Fish, Gold Medal recipient of the International Latino Book Award for Best Historical Fiction, and Winner of the Nautilus Book Award. She is on the faculty of the Writing Programs at the University of California, Los Angeles.