Sex, symbolism and the witches' legacy

September 28, 1993|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,Staff Writer

BOOK REVIEW

Title: "Lasher"

Author: Anne Rice

Publisher: Knopf

Length, price: 583 pages, $25 First it was vampires. Now it is witches.

Just as Anne Rice has kept the story of Lestat alive in the "Vampire Chronicles," she is continuing to breathe life into the Mayfair clan with her newest novel, "Lasher," a fast-paced follow-up to "The Witching Hour."

"Lasher" doesn't have to act as a sequel, though. It functions fine as an introduction to the Mayfairs, a dynasty of witches who are anything but stereotypical crones. The men are handsome, the women are beautiful and the sex is erotic (thanks to Ms. Rice's background as a pornographic writer; she uses the pseudonyms A. N. Roquelaure and Anne Rampling).

On the surface, "Lasher" is a suspenseful tale of a family that has been seduced and financially enriched by "the man." But who or what is this person, called Lasher, who has entered the world physically and brutally through the union of Rowan Mayfair and her husband, Michael Curry? Is he a new evolutionary species, a demon or a fallen saint come back to life? And how many Mayfair women will die as this being tries to couple with them to produce his own offspring?

It's gripping reading as the family frantically searches to answer these questions while looking for the missing Rowan, who at the conclusion of "The Witching Hour" had mysteriously left the family home in New Orleans with the "baby" Lasher. With her disappearance, the Mayfairs are left without a designee to carry on the legacy of the witches, whose line stretches back centuries to a religiously divisive Scotland, when the first witch summoned Lasher.

Religious symbolism abounds in Ms. Rice's books, which is probably not surprising since the 51-year-old author may still be sorting through some of her own beliefs. At one time, she had told an interviewer that she had been "very strictly brought up in the Catholic Church . . . in a very repressive and limited sort of Catholicism."

Readers may find the religious comparisons unsettling -- or challenging. In a clear allusion to Genesis, Ms. Rice starts her book: "In the beginning . . ."

Also, Lasher's entry into the world on Christmas Day is full of meaning, and it certainly isn't accidental that the time frame of the book is the solemn period of Lent.

The denouement leaves no question that fans of Anne Rice can look forward to another chapter in the Mayfair dynasty. After all, the witches are still procreating, and the stage is set for flame-haired Mona Mayfair, a 13-year-old Lolita, to carry on the legacy.

Most important, as Lasher has told us, there is "Ashlar, who comes again and again." Ashlar, of course, is a rather obvious anagram for Lasher.

Fans of Ms. Rice's books also will no doubt be treated to a "witches" movie in the future. The first vampire film, based on "Interview with the Vampire," begins filming in mid-October.

The author has publicly not been happy about the choice of Tom Cruise as Lestat. She told the Los Angeles Times recently that Mr. Cruise "is no more my vampire Lestat than Edward G. Robinson is Rhett Butler."

Perhaps that is why she took pains to settle the question of who should portray Lasher in a film when she describes him in her book as "looking like one of the crazed bohemian young people. An acolyte of the rock music star David Bowie."

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