I was a fourteen-year-old boy when I first read Interview with the Vampire and the year was nineteen ninety-one. (That sentence was meant to be read in Brad Pitt's voice.) I noticed my English teacher carrying a paperback novel along with his textbooks and class records. When I asked what the title was, it turned out to be a Stephen King novel. I have always loved the horror genre, not because I was immune to being scared, far from it, I wasn't a particularly brave boy, but exactly because I loved getting scared in the movies. My dad indulged me with VHS movies of the supernatural and the macabre. I had a grandmother who told scary stories. The next day my teacher loaned me Cujo and Pet Sematary. I read them and got sick to my stomach. These stories were scary all right. I thought I'd read more.
One day I was reading Salem's Lot when Louella saw me. Louella belonged to the honors class, where the brainy students with good grades and bright futures were placed. I, on the other hand, was right smack in the middle of mediocrity: placed in the third class in a caste system of five classrooms. Louella told me, "Oh, that's King's book about vampires. If you want a real good vampire novel, I'll lend you one tomorrow." That tomorrow was when I met first Louis, and Claudia. And Lestat. Oh, Lestat!
Interview with the Vampire terrified and fascinated me. It had lots of scary scenes. But its monsters were not the stock villains in the films I saw as a kid. They were seductive and powerful and beautiful. And they spoke as if from the depths of their souls—though Louis might think he has lost his to eternal damnation and Lestat, I imagine, might even laugh at the idea of vampires having souls. When I finished the book (I devoured it in four days), I was stunned. I remember it was dusk when I read the last page. I closed the book and stared out of the window for a long time, aware only of my breath and the rise and fall of my chest, all thoughts silent in my mind.
The next day I returned the book to Louella. I wanted to say I was hungry for more Anne Rice, but all I managed was, "Thank you." She smiled and slowly nodded her head, knowing that I've just been through some religious experience reading Interview, quite the same as she had. She was in the middle of reading Cry to Heaven, and when I looked I saw a lot of them in the honors class were reading Cry, too, and were surreptitiously whispering about the plot points, not minding the Science teacher who was explaining the wonders of Physics up front. I made a mental note to save my allowance so I can read Cry myself, and when I did I was startled to find no vampires in it. It was a historical novel! I wanted to sing with Guido and Tonio!
I met up with my best friend, Joan, one weekend. She attended an all-girl school run by nuns. I told her that I was reading books by Anne Rice and she squealed. She knew you to be the real A. N. Roquelaure. She had not read your other books yet. She handed me her paperback of The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty, a novel that neither had vampires or castrati, but gorgeous male slaves with erect organs, and Beauty, luscious Beauty. That book fed my teenage sexual fantasies and I must have lost ten pounds reading it!
I read other popular writers at that time, too. I read Sheldon's thrillers because everybody else in my class did, as well as Archie comics and Choose Your Own Adventure books. But there was a beauty to your language, the prose in your books, that left all these other pop lit a little dry. Your writing was akin to the classics my Literature teacher made us read and submit reports of: Dickens, Wilde, Chesterfield, Hemingway. Your books had substance and gravitas.
I believed in your stories. I believed in the Talamasca. I believed that your stories held truths masquerading as fiction. I believed you to be privy to some arcane, ancient knowledge, and you were cleverly revealing these histories to the world in the guise of the novel.
(part 3 tomorrow)