"Memnoch the Devil: The Vampire Chronicles," by Anne Rice. 354 pages. New York: Knopf. $25
Anne Rice has rewritten the Bible. She's not the first or the last to do that. But until this book, she has always argued that no higher being exists. Now she introduces her readers to the Devil and God.
Ms. Rice has become the mistress of macabre by producing a best-selling novel about once a year for either her Vampire Chronicles or Mayfair Witches series. She has always had a talent for placing the monsters of age-old legends into the modern world and making them seem really quite human, with emotions and sexual desires. In this, the fifth installment of the Vampire Chronicles, however, Ms. Rice's flight from reality goes too far.
"Memnoch the Devil" starts out promisingly enough with Ms. Rice's favorite character, the homoerotic vampire Lestat, stalking his latest victims, a wealthy drug baron and his televangelist daughter, Dora. But Ms. Rice abandons this plot line after about 150 pages, perhaps saving it for her sixth installment. Suddenly, the Devil arrives on the scene. The Devil prefers to be called Memnoch (God is satisfied with just plain God). Memnoch attempts to recruit Lestat as his lieutenant in a quest to guide people to heaven without making them suffer the pain and torment of daily life. (Yeah, that's what they all say.)
To persuade Lestat to join up, Memnoch guides him on a journey through heaven, hell, the creation of man and the Crucifixion. Lestat learns how the Archangel Memnoch was first enthralled with the wonders of God's creation then disillusioned as he saw man's suffering. At one point, Memnoch persuades God to take the human form of Christ on Earth so that he can better understand the pains of man.
Along the way, Lestat encounters Christ carrying the cross. Christ offers his throat to Lestat, saying, "Taste the Blood of Christ. . . . Think of all the human blood that has flowed into your lips. Is my blood not worthy? Are you afraid?"
Of course, Lestat, being a self-respecting vampire, can't resist taking a bite out of the Big Guy. All of this leads to the climax where Lestat struggles with whether to end his life as a vampire and become Memnoch's number one.
While Ms. Rice's vision of the creation of the Earth and the evolution of an afterlife is entertaining, her vision of heaven and hell seem no different than countless others. Her attempts at preaching the values of religion seem to echo the hollow rhetoric of so many of the self-actualization movements that have come and gone. In the end, even die-hard Rice fans will find this vampire tale a hard one to swallow.
John Goecke is the assistant managing editor/graphics at The Baltimore Sun. Before that, he was design director for the Detroit Free Press and worked for the Dallas Times Herald. He has redesigned seven newspapers, including one in Japan, but none in Transylvania.