Among the more intriguing supermarket-tabloid headlines of recent weeks are ”232-Year Woman Has Secret of Eternal Youth—Widow of 20 Men Is Witch Born in 1761” and ”Plastic Surgeon Disguises Werewolves as Humans—Your Neighbor May Be a Monster!” If this sort of thing grabs you, you may also be grabbed by Lasher (Knopf, $25), Anne Rice’s latest occult saga: ”Woman Gives Birth to Full-Grown Demon—‘And Now He’s My Lover,’ Sobs Mom!” Want more? ”Man Discovers Beautiful Wife Is Witch! Lethal Ancient Pagan Spirit Reborn—Looks Like Jesus, Sings Like Elvis, Scientists Say!”
In this sequel to The Witching Hour, as in her equally popular and profitable vampire novels, Rice is mining the same rich lode of superstition, credulity, and mild derangement as the more imaginative tabloids. It would be interesting to know how many of her readers have, like Rice herself, a Catholic upbringing, since she relies heavily for her effects on Catholic props. The book is cluttered with religious medals, crucifixes, legendary saints, etc. One source of inspiration is clearly a nostalgia for a childhood faith that supplied miracles, intercessions, devils, and a rousing battle between good and evil. Another source of inspiration is sexual fantasy, most of it masochistic or incestuous. Sexual bliss in this book is pretty much a family value. Is there a psychiatrist in the house?
Back by popular demand from The Witching Hour is Rowan Mayfair, the beautiful blond surgeon who’s also 13th in a long line of dynastic Mayfair witches. Also back is Lasher, the ancient demon who gets reborn as Rowan’s instantly adult son. He abducts her one Christmas Day, leaving her handsome husband, Michael Curry, half-dead in the Mayfair mansion in New Orleans. Captive to the demon, Rowan repeatedly receives his thoroughgoing sexual attentions, which she can’t help but enjoy. Meanwhile, Michael is seduced by 13-year-old Mona Mayfair, a budding yuppie witch who has set out to seduce all the Mayfair men, keeping track of the experiences in her computer diary while also planning to make her fortune by starting her own environmentally- sensitive mutual fund. I think Mona’s meant to be the moral anchor of the book.
Readers automatically turned on by Rice’s fetid witches’ brew of demons, religious remnants, and sex won’t notice or care any more than readers of the Weekly World News notice or care that its news bulletins are a bit dubious. Even when compared to the bloated Witching Hour, Lasher is remarkably slack. You can skip whole chapters and not miss much. You can skip the whole book and not miss anything. F