by Anne Rice
Alfred A. Knopf
Devoted Anne Rice fans will love Lasher. Those unfamiliar with Rice's work will do better to read the Vampire Chronicles. Lasher, the sequel to 1990's The Witching Hour, for all its apparent ambition, lacks the mesmerizing narrative power and cohesive, intriguing story line found in the other Rice novels.
In Lasher, Rice picks up the narrative thread left hanging at the end of The Witching Hour. At the end of The Witching Hour, Rice situates the reader in present-day New Orleans after a global jaunt through time tracking the incestuous Mayfair family of witches from their roots in Scotland to the powerful, respected family living in modern day New Orleans. In the opening chapters of Lasher, the heir to the Mayfair throne--Rowan Mayfair--has been spirited away from New Orleans by the demon Lasher. The whole of the novel is then taken up in the relentless pursuit of Rowan and the newly embodied Lasher. The broad historical and global scope which Rice so adeptly pulled off in the Vampire Chronicles and even managed well enough in The Witching Hour seems overly ambitious here. The globetrotting which takes place in the world of the vampire Lestat here seems part and parcel of Rice's desperate attempt to re-create the aura of mystery and erotic power commanded by her vampires. But witches are a whole different ballgame and Rice takes much too long to resolve the problem at the heart of the novel: Lasher is searching for a new embodiment or reincarnation so that he can reproduce.
While Rice created a complex and believable interplay of voices in The Witching Hour, she fails to incorporate the same technique in Lasher. Her attempt at weaving together various narrative strands feels false and a bit too contrived. A great deal of Lasher reiterates the story lines which unfolded in The Witching Hour to the point that Rice seems desperate to make Lasher accessible to those unfamiliar with the earlier volume. The series of recollections of Lasher and other characters in the novel, juxtaposed with the voices of present-day Mayfairs, makes for a fairly disparate set of story lines and draws in plot elements which Rice never fully reconciles.
In addition, the eroticism and sexuality which seem to come so easily in other Rice novels appears forced in Lasher. Thirteen-year-old Mona Mayfair, the heir to the Mayfair line should Rowan Mayfair die, displays a precocity beyond her years evident in her sexual encounters with Rowan's husband Michael. In a narrative account of a family based on incestuous relations, Mona's sexuality does not seem out of place. After all, the Mayfair line is founded on a series of bizarre couplings between relatives and between humans and spirits all in the name of the Mayfair family and the continuation of the witches.
Both The Witching Hour and Lasher hinge on notions of procreation and lineage. Lasher draws its narrative force from the spirit Lasher's desire to reproduce. When Mona sleeps with Michael one wonders what sort of being will come of their union. But the erotic tension and consummation of desire between Mona and Michael has no bearing on the novel at all. Their erotic play is nothing more than sex for sex's sake, an act empty of any real schematic significance. The coupling of Michael and Mona represents a storyline which Rice fails to address later in the novel, a real throwaway moment in the next. The elements with which to craft an appealing tale of the occult, then, are all present in Lasher--but they are unsubstantiated and rarely developed to any real degree.
Rice does manage to garner the reader's sympathy for her characters. Evil spirits and people who should seem detestable are made glamorous and enchanting. Rice wields language in a powerful way, lulling her readers into an enchanted world in which evil spirits such as Lasher lose their ominous qualities. One feels part of a fairy tale unlike any other fairy tale one's heard. Though the novel is certainly melodramatic, Lasher is also quite subtly hypnotic.
Yet Rice ultimately takes on too much in Lasher--the novel is too broad in scope. Rice seeks to link up Celtic pagan myths to Christian ones, secular ideas to religious ones. Several of the disparate strands of the narrative seem intentionally left unresolved to pave the way for a sequel. Throughout the novel one is willing to forgive minor stylistic and narrative gaps, yet the eventual collapse of the historical panorama and Lasher's final confession seem little more than ridiculous. For devotes of the genre Rice offers all the elements which make the erotic/horror/fantasy tale popular--she just fails to link them together in a cohesive and believable way.