Memnoch the Devil
Just when the Tom Cruise-as-Lestat controversy has evaporated into a distant memory comes Memnoch the Devil, the most recent installment of Anne Rice’s ”Vampire Chronicles” and a book guaranteed to create even more eye-rolling outrage and comment than anything previously experienced. Rice, the unchallenged empress of a seemingly review- and reality-proof literary genre, may have finally overstepped her bounds.
In the fifth bloodsucking installment, not only is Lestat up to his usual omnisexual, preternatural antics, he’s up to them with God and the Devil. The famously amoral being has found religion, literally: Satan wants him for his lieutenant, and has come for him in person, thus allowing Rice to take her readers on a tour of Christianity and its tenets, from the creation through the Crucifixion, the Crusades, and contemporary TV evangelists. Gag me with some bad blood.
It was one thing, after all, to accept Rice’s fantasy of an old-world monster as a gorgeous brat who happens to have a need to bite people’s necks, flies through the air, and is incalculably wealthy — her overwrought prose somehow made it all seem incredibly escapist. It is another thing entirely, however, to find out that God has ”dark, brownish” hair and eyes, a ”perfectly symmetrical and flawless” face, and an ”intense” gaze; that Satan is ”a great Angel…his hair a mane of gradually settling light” (that is, when he’s not walking around on earth in the guise of an ”ordinary man,” or a goat-legged, black-faced horror); that the Devil’s purpose on earth is to get people into Heaven without making them suffer the pain of sacrifice; that Heaven is a place of — surprise — beautiful singing and flowers, a ”limitless and brilliant environment” entered through a pair of enormous gates; and that Hell is a netherworld of ”howling souls” and fire where existence is a constant confrontation with the results of one’s earthly sins. That is to say, it is another thing entirely to find religion rendered banal.
Even for an admitted and unrepentant Anne Rice fan, the Lestat-theology combination is more than a little hard to swallow. As Coca-Cola learned when it tried to change its classic Coke recipe, the owner of a successful formula should not mess with the ingredients. D+