My mother and Anne Rice

It’s oddly appropriate that famous author Anne Rice died just a day before my mother’s Yarzeit. My mother was an extremely anxious, brilliant, troubled and fascinating person with wonderfully weird, eclectic tastes. She loved mysteries and she loved Wagner (the composer, not the NYC mayor) and she loved science fiction and she loved Agatha Christie. She loved German Expressionism and the Beatles. She loved football and baseball because she loved looking at the men. the Olympics. Same reason. She loved department stores and perfume. And more than anything, she loved books. She was an inveterate reader of almost anything, which was lucky because she worked for a publishing company. She had a crap low-paying job that did not reward her brilliance, but she hung in there anyway, because she got to talk to Maya Angelou on the phone and help Ira Levin edit Rosemary’s Baby. She positively hated Gail Sheehy, and yet my mother is mentioned warmly in the acknowledgements of Necessary Losses. She worked on many many books.

But there was a book she did not help edit, but which she loved so much, she snuck the galley of it back to the apartment on East 75th Street so I could read it during — I want to say Winter vacation of 1976 (although it might have been spring). This was a book that, she said, was unlike any other novel she had ever experienced.

“Everyone at the office is talking about this novel,” she told me. “And it’s circulating among the assistant editors and the secretaries and the mail room. So I brought a galley home for you to take a look at.” She paused as she handed the odd looking bound manuscript to me. The title page read Interview with a Vampire. My mother looked at me with her enormous brown eyes. “It’s SOMETHING.” “Something” was code for something deeply fascinating, something so out of the ordinary as to be unique and unforgettable.

She hovered over me as I read feverishly, as we all did when that book crossed our palms.

“Where are you in the story?” she’d ask periodically.

“I’ve gotten to Claudia,” I told her. I remember her inhaling sharply. “Yes.” Later she asked me rhetorically “Isn’t she absolutely incredible?”

When I got to the end, I looked at my mother. “The interviewer, is he going off to become a vampire too?”

“Of course, ” my mother answered. And then, “those blood-sucking scenes are really sexual aren’t they?”

“Yeah,” I said.

My mother and I had a strange relationship; it was physically and emotionally distant in ways that I later learned were not usual, and at the end of her life we were not close at all. But we had intense moments of intellectual and emotional communion, and one of them was over the novel that would rocket Anne Rice to fame and fortune.

Anne Rice specialized in writing about strange relationships, and in her many novels, she continually returned to the theme of families — biological and chosen — and to the relationships of women with each other through time. I think of the Mayfair witches and the sisters in the Queen of the Damned. I think of the women of the Sleeping Beauty erotica. I think that Anne Rice would have appreciated my mother’s reasons for appreciating baseball and football, and she might even have been pleased that my mother and I both loved Claudia most — the character inspired by Rice’s real daughter who died as a very young child. I think Anne Rice would have understood my mother’s and my struggles to connect with each other. She wrote about those struggles continually. The distance between women and at the same time their longing for each other. Sometimes sexual, and sometimes spiritual, but always intense, always passionate.

Like Anne Rice’s novel, my mother was really really something. I’m glad I knew her and I’m glad I am her daughter.

Barbe Hammer and the author

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