Beatricia: Her vampires made her a millionaire, but I can tell her heart leaned toward the witches. Anne Rice’s “The Witching Hour,” from 1990, is the first in her massive “Mayfair Witches” trilogy, and it is also one of her most personal, entrancing novels. The knowing bones of autobiography prop up this saga of Rowan Mayfair and Michael Curry, a gifted couple. He, like Christopher Walken in Stephen King’s “The Dead Zone,” becomes psychometric and can draw psychic visions from the items he touches. She, like Selena Gomez in Stephen King’s “Wizards of Waverly Place,” is a witch. Just kidding you, darlings! Stephen King did not write “Wizards of Waverly Place”! Like all Disney Channel shows, that was written entirely by a very talented marmoset.
Hank: Babe, you don’t mean that! The Disney Channel’s family-friendly, offense-free comedies have been the visual glue that has kept this family together throughout the years. They’re as magical as any Anne Rice novel! Who doesn’t like “Baby Be Bonkers”! “The Girl And Her Friends Who Do Things”! “Instagram Grandma” and its spin-off, “Snapchat Cat”! And not that I’m partial, but my favorite: “Lotta McDakotta Stumbles into a Spaceship that’s Also a Middle School for Spies”!
Beatricia: I don’t entirely mind the one about the girl and her friends who do things. But back to “The Witching Hour”!
What makes this story so quintessentially Rice is that Rowan and Michael must abandon the modernity of San Francisco, California, to return to their hearts’ hometown: sultry, steamy, history-soaked New Orleans. (This parallels Rice’s own geographic and emotional journey as an ambitious young scribe!) Rowan is a neurosurgeon who, (with the help of a secretive, ancestral organization called the Talamasca), discovers that she is the descendant of a long matriarchal line of Mayfairs. The Mayfairs are fascinating women whose fabulous, inexhaustible wealth comes with a witchy catch: they all inherit a trouble-making, orgasm-causing spirit known only (with a nod to Rice’s many S&M-loving fans), as Lasher. Although I occasionally missed my beloved Lestat while reading this, it may be said that “The Witching Hour” is Rice at her best.
Grandpa Felicius: It “may” be said. A lot of things “may” be said. But SHOULD they be said? This bloated abortion of a novel is merely “Rosemary’s Baby” with the awkward addition of 400 pages of genealogy. A full third of “The Witching Hour” is devoted to a historical file on the Mayfairs compiled by a gentleman named Aaron Lightner for the “Talamasca,” (which is sort of a spookier CIA). That bulky Mayfair file is about as thrilling as the bogus begats from the Book of Genesis, except that those were at least edited down to a sensible, reader-friendly length. Thank God, (and I mean that nearly literally!)
Tracey: It’s not that hard to keep up with the Mayfairs. All one needs is a handy family tree to remember that Suzanne of Mayfair and the Earl of Donnelaith begat Deborah, and Deborah and Petyr Van Abel begat Charlotte, and Charlotte and Petyr begat Jeanne Louis, who in turn begat Angélique, who along with Vincent St. Christophe begat Marie Claudette, who got with Henri Marie Landry and begat Marguerite, who begat Katherine by way of Arlington Kerr, and Katherine and Julien Mayfair begat Mary Beth who begat Stella by way of Julien, who begat Antha by way of Julien, and Antha got with Sean Lacy and begat Deirdre. Now Julien Mayfair also got with Suzette Mayfair, and they begat Jeanette, Barclay, and Cortland Garland. Deirdre and Cortland begat Rowan. That’s all!
Cousin Franz: If there is merit to Rice’s writing, it lies in that “historical file,” which would be a momentum-killer in lesser hands, but here becomes the centerpiece. It’s the kind of centuries-spanning Gothic faux-history that brings out the best in the best-selling author, and makes it clear she’s more kindred to H. P. Lovecraft than to Anne Radcliffe. When “The Witching Hour” returns to the present, (a time that does very little to satisfy Anne Rice) all we have is the story of a beautiful and brilliant Mary Sue who has to decide between being impregnated by a dashing, loving, millionaire architect, or by a perverted, murderous, penniless phantom. If the choice seems obvious to you, you haven’t read enough supernatural romances.
Trent: Now I feel like I know everything about the sex life of the Mayfairs, all the way back to the 1600s, but I know nothing about the Picksherrys! I can’t even figure out how old Grandpa is! Or exactly which war he’s referring to when he talks about “The Big One”!
Grandpa Felicius: Let that obvious mystery be solved then. “The Big One” is- what else?- The Hundred Year’s War. Now THAT was a conflict, one that involved real commitment and dedication! Not like today’s wimpy five-year-long squabbles.
Trent: So Grandpa is 900 years old. Got it. And Mom… ARE YOU A WITCH?!? I’ve seen how you make the vacuum cleaner move by itself!
Beatricia: That’s called a Roomba, darling.
Blurbarella: “Thou Shalt Not Suffer A–Disney Channel Show–To Live.– Just Saying.”
4 out of 6 Cherries