We now return you to where we left off: Lestat’s impulsive, poor decision making skills. That could be any book at any point, really; the difference is that this is still the time when the benefit of his intent still outweighs the damage he does.
Having murdered an innocent mother and child and concluded that he’s an irredeemable monster, Lestat bemoans the fact that no one he loves will ever be safe from his bloodlust. His solution is to get everyone he cares even a little bit about out of Paris. Because it’s….much easier to buy the theater he worked at, shower the players with money, and tell them to pick up and go literally anywhere else in the world than for Lestat himself, a single person who’s deliberately attempting to cut off all social ties, to get out of dodge.
Actually…that’s pretty much Lestat all over. Dead determined to do good, but doing so through a lens that assumes he’ll obviously maintain all his own material wants. Of COURSE he can’t leave, where will he put all his fancy jewels that he keeps in the terrible moldy tower he inherited from his rapist? Come now, be sensible.
And then the ache will be gone, won’t it? I’ll stop seeing them gathered around me in the wings, stop thinking about Lelio, the boy from the provinces who emptied their slop buckets and loved it.
Okay, this is a dissociating thing again. Lestat the “monster” trying to stop hurting by just FORGETTING the life that was stolen from him.
Only mildly dead inside, don’t worry about it
it works, more or less. The theatre owner, Roget, is more than happy to take this new windfall and his company elsewhere. The only person not having it is Nicki, who is not at all buying Lestat’s excuse that his getting shot and almost bleeding out, only to miraculously recover, was a stage trick. He’s convinced there’s something supernatural going on, and that Lestat’s deliberately keeping him out of it (though his guess is “alchemy” rather than “vampirism”).
Which…look, Nicki’s a confrontational asshole and I’m biased because he uses this sweet, sweet boy as a punching bag for his issues, but his feelings here are definitely relatable. His boyfriend vanishes out of the blue, might as well be dead, then ISN’T dead but still won’t talk to him, and dies in his arms before miraculously recovering and then LIES about it. I’d feel hurt and pissed off too (the issue might be that Lestat doesn’t trust himself, but to Nicki it’s a rejection of their relationship).
The sum of all this is that Nicki isn’t going ANYWHERE until Lestat explains himself. To which Lestat replies, DON’T WORRY, I’VE GOT THIS. Nicki, he reasons, can help Gabrielle get to Italy and act as her guide, nurse, etc. There’re violins in Italy! Gabrielle has family there! What could possibly go wrong?
So like a day later Roget comes to find Lestat and tell him that his mother is in Paris, and she’s not going to Italy. Because she’s dying. It took literally everything she had to get this far. Lestat takes it well.
I looked at him stupidly. I couldn’t even really see him. I was seeing her. There was less than an hour before sunrise. And it would take me three-quarters of that time to reach the tower.
“Tomorrow…tomorrow night,” I think I stammered. That line came back to me from Shakespeare’s Macbeth…”Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow…”
Lestat’s not in right now, but if you’d like to leave a message…
And dammit if this moment doesn’t work. He has unimaginable strength, he’s never going to die, but he’s being trapped again by his body, kept from doing the good he clearly wants to by the restraints of his new body. I’d put down good money that this book wasn’t intended to include these themes of dysphoria (Anne claims she wasn’t even purposefully writing about AIDS for fuck’s sake, which believe me we’ll come back to), but they resonate nonetheless in these moments of constraint, bargaining with a body you didn’t ask for to let you be who you know you are, and being faced over and over with images of how you think of “yourself” versus what other people see when they look at you. Also, the use of Macbeth as a refrain, which is clearly a line Lestat fixated on even through his time at the Rue Royale. I’m….not really sure Lestat has the best reading comprehension, y’all. He does realize Macbeth is the villain, right?
At any rate, Lestat rushes back to Paris the very next night as the sky is still red with sunset (or rather, “when the sky was on fire”), which is kind of bullshit probably since red sunsets still have the sun on the horizon but…it’s a good image, I’m more or less willing to forgive it. He arrives at Gabrielle’s sickroom to find his lawyer and Nicki already there (Nicki’s wearing red velvet, if you’re keeping a tally on that unconscious obsession), and tells them to put out the candles and wait outside while he goes in. And when he arrives, he realizes he can finally hear his always inscrutable mother’s thoughts.
But what was she thinking, beneath her desperate anticipation? Lestat, Lestat, and Lestat, I could hear that. But beneath it:
“Let the pain get worse, because only when the pain is really dreadful do I want to die. If the pain would just get bad enough so that I’d be glad to die and I wouldn’t be so frightened. I want it to be so terrible that I’m not frightened.”
I’d come very close to her, and she was crying as she looked up. The girdle of the Paris dress bound her too tightly, and her skin was so thin and colorless over her throat and her hands that I couldn’t bear to look at them, and her eyes looked up at me from flesh that was almost bruised. Ii could smell death on her. I could smell decay.
But she was radiant, and she was mine; she was as she’d always been, and I told her so silently with all my power, that she was lovely as my earliest memory of her when she had had her old fancy clothes still, and she would dress up so carefully and carry me on her lap in the carriage to church.
And in this strange moment when I gave her to know this, how much I cherished her, I realized she heard me and she answered me that she loved me and always had.
This scene is the strangest disjunction: on the one hand it portrays the often fearsome moment of realizing that our parents are fallible human beings, and that while they loomed large in our childhoods they’re now smaller and weaker than us; and on the other, Lestat not only gets to realize that he and Gabrielle are alike in their deep fear of death, more viscerally even than when she admitted it to him; but also getting to hear that she did indeed love him from a place of complete, unshakable emotional truth.
It’s wish fulfillment of the best possible way something as traumatic as a deathbed visit can go, with the dying person able to reach through the deteriorating ravages of their disease and communicate as you love and remember them, and to know that your deepest wonderings about them have been cleared up before the final parting.
And in the exact moment that this idea of mental communion is offered as a comfort to Lestat, the payoff for this alienating sense of monstrosity, it reveals the first hint of itself as a double edged sword.
Her mind became a riot of fear. She wanted to scream to me that she was afraid. She wanted to beg me to hold on to her and remain with her until it was finished, but she couldn’t do this, and to my astonishment, I realized she thought I would refuse her. That I was too young and too thoughtless to ever understand.
This was agony.
He moves away from her (and because Gabrielle is a fucking champ, she tries to ease him by shifting to questions of how he’s been, in a touch of dialogue that I’m pretty sure is purposefully mirrored from Hamlet – “But how does it go with you?” – which is about to be very fitting, at least in the Mel Gibson reading of the scene), and the dance of exquisite miscommunication that is Lestat’s entire existence begins again. Because he doesn’t just do what he now knows, without a shadow of a doubt, she wants: for him to treat her without disgust as she dies, to be a source of strength for her as she was for him his entire life. He knows from her very mind that’s what she wants. But nah, he’s got a better idea. He can fix it BETTER.
“Why can’t you chill for five fucking seconds?”
I know I keep harping on it, but Gabrielle is RIGHT: while he’s completely sincere in wanting to help, he’s also all but incapable of understanding other viewpoints. In other words, if someone says “help me by…” he gets as far as “help” and springs into whatever he thinks the best course of action is (that’ll be the bipolar again, too – “impulsiveness” being a major manic symptom). Which wouldn’t be so bad if as time went on he a) has a thick shell of self-protecting egotism that keeps him from hearing people tell him that he dun fucked up, and b) at a certain point the balance tips from him being a survivor with the mentality of striking back from the bottom of the food chain to being stronger than everyone around him and able to exert his will over their protests. There is a reason the books after the first three get real unpalatable, real quick.
In this edition of GONNA FIX IT BETTER, Lestat decides that the best course of action is just to keep Gabrielle from ever having to worry about death again (and also keeping him from having to face the pain of losing her) by trying out his new vampire-making powers. He’s not even a year dead, to remind you, and has almost no idea what he’s doing. This can only end well.
It starts well enough. This is long before Lestat’s had time to polish up his pitch using the advice from a certain daddy figure (JUST YOU WAIT), so he’s really quite honest. Entirely coincidentally, while Gabrielle is a loner by nature, she probably resents Lestat the least out of all his fledglings. Funny how that works.
I hide nothing from you, not my ignorance, not my fear, not the simple terror that if I try I might fail. I do not even know if it is mine to give more than once, or what is the price of giving it, but it will risk this for you, and we will discover it together, whatever the mystery and the terror, just as I’ve discovered alone all else.
With her whole being she said Yes.
Yes, that is one sentence, by the way. These might be the books with editors attached, but there are still occasionally some choices. Which is not to downplay the importance of this little speech for Lestat as a character. He’s at his best when he’s earnest, and in understanding that what was done to him was a horrible thing he’s determined never to perpetuate that cycle of abuse….in this one area. We can have words about how his abusive upbringing led him down the road of getting satisfaction of forcing others to rely on him, but I’m really trying to give points for effort here.
So, Lestat turns his mom into a vampire. We haven’t talked about the musical much, because I’m saving it for the day four years from now when we actually get all the way through this book and the world is no longer on fire, but I do want to throw out a mention here. Because in a sea of cringe (and small glimmers of endearing camp, I’ll admit), Gabrielle’s song during this scene might well be the height of discomfort mountain. I warn you, depending on your ability to handle secondhand embarrassment you might well claw your eyeballs out in a desperate attempt to escape.
Now that you’re warmed up from that fresh hell, you’re ready for the subtextual incest. Hey, remember how blood drinking is depicted as a sexual/sensual act basically 95% of the time? This ain’t the 5%.
And jetting up into the current came the thirty, not obliterating but heating every concept of her, until she was flesh and blood and mother and lover and all things beneath the cruel pressure of my fingers and my lips, everything I had ever desired. I drove my teeth into her, feeling her stiffen and gasp, and I felt my mouth grow wide to catch the hot flood when it came.
Her heart and soul split open. There was no age to her, no single moment. My knowledge dimmed and flickered and there was no mother anymore, no petty need and petty terror; she was simply who she was. She was Gabrielle.
Okay, so honesty: I’ve never been able to figure out how much of this whole thing is Anne feeding off the stereotype of “queer men are unhealthily close to their mothers,” and how much is just “this is a gothic novel and we’re checking off the taboos to titillate the audience.” I cannot suss it out for the life of me. Either way, I get it, I get it. By having Gabrielle die and cross over he’s given birth to her, cancelling them out and making them equals of a sort with this weird pseudo-incestual connection of mutual dependence. Whatever, gothic novel.
Except Lestat is lyyyyyyyyyyyyying. He’s able to feed Gabrielle his blood, and then he starts as he means to go on by calling her “mother” before collapsing. Ideally, the two of them SHOULD be starting off as equals during this post-death phase of their lives. But however Lestat might marvel at her in the pages to come, he never really lets go of the idea that while she might be changing who she is and how she’s obligated to other people, to him she’s still an emotional support and caretaker. He never stops seeing her as her role.
Which is natural for a mortal lifespan, particularly remembering that he’s only 20. But they’re gonna live forever. Gabrielle did not sign up to be a mom before a person for eternity. One gets the impression she didn’t sign up to be a mother period, actually, and she takes all of this to be her second chance at being an individual person. Which Lestat, yes poor and yes abused by his father but still a white man, doesn’t seem to understand. And which he only mostly quietly comes to resent. But I get ahead.
I kid, of course. Therapists are all rounded up and shot in this universe
The first problem is that the two of them are now in a room with people waiting outside, and the dying patient is no longer dying. In fact, she’s not only healthy, but about 30 years have dropped off her – her wrinkles are gone and Lestat even takes notice that her boobs are young and firm and other gross words. Why she gets a makeover when Magnus is a rotting sack of bones is a my—yeah, no it’s not, you know why. But it’s part of the fantasy of “even if you’re not conventionally attractive when you’re alive, you’re irresistibly hot in death” that this trilogy has going for it, so whatever.
The only weird thing Lestat notices, besides that his mom is hot (ah, but he calls her Gabrielle now, which he only called her in “some very private thoughts” before, someone get me a scrub brush), is that all of a sudden she’s not responding to his thoughts anymore. But Nicki and the doctor want in, so there’s no time to think about this oddity. Gabrielle is already prepared with a plan of action while Lestat frets, taking the jewels that were her family heirlooms (if you’ll recall, it was a Big Deal when she sold one to buy books for Lestat), and climbing out the window. He follows, ready to take her out for her first feeding. While he’s crowing internally of having stolen her from Death, the rescue isn’t quite how he was imagining it.
I climbed up the stones, carrying her with her feet dangling, her face turned upwards to me, until we had reached the slippery slates of the roof.
Then I took her hand and pulled her after me, running faster and faster, over the gutters and the chimney pots, leaping across the narrow alleys until we had reached the other side of the island. I’d been ready at any moment for her to cry out or cling to me, but she wasn’t afraid.
How’s that toxic masculinity treating you there, Lestat? It seems what he meant was that he was ready to think of Gabrielle not just as mother but “woman,” a person he could safely call his possession to protect and care for and teach, but not as “person.” Which is a problem for you, my good sir, because your mom isn’t a woman. On the long, long list of things this book didn’t consciously intend to do, “write a gender-nonconforming/genderqueer character” is definitely on the list. But Gabrielle fits the bill all the same.
The pair of them walk the streets of Paris, enjoying Gabrielle’s first kill with the experience being only slightly dampened by Lestat’s mysterious stalker still following along and now calling them “outlaws.” Even Gabrielle’s death can’t stop the night on the town. While Lestat and later Louis were both laid flat by the physical death of their bodies, Gabrielle takes it pretty much in stride. I mean, of course she does, she survived the birth of seven children. Actual necrosis is apparently nothing, comparatively.
Lestat is having trouble adjusting.
And though I said her name over and over, to make it natural, she wasn’t really Gabrielle yet to me. She was simply she, the one I had needed all of my life with all of my being. The only woman I had ever loved.
PRO TIP: IF YOU ARE THINKING OF SOMEONE NOT AS AN INDIVIDUAL BUT IN TERMS OF THE ROLE THEY PLAY IN YOUR LIFE, IT PROBABLY DOES NOT BODE WELL FOR YOUR RELATIONSHIP.
This is the gift that keeps on giving as far as Lestat’s life choices
Gabrielle sneaks into a home and steals a fancy dress and plumed hat, trying it out as she explores who she is now in the wake of her death. But that look only lasts about five minutes. The second she sees a young man about her size on the street (who reminds Lestat of Nicki, because every young dark haired man does at this point), she kills him and steals his clothes.
AND NOW, THE DEATH OF GENDER IN THREE SHORT PASSAGES.
She’s chosen him for the fit of the clothes.
And to describe it more truly, as she put on his garments, she became the boy.
She seemed to be flying. And the sight of her flashing through the boarded-up stalls and the heaps of garbage made me almost lose my balance. Again I stopped.
She came back to me and kissed me. “But there’s no real reason for me to dress that way anymore, is there?” she asked. She might have been talking to a child.
But she was not really a woman now, was she? Any more than I was a man. For one silent second the horror of it all bled through.
You aaaaaaaaaaalmost had it there for a second, Lestat. You were so close. Alas, for all his talk about being “evil” and the only value of the world being the aesthetical, he’s got a lot of unconscious prejudices that he’s holding tight to.
They finally get back to the tower, Lestat having spent the night in a combination of awe and horror at how little moral anguish Gabrielle has shown with the whole “being dead” and “killing people” thing. Which, as nearly as I can tell, this is a person who’s been trampled by the system her entire 50-odd years, and has decided she’s now going to take everything she can get with exactly zero regrets. The fact that she sticks around Lestat when she so clearly wants to go off and test her limits on her own is a testament to how much she really does love him, even if she’s already rapidly tiring of his raining on her parade.
At a certain point, Lestat’s not just bothered that she isn’t reacting to death in exactly the same way he did (there’s a lot of twin imagery around these two, and it clearly bothers him when they’re not two of a kind), but that she’s not reacting in what he’s been taught is a womanly way. Because, AGAIN….etc. Anyway, coffins.
She did not seem afraid. I told her that she must see if she could lift the stone lid of the one she chose for herself. I might have to do it for her.
She studied the three carved figures. And after a moment’s reflection, she chose not the woman’s sarcophagus but the ne with the knight in armor carved on the top of it. And slowly she pushed the stone lid out of place so she could look into the space within.
Not as much strength as I possessed but strong enough.
“Don’t be frightened,” I said.
“No, you mustn’t ever worry on that account,” she answered softly.
Lestat, your need to be needed is a lot more endearing when it’s not dipping into being patronizing as fuck.
Gabrielle goes on to talk about the person who was Lestat’s mother, and how she would’ve died today – the Marquise, dead in shitstained sheets and considered only for the money she might’ve left behind and the rings they could’ve stolen from her hand. She’s undergoing the same distancing from her old self that Lestat did, but for her it’s not a dysphoric horror – it’s a rebirth. There’s a terrible irony somewhere in there, for all Lestat’s baked in sexism: that Gabrielle was given the dignity and freedom to start this new life, while Lestat’s experience is forever affected by a trauma that would’ve been considered something that could only ever happen to a woman.
The gender shit in this series is fascinating. Sometimes in spite of what it’s overtly trying to say.
The last thing Gabrielle does before going to sleep is cut her hair, which Lestat also has a hard time with (he’s calling her “mother” again). Those of you who saw the Interview with the Vampire film already know where this is going.
Oh, wait! Before we get to that, a moment of Lestat Trying His Best while fretting over whether Gabrielle will actually wake up again.
Jewels she still loved. […] And I found very delicate and lovely things for her – pearl-studded pins that she might wear in the lapels of her mannish little coat, and rings that would look masculine on her small hands if that was what she wanted.
Still got some diminutive, diminishing phrasing there, but I give you an A for effort.
Patronizing golf clap optional but encouraged
Gabrielle does indeed wake, and is ready to tear off into the unknown. In fact, she seems utterly baffled by the idea that Lestat would still want to look after Nicki or anyone they’d known. After all, the one person she cared about is already dead along with her, so there’s no point in going back. Not even to kill the man who wronged her for so many years.
I wanted to say Nicki sat by your bed when you were dying, does that mean nothing? But how sentimental, how mortal that sounded, how positively foolish.
Yet it wasn’t foolish.
“I don’t mean to judge you,” she said. She folded her arms and leaned against the window. “I simply don’t understand. Why did you write to us? Why did you send us all the gifts? Why didn’t you take this white fire from the moon and go where you wanted with it?”
The answer, of course, is that Lestat badly needs affection and companionship in a way Gabrielle doesn’t. He does get her to admit that she’d have still thought about him if their roles were reversed, but only him. And even then, she doesn’t seem to require his nearness. Only the knowledge that he’s still alive somewhere and at least making the attempt to do what he wants. It’s both a difference in basic personality and in amount of privilege before death separating them. That, and 30-odd years of experience.
Gabrielle asks if Lestat intends to turn anyone else, specifically Nicki, and seems pleased when Lestat says he won’t. But she won’t explain why, seeming determined to do her best to let him make his own choices. Which is admirable from her own worldview, but someone like Lestat doesn’t just need but desperately craves guidance and approval. So…that’s them being alike in not really understanding others, in a way practically designed for maximum pain.
There is one thing that can puncture Gabrielle’s breathless excitement about her rebirth and new freedom: she notices her hair’s grown back during the day, and even thicker than before.
She was choking, trying to calm herself, touching it and then screaming as if her fingertips were blistered. She tried to get away from me, and then ripped at her hair in pure terror.
There it is. Not an existential terror like Lestat’s, but a sudden threat that no, she will never ever escape who society forced her to be. That somehow, because this hair grew back, it would all find a way to come back, and she’d be forced to wake from this wonderful dream. Lestat picks up on exactly none of this, but how else to explain that she’s so unruffled by a long night of change and yet thoroughly shaken and yet this one thing going back to the way it was before she exerted control over it?
“EVEN IN DEATH I CAN’T ESCAPE SOCIETAL GENDER NORMS? REALLY?”
Lestat does get to act as caretaker for a moment, cutting Gabrielle’s hair again, talking about the books she showed him as a child and how they should visit those places together. And she gives him a strange sort of credit.
“Does nothing about it all…ever…frighten you?” she asked. Her voice was guttural and unfamiliar. “Does nothing…ever…stop you?” she asked. Her mouth was open and perfect and looked like a human mouth.
“I don’t know,” I whispered helplessly. “I don’t see the point,” I said. But I felt confused now. Again I told her to cut it each night and to burn it. Simple.
That’s Lestat’s saving grace, as many characters will come to put a blunt point on it later. He never gives up. He adapts, and sometimes he even grows and learns to be a better person. Of course, this exchange glosses over the fact that he has indeed spent the past weeks being very afraid, in a way different from her. But there’s still that strange disconnect keeping them from reading one another’s thoughts, and God forbid they actually get into it, so instead they go back to Paris – followed by their ever more intrusive stalker all the while.
NEXT TIME: A certain spiteful, jealous redhead makes his reappearance.