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The Vines Paperback – October 21, 2014
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“His best book yet.” —Geeks OUT
“Does not disappoint and grabs you from the opening chapter straight to the end with plot twists that are dark and thrilling…The transitions between modern-day and French colonial slavery are exquisite and leave the reader intrigued throughout the narrative. Rice also creates a beautiful mythology infused with a thriller that gives you many shocks and oh-my-God moments in every chapter.” —Buzzfeed
“As gothic as one could expect from the author (The Heavens Rise) and son of Anne Rice, this tale of evil vegetation that feeds on the blood of those seeking revenge for past wrongs is gruesome…There are dark thrills for horror fans.” —Library Journal
About the Author
Christopher Rice published his bestselling debut novel, A Density of Souls, when he was twenty-two. By thirty, Rice had published four New York Times bestsellers, received a Lambda Literary Award, and been declared one of People magazine’s “Sexiest Men Alive.” His noir thriller Light Before Day was hailed as a “book of the year” by mega-bestselling author Lee Child. His most recent book, The Heavens Rise, was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award.
The son of legendary author Anne Rice, he has published short fiction in the anthologies Thriller and Los Angeles Noir. His writing has been featured in the Advocate, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and on Salon.com. With his friend and cohost Eric Shaw Quinn, Rice recently launched his own internet radio broadcast, The Dinner Party Show (TheDinnerPartyShow.com). He also recently served on the board of directors of the West Hollywood Library Fund, which helped to secure funds for a new state-of-the-art library in the heart of the city he now calls home.
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What you don't know at this point is that...it takes "blood" to cause those vines to come alive... Anything else beyond that would be a spoiler alert since the horror can only be "experienced" as you read--we can not tell you, else you won't believe us... Or, if I tell you, like that old saying, then I'd have to kill you.
The history of the mansion, located in Louisiana, is the key issue. As a working farm in older days, the plantation had many slaves who had worked the land, had died there--had been buried there. When the plantation had burned, it might have been taken as an omen--that the land had received so much pain and blood from those days and needed to be cleansed... But it could not destroy the hate of those who had lived, and died, there...
And that hate could be revived... When something in today's world happens...
Caitlin Chaisson is now living in the new southern home that was built more for living and social life...All the signs of the slaves have been taken away and anything that had disturbed the land had been left for hundreds of years. But there was one old picture found that nobody knew who had painted it. It showed slaves being forced to stand and watch as the overseer punished one of the men...at least until something had pulled out of the woods and twined around the whip being used--stopping everything, caught in that moment of freedom...
But all the evil has not left the plantation--because it is the people who lived there which brought the evil to the home... Caitlin had been hosting a party when she came upon a scene of evil...her husband was having drunken sex with a women who'd attended the party...and when they wanted more, they ran out into a shed to continue their tryst.
Caitlin was devastated--it had been a celebration for her birthday, but had now become a mockery of what was supposed to be with her lover, her husband. Instead, this was her final birthday gift... Caitlin runs from the sight of this betrayal, to the gazebo, where she discovers she has cut herself with the women's champagne glass as she had thrown it to purposely break...
She sat there with the blood dripping onto the floor, remembering how she had heard comments about her looks and why her husband would marry her... But somehow seeing their embraces had been much worse than ever knowing that her husband did not love her... Even her best friend, Blake had tried to tell her, but Caitlin had turned from him, not being willing to believe. Now she knew.
And she uses the broken flute and cuts into her arm, intending to end her life...until she hears what is happening at her feet, sees what is happening on the gazebo floor... tendrils are arising up from between the boards of the gazebo, slowly moving toward her, now dripping blood... vines, looking something like a calla lilly...and it suckles her arm, her blood. But it is the smell that overpowers her, a smell...like fire... and she dreams?
And when she awakes, her arm is no longer bleeding--it is almost healed...
Caitlin feels a strange new power...and she knows exactly what to do with her new friends, the vines...
It is easy to see why Rice is a best-selling author...The Vines is edgy, creepy, and yet totally involving so that the story, through the main character's eyes, makes perfect sense... But with her best friend coming back into her life, even though she had pushed him away when he'd shared what he knew about her husband, Blake proves a true friend, as he works with her, dealing with what is actually happening...
With a bit of fantasy, sci-fi, as well as horror, Rice presents a horrifying, exciting tale of what may happen when evil enters into and controls the land it has claimed. On the other hand, how the book ends is quite an extraordinary story in itself and, to me, proves that their is both vengeance and renewal that is possible... Given that today's headlines talks about a governor who is being questioned on being racist, we find that there is still more to learn about the uneasy relationship between Black and White people... Sometimes, The Vines helps make decisions for us...
Memorable, remarkable in its merge of history with the present, and a lesson for all of us in many ways... This is one of my favorites of his books... Highly recommended.
This is the top layer of The Vines. But, as one of the characters says early in the book, we are "So busy looking for ghosts in the attic, we never think to look in the ground."
The ground, the earth, the soil, the dirt, and the grit of what lies hidden beneath the immediacy of the distracting surface is very much the core of this story. Like the menace that lies beneath the beauty and glamor of Spring House, the real meat of this story lies beneath what you might get on a casual reading. Christopher, despite the amusing snarkiness of his social media presence (for a good time, visit his Facebook page) clearly takes his work and his art very seriously, and lets his fiction speak for itself. Beneath the chaos and fun of killer plants and bugs, Rice is actually saying some very interesting things here about the nature of life, love, class, family, privilege, friendship, sexuality, and race.
In my review of Rice's last novel, The Heavens Rise (http://geeksout.org/blogs/ranerdin/book-review-heavens-rise-christopher-...) I cited the friendship between the two main characters -- a black woman and a white gay man -- as the high point. In The Vines, the two central characters -- Nova, the daughter of Spring House's groundskeeper, and Blake, the best friend of the current owner of the house, share these same external traits with last year's characters but little else. This is a much more unlikely pair, an example of two people with little in common being circumstantially thrown together and I think the tensions and awkwardness between them create a very interesting dynamic throughout the story.
Earlier this year, a series of nasty open letter arguments were posted back and forth on the internet highlighting some of the tensions between black women and white gay men. Of course, as these things tend to play out, a great chance for an interesting dialogue turned into an oppression pissing contest and a chance for gay men to unleash their latent sexism and racism. In this novel, there are a couple of very tense conversations between these two characters, and these were done in a way that was very uncomfortable and very real. It never feels like we're witnessing "a very special episode" where we're taught a valuable lesson, but rather like we're intruding on the private and complex thoughts of two real people trying to live through their own painful and personal experiences. These little details in the context of a horror novel are really what help sell some of the crazier supernatural elements of the story, and I commend Rice for how he balanced these moments. Horror fiction is still pretty starved for well rounded characters that aren't straight white men, and I appreciate that Rice brings diversity to the front and center of his stories in a very honest and human way. On a personal level, when I was first struggling to write stories of my own as a teenager, I really appreciated that I could go to Christopher's novels for examples of gay men doing things besides pining after football players in the high school locker room. In the same way that Carrie is not a horror story about a straight woman, and is about a woman who happens to be straight, Rice's novels aren't about gay people, but about people who happen to be gay, and this might not seem like an important distinction to make, but for a young gay writer without many role models or examples to look for outside of erotic fiction, this was and remains very important to me.
But let's not forget that this is a horror novel, and we need something to scare the crap out of these people I've been discussing. It's hard to create "new" monsters in horror. There's a school of thought that basically narrows all monsters down to variations of the same handful of tropes (ghost, vampire, creature). Rice has done something very original and, frankly, pretty damn cool here. The most obvious comparison to make, at first, is to John Wyndham's carnivorous triffids. But remember, this is the south. Compare Wyndham's wonderful but somewhat technical British prose to the way they do creepy plants in Louisiana:
"Not snakes, not the fingers of some subterranean beast. Vines. That's all. But once she's whispered these words aloud -- flowers and leaves -- the words only deepen her paralysis, because by then she can see that the blossoms, each one about the size of her hand, are opening in unison. They look like the flowers of a calla lily, but inside of their four, evenly sized white petals is an insect-like amalgam of stamens and filaments, and all of it glows with an interior radiance so powerful it looks like it might drift away, spirit-like, from the temporary prison of the petals.
And each blossom, each impossibly animated, pulsing blossom, is pointed directly at her.
They're looking at me."
"Caitlin brings the flower to her nose and inhales. Its scent is something akin to charred sugar, sweet and smoky and a little cloying. Then comes a loamy undertone, an intoxicating compromise between turned dirt and the taste she'd often discover just below her husband's armpit during sex."
So no, these vines have very little in common with their no-nonsense British cousins. This probably doesn't come as a surprise, but Rice writes about the south, and specifically Louisiana, very well. I can feel the cloying stickiness of the vegetation and the dirt, the magnificent over the top flowering of vegetation that makes its home under the opulence of an old southern mansion. Spring House and its grounds become characters in their own right, occasionally reminding me of some of the best parts of Anne Rivers Siddons's excellent southern horror novel The House Next Door.
Without giving anything away, as Rice develops the nature of the vines further, the story takes some interesting turns as we learn the true nature of what animates and drives their vengeful blood-thirst. For anyone that's ever read Robert McCammon's wonderful novel Swan Song, there's a particularly interesting "what-if?" here, if you've ever wondered about what would happen if Swan decided to use her gift for making plants grow for...nastier purposes.
For the grittier horror fan in me, there's also some really cool killer bug imagery at one point. Like I said, this book has everything.
By this point, Christopher Rice has written novels that span all different genres, but I really feel that The Heavens Rise was a breakthrough moment and that The Vines is his best book yet. As a lifelong and somewhat jaded horror fan, this short novel hit every single one of my sweet spots in the one wild night I spent with it and left me sore, exhausted, and incredibly satisfied as I watched the sun come up -- with the added bonus of not having to make awkward post-coital small talk. Like all the best horror books, I went to bed slightly jumpy, as the wind outside caused me to give a nervous side-eye to the branches of the trees as they flung their leaves into the brisk October morning. Rating: A
Top international reviews
When I first saw the cover of The Vines, I didn't think twice. I knew I had to have it. And boy was I in for a ride once I began reading the thrilling book that had me quite literally hooked from the first page. This is my kind of novel!
Christopher Rice has done an excellent job executing such a dark and twisted tale that I rarely had time to make assumptions and work it all out. I was gripped, shocked, teased and utterly entertained. Christopher takes you on a journey; a spellbinding, horrific trip into a dark, creepy world. The deceitful & scandalous going on's in Spring House only add to the luxury of the reading experience, and you wouldn't believe was lurks beneath.
Rice delivers a well written horror novel, that uses rich Southern history as its roots - making the novel sultry and enticing. The whole magic element gives it a whole new dimension, and for someone who lives for truly masterful writing, I feel that Christopher is on top of his game.
I thoroughly recommend The Vines to anyone who wants a horror novel with a difference. I promise you, you will NOT be disappointed.
The only slight (and it is very slight) criticism is the recurring theme of a central character who's been traumatised by drowning/floods. It's an understandable reaction for a New Orleans writer post-Katrina, but it would be nice to read something else occasionally. It is no way detracts from my enjoyment of the book.
A highly recommended read and I look forward to his next book.
It deals with New Orleans. Welcome back to your nest, young man. You know that land so well and these marshes so marvelously that you can in no time recreate their black magic, because their magic is black, and being black it pushes its roots deep into the old slavery past of this land.
Sure enough we are entirely drowned in this context of the descendants of the slave-owners and the descendants of the slaves and how they cannot come together because there is a curse that separates the two races. The curse comes from Virginie Lacroix, the ghost of a slave who could communicate with and command the underground forces of the earth. She was betrayed in her days and she has been condemned to be a ghost there along with the last planter who betrayed her.
It is said that this Virginie Lacroix has to be re-substantiated, in other words re-incarnated by the conjunction of several guilty people being destroyed by the will of their surviving victims. The white descendant of the planters has no problem shedding her blood to the vines and getting her vengeance on her husband, the cheater. But she is a bitter person and she is eventually eaten up and ghostified by some black bugs and she takes over the ghost of Virginie Lacroix who cannot then be liberated from her state as long as this Caitlin Chaisson is controlling her after her rebirth from the vines.
Luckily a certain Blake Henderson who was bullied along with his lover when they were high school students, the lover being the son of the main coach of the High School, by three team members sent by the father and coach to “teach them a lesson” which eventually meant the death of his own son and the survival of Blake his lover. The reactivated vines want him to become the second blood shedder because the second but chained ghost, Felix Delachaise cannot find any peace if he does not help liberate Virginie Lacroix’s ghost and he can only do that if one person feeds his vines the blood he needs to take over but that only happens if this Blake refuses the blood-service and thus is forced to do it by of course the ghostified Caitlin Chaisson. He refuses of course and that makes the difference: it liberates Félix Delachaise.
Then the battle is between the black bugs of Caitlin Chaisson and the white-winged bugs of Félix Delachaise and there will be a happy ending. Christopher Rice somewhere is a sentimental person.
But the book is essential in the modern context.
It is the absolutely crystal clear embodiment of the Post Traumatic Slavery Syndrome of American society. The Blacks will never find their freedom from this PTSS if they do not assume their past as slaves and recapture the positive, constructive and creative side of that ordeal slavery was. At the same time the whites will never be able to get out of the PTSS of their own if they do not assume their past as slave owners or overseers or slave-benefitting white folks and the positive sides of that experience.
It is easy to make people cry on the evil of the past but it is a lot more complicated to bring people to accepting that this evil past had positive sides. I regret this book does not insist on the musical heritage from slavery. But the book insists enormously on the power and fair dealing the slaves demonstrated in their days and at the same time the planters and other overseers were monsters with whips, no honor, no words to keep, with their sons (when the fathers did not join these too) who were purely raping women slaves as soon as they arrived and then repeatedly and collectively, in other words in the worst ever and most traumatic way possible. And Christopher Rice could have also insisted on the fact that males were just as much, often and well raped, and children of both sexes were not even mentioned or mentionable: they were natural toys. And yet these white monsters had a positive side: they built the country, the economy, this society with relentless energy and will.
We come to the idea that this country could not have been built if these relentless energy and will had not been associated to the resistance and fair dealing the black claves demonstrated all the time. The heritage of the USA is the result of these two dimensions: relentless energy plus relentless resistance. And the way out of their mutual PTSS is in recognizing this double positive heritage along with the evil side of things at the time. Would American music and even the music of the world today be the same if there were not the heritage of this slavery in the music of our whole universe? The black slaves saved from their culture their polyrhythmic traditions in order to resist the relentless exploitation that was their lot. By chanting their traditional rhythms when working in the fields they managed to all work at the same speed and thus to counterbalance the competition the planters wanted to introduce among the black slaves. They thus escaped the possible whippings and punishments, or at least minorized them. They thus made their survival easier. Without that resistance our musical world would be completely different and that resistance would not have been possible if slavery had not been used, and even overused, and without slavery the future of the Americas was practically unthinkable, at least the way it has been brought, which means the future of the West would have been very bleak, and thus the future of the world since the west has played an essential role in its development, a role that has come or is coming to an end.
All that si marvelously embodied in the book by Christopher Rice and I think his being gay and having suffered that kind of discrimination and bullying, known as gay-bashing, he is able to understand the suffering of the descendants of the slaves who are still submitted to that kind of segregation and violence which is known as crowd managing or riot managing or crime managing based on a racial and racist practice of profiling.
The best part of this book is that it is a tremendous entertainment and the serious questions are just in the wings, if you want to see them, in the white wings of Félix Delachaise’s bugs and in the black wings of Caitlin Chaisson’s bugs. And mind you miracles are possible and ghosts can be reborn. Somewhere Christopher Rice must be a Buddhist deep in his mind.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU