Vampire kin makes move on literary world

One menacingly stormy night, in the dead of winter, a professor’s wife plummets to her death after running through a bridge’s guardrail on the outskirts of Atherton. And so begins the story of a fictional city, created by Christopher Rice in his new novel The Snow Garden.

What follows the mysterious accident is an engrossing story of murder, fear, deception and sheer madness. It is a story that will absorb your imagination – for about half of the novel anyway.

Rice, son of best-selling novelist Anne Rice (Interview With A Vampire) and painter/poet Stan Rice, met critical acclaim with his debut novel A Destiny of Souls, which told the story of four friends growing up in New Orleans while entangled in secret murder. The first book is famous for depicting the darker side of coming of age in America. Rice’s new novel follows suit.

The Snow Garden is set at Atherton College, a university located somewhere in a whitewashed northeastern U.S. town. Far removed from city life and outside influences, Atherton seems to be every prospective college student’s dream. But like any other campus, Atherton has its secrets, which are buried under a thick blanket of snow. If you thought your freshman year was interesting, meet Randall, Kathryn, Jesse, Dr. Eric Eberman, April and Jesse.

The gothic-style novel follows the hidden lives of Randall, a guardedly gay freshman from Manhattan; his best friend, a troubled but kind San Francisco native; her black feminist lesbian roommate April; Jesse, the Don Juan of Atherton’s freshman hall available to fulfill any sexual desires; Randall’s some-time lover Tim, a wanna-be investigative reporter from the local newspaper; and Dr. Eric Eberman, whose wife has just fallen to her death after allegedly finding her husband and Randall in bed together.

Was her death an accident, suicide or cold-blooded murder? This is just one of the many mysteries to be solved by Randall and Tim, while Kathryn struggles to find meaning in romantic relationships after her own traumatic experience, and Jesse becomes more bizarre as every page turns.

In the style of Bret Easton Ellis, none of the jaded angry young characters is quite what he seems to be on first impression. Unfortunately, Rice is not yet as seamless a writer as Ellis and leaves a few minor but annoying holes in the plot. The reader will begin to wonder if the main characters are really students at all or just a bunch of kids like the cast of MTV’s “Real World” with nothing better to do but manufacture drama and wallow in the ensuing scandal.

By the end of the “semester,” the story proves to be far from convincing. And when you finally solve the intricately fabricated mystery, you may not even care any more.

The Snow Garden has entertainment value, especially for readers who have recently lived through their freshman year of college. But 22-year-old Rice needs more experience before he could be considered a great author. The Snow Garden is worth picking up if you happen to see it on the Barnes & Noble 30% off shelf, but there are many authors whose work is worth spending money and time reading.

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