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The long journey from dark to light

October 12, 2008|Nick Owchar

Ask ALMOST anyone to name a female author who has a successful string of novels about vampires, and, chances are, he or she will quickly say Stephenie Meyer, whose "Twilight" series is sweeping across bestseller lists. Five years ago, however, the first answer would have been Anne Rice, whose "Interview With the Vampire" and the rest of her "Vampire Chronicles" followed the lives (is that the right term for the undead?) of Lestat, Louis, Armand & Co. All this, however, is well behind her. Her subject now is the life of Jesus, which she has begun writing in installments.

As Rice explains in her lovely memoir, "Called Out of Darkness: A Spiritual Confession" (Alfred A. Knopf: 246 pp., $24), the decision to leave behind her supernatural dramatis personae wasn't that she thought they were beneath her newfound faith. She's not embarrassed by her fanged crew. Hardly. Lestat, in fact, "had been my dark search engine for twenty-seven years." Nor was it the shattering experience of losing her husband, poet and painter Stan Rice, in 2002. Instead, it was a much longer journey that led to an inner voice telling her: "Write for God. Write for Him. Write only for Him."

Rice describes the Catholicism of her New Orleans upbringing -- incense and elegant Latin hymns, convent school and novenas -- but, interestingly enough, her faith didn't exactly disappear from her life even when she grew older and embraced the skepticism -- one of many "isms" -- of the 1970s. It was still there, though it had been transformed into a dusky, often-lurid gothic landscape where her characters struggled toward self-understanding. "Interview," she writes, "reflected a fusion of the aesthetic and the moral with some tentative connection to the lost harmony of my Catholic girlhood."

Rice is candid about her past and her failings, as any confession requires: She describes the chaos after the death of the Rices' daughter, Michele, as a young child and the importance of their son's birth ("If Christopher had not come to us at that time, it is very likely that heavy drinking would have killed Stan and me") and the pain that church laws caused her ("How was I to become a card-carrying member of a church that condemned my gay son?").

It is difficult to present one's interior experiences so that others won't regard them as strange or overzealous. Rice recognizes this. "Words fail," she says about the moment when she surrendered all of her hesitations about religion. "They have to fail. How can I describe this trust and this abandon, this realization that He was capable of righting every wrong?"

The answer is simple: She can't. Perhaps that's why "Called Out of Darkness" succeeds. If Rice didn't acknowledge the contradictions between faith and reason, her book would be another simplistic, 12-step testimony. Instead, Rice's memoir shows what true belief really involves. It exacts a price. James Agee had a lovely term for this. He called it "cruel radiance."

-- Nick Owchar


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