It's all about Anne

By  Maria Di Paolo, Catholic Register Special
  • November 28, 2008
{mosimage}Called Out of Darkness: A Spiritual Confession, by Anne Rice (Knopf Canada, hardcover, 256 pages, $29.95).

Anne Rice is famous — or perhaps infamous, depending on your point of view — for a string of darkly gothic vampire novels. Her first and probably most famous, Interview with a Vampire, was made into a major motion picture in 1994. 

A self-declared atheist for most of her adult life, after a lengthy personal and spiritual journey, she returned to her roots in the Catholic Church in 1998. A few years later she announced she would never again write about vampires and redirected her literary energies towards what she has called “Christian literature.”  She has since produced two novels about the life of Jesus (Out of Egypt and The Road to Cana in her “Christ the Lord” series). Her latest book is Called Out of Darkness: A Spiritual Confession — an autobiographic account of her spiritual journey back to the church.
Unfortunately, Rice’s attempt to describe her journey never manages to fully engage the reader.

She undoubtedly has a very strong renewed faith, and her journey was clearly a struggle. She writes about her Catholic upbringing in New Orleans — at one point she wanted to become a nun, but her father dissuaded her.  Later, in her mid-teens, she left the church and embraced atheism. Her split from the church was decisive but she clearly had bitter feelings. She avoided contact with the church and other Catholics whenever she could. Many years later, she started to drift back to the church as her “faith” in atheism started to waver and eventually crumble. To her surprise, she found the church to be a warm, welcoming and accepting place. She remade contacts with her Catholic family and friends and moved back to New Orleans. Eventually she rejoined the church.  

{amazon id='0470155264' align='right'}Rice’s story will resonate with many, but her book fails. She spends too much time describing the busyness of her own life at the expense of connecting emotionally with anyone in it. This may be due, partly, to a guardedness that hides some very painful feelings. Her mother died of alcoholism when Rice was a child and Rice’s first child, a daughter, died of leukemia in childhood. But it also highlights a limitation in her writing style that pervades her earlier novels. 

Writing in the first person requires that the narrator think primarily in terms of self, which makes it hard to create other characters that are fully fleshed out. There is a tendency to describe what the narrator sees another person do instead of what that person feels. The result is self-obsession and detachment.

These two themes are also apparent in her novels. She writes about creatures who, in her own words, are “shut out of life, doomed to marginality and darkness.”  She claims that they “seek for lives of value, even when the world tells them they cannot have such lives.” Yet, her characters are grotesquely dysfunctional caricatures of human beings who react and interact emotionally at a very superficial level without nuance or subtlety. 

She makes brief reference to a stint as a “nationally famous pornographer.” She wrote a series of homo-erotic sado-masochistic fantasies under the name A.N. Rocquelaire — but she does not delve into what motivated her to write these books, nor does she provide any insight into what she thinks about them now. Her “confessions” are statements of fact. There is no acknowledgment that what she did might have been wrong, and no feeling of contrition. 

After her conversion, her childhood desire to lead a consecrated life resurfaces and she decides the only way she can fulfill this is to dedicate her writing to God. Evidently, writing about vampires and sex is out. So God it must be. 

Out of Egypt and The Road to Cana are very poorly written. Her Jesus — as always, in the first person — is so intensely self-aware as to be an extreme narcissist. The dialogue is trite and cloying. At one point, when Satan tempts Jesus in the desert, Satan sneers. Jesus reacts: “I looked liked that when I sneered. If I ever had.” 

Her web site is full of photos of her library, and of Rice reading in her library.  Yet, despite her voracious reading of theological and historical books, she is unable to create any real sense of history or any sense of the time and place in which Jesus, or any of her other characters, for that matter, lived. 

In the end, Rice has never progressed from seeing the world from the perspective of “I.” Called Out of Darkness really is all about her. 

(Di Paolo is a freelance writer in Toronto.)

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