With CALLED OUT OF DARKNESS, Anne Rice gives readers the very first autobiographical look at herself. In doing so, we discover how little was actually known about the woman who gave us such gothic horror classics as INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE and THE VAMPIRE LESTAT. Conversely, her last two books have been fictionalized portrayals of Jesus Christ as a boy and young adult --- themes that presented quite a paradox for those who identify Rice as being strictly a writer of dark fantasy novels. This memoir answers all these questions and sheds light on how closely her novels have represented her personal feelings and struggles over many years.
CALLED OUT OF DARKNESS opens with the quote "This book is about Faith in God." Rice goes on to present her story, beginning with her childhood, after indicating that she had lost her faith for many years and reclaimed it again at age 57. Born with the unfortunate name of Howard Allen --- she changed it to Anne at an early age --- she lived with her family in a very Catholic section of New Orleans. Her upbringing was extremely Catholic and exclusionary of anything outside this teaching. She was in awe of Catholic churches and held those in authority in the highest regard without questioning anything she was taught or told.
The Catholic world Rice knew was one where priests were esteemed and respected with never any word of scandal surrounding them. During her youth, it was a time when the Catholic Church was deeply respected in America; as she puts it, the Catholic Church was "a cultural force." Living in the Deep South, she recognized that the people in her community were vigorously racist, even though her parents were not. They all accepted segregation as something that had to exist. Because of the moral blinders she had put upon herself, Rice was unable to know anything other than this world.
Though not a terribly good student or reader, Rice did take to writing at an early age and claims her first writing teachers to be Charles Dickens and Charlotte Bronte. She questioned, privately, why certain books were banned by the Catholic Church. As she became older and more curious, she sought out such forbidden tomes as Nabokov's LOLITA and the works of Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre. Living in a family that did not believe in television and limited their radio listening to certain programs, Rice took private refuge in a local film art house that presented cinematic classics by directors Francois Truffaut, Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni and Luis Bunuel. A young Rice was discovering the world outside of the Catholic bubble in which she lived.
Rice's mother died of complications due to alcoholism, and her father shortly thereafter remarried and moved the family to Dallas. She was not only overcome by the culture shock of moving into a non-Catholic community but also faced with the fact that her stepmother was a Baptist. After high school, she started college at Texas Woman's University, and her eyes were opened even further when she saw all around her good, ethical, moral people who weren't Catholic. Her faith began to break apart.
Rice sought out the guidance of a local Catholic priest who told her that there was no life for her outside of the Church. These sentiments, which once consoled her, now caused her to revolt. She did not argue with him, but after that meeting she was no longer a Catholic. Following her college years was her marriage to Stan, her one and only lover, and she still kept up with her writing. Her first novel --- and probably her biggest success --- was INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE in 1976. Seen here and in several titles that followed was the theme of a protagonist suffering as an outcast and how one can feel shut out of various levels of meaning and, ultimately, life itself. Little did her early readers know how autobiographically these themes mirrored her own life.
INTERVIEW was an obvious lament for Rice's own loss of faith. The vampires she depicts live in a God-less world, and her hero, Louis, searches in vain for meaningful context to his own existence. Rice's life was not without tragedy. She lost a young daughter to leukemia at the age of seven. This pain was exhibited in her 1997 novel, VIOLIN, in which the lead character of Triana loses a six-year-old daughter to that same disease and seeks solace in the spiritual gift of a Stradivarius violin. This book reflected Rice's sudden turn back to Catholicism --- a turn that was solidified following her own health scare in December 1998, when she nearly died from a diabetic coma. She marks this event as her return to God. The themes of her succeeding books dealt with a journey through atheism back to God and showed an obsession with the possibility of a new and enlightened moral order.
Rice began to feel "Christ haunted," and there was so much personal reflection going on in her literary releases between 1998 and 2002 that readers would not understand where the motivation for them came from. Finally, on October 5, 2002, a day after her birthday, Lestat made his official farewell and Anne began her new life as a writer for Christ. The resulting works were two novels about Christ's youth and young adulthood: CHRIST THE LORD: OUT OF EGYPT and CHRIST THE LORD: THE ROAD TO CANA. They were met with mixed reviews, mainly due to the fact that her loyal readership did not understand the sudden genre shift. How would a woman who built her career on "vampire fiction" be able to write about Jesus?
CALLED OUT OF DARKNESS is a deeply personal memoir that I wish had come a lot earlier. As a long-time reader of Anne Rice's, the impetus she presents here makes me want to re-read many of her prior works. I highly recommend this book to anyone who seeks the inspiration and motivation behind the bestselling novels they've read. Even though CALLED OUT OF DARKNESS leaves several questions as to where the author will go from here unanswered, the journey she has gone through is certainly worth the trip.
--- Reviewed by Ray Palen