Interview with a Penitent
A young girl plays in the streets of New Orleans. Around her, gnarled oaks drip with Spanish moss, guarding crumbling mansions where ghosts are said to walk. She clutches the hand of her father, Howard, as she visits the aboveground crypts of Lafayette Cemetery, tracing with her fingertips the names of those who died from yellow fever. In her mind, she's making up stories. A whisper of corruption mingles with historical beauty. Voodoo lingers, despite Christianity's presence. The light and the dark coexist, shadows imprinted on sunlight.
Christ the Lord:
Today, novelist Anne O'Brien Rice's darkly themed books have sold more than 75 million copies. Her first novel, Interview with the Vampire (1976, adapted as a movie in 1994), has sold more than 8 million copies. Rice has also written historical novels, as well as pornography and erotica under the names "A. N. Roquelaure" and "Anne Rampling." Her books are widely assigned in high school and college English and philosophy classes.
Last summer, Knopf, her publisher, stunned the literary world with its announcement of Rice's newest volume: Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, a novel about Jesus' life at age 7.
"This book means more to me than anything I've ever done," Rice told Christianity Today from her home in La Jolla, California. "I'm not offering agnostic explanations. He is real. He worked miracles. He is the Son of God! And there is so much more to write."
Why is Anne Rice, once the literary queen of darkness, now writing about Christ, the light of the world?
Loss and Change
Born with the unlikely name Howard Allen O'Brien in 1941 (she later changed her name to Anne), into a devout Catholic home full of music and literature, she was fascinated by the trappings of her faithand afraid of the dark. The darkness became real when Anne's mother died from alcohol complications in 1955. Her father remarried in 1958 and moved the family from New Orleans to Richardson, Texas. Enrolled in public schools for the first time, Anne was exposed to ideas banned from her Catholic education. At 17, she attended Texas Woman's University and read books on philosophy and existentialism. It was a heady elixir.
"I couldn't believe in the principles I was brought up with when thousands of people I met who were not Catholics were very good people," Rice says. "They were reading what they wanted to read, studying what they wanted to study. I wanted to find out what existentialism was, but that had been forbidden to me as a Catholic. I lost my faith in God."
After her freshman year, Anne moved to San Francisco to work. In 1961, she married former Texas high school classmate Stan Rice, a poet and Methodist turned adamant atheist. Anne went back to school, getting her degree in political science at San Francisco State (she would eventually earn a master's degree in English). In 1966, Anne gave birth to Michele, nicknamed "Mouse." When she was four, Michele began to tire easily. The diagnosis: leukemia. Michele died before her sixth birthday in 1972.
How do you cope with the death of a child? Anne says she and Stan became "heavy, heavy social drinkers," who drowned their grief in alcohol. Anne began writing through her pain, expanding an earlier short story she'd written about vampires.
Her questions about life poured into her novel. How do you go on living when you are in despair, in darkness? What is the meaning of life? Is there a God? Do good and evil exist?
"I had a terrible sense of impotence over not saving my child. I was pouring out the pain of the loss of Michele and also the feelings of despair of a person who does not have faith in God," remembers Rice. "But I didn't know that this was what I was doing."