A Spiritual Confession

By Anne Rice.

Alfred A. Knopf. 246 pp. $24 nolead ends nolead begins

Reviewed by 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 best-seller 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 and company.

All of that, 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, she was not brought to the the decision to leave behind her supernatural dramatis personae because 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 27 years," she writes. 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 Roman Catholicism of her New Orleans upbringing - incense and elegant Latin hymns, convent school and novenas - but, interestingly, 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, although 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 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, her memoir shows what true belief really involves. It exacts a price. James Agee had a lovely term for this. He called it "cruel radiance."