Anne Rice: 'Stations on a Journey'

The best-selling author gives up writing about vampires to write about the 'ultimate supernatural hero'--Jesus Christ.

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But though they didn't include Jesus, the writer, 64, says her previous books have always pursued questions of morality. From the vampire Lestat to the devil Memnoch, all her heroes are immortal outsiders who have supernatural powers and who live in worlds where right and wrong matter deeply. If the Russian novelist Dostoevsky had his Grand Inquisitor interrogate Christ in "The Brothers Karamazov," Rice conducted her own theological investigation in "Memnoch the Devil."

"The books in a way are like stations on a journey," Rice said. "They reflect different points on a lifelong quest."

Her own faith journey is something of a round trip. Her new book is a reflection of her return, in 1998, to the faith of her childhood. Raised a Catholic in 1940s and 1950s New Orleans, that childhood experience of a gumbo of cultures strongly spiced by religion gave her a keen awareness of the beauty of faith. A sensual longing for beauty threads through her work: from the Vampire Lestat's frock coat to rosewood furniture to rapacious wisteria, the particulars of dress, décor, art, and music are palpable on the pages of Rice's books.

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But she left the church at age 18, beckoned by an adult world where faith seemed unnecessary. Shortly thereafter she married a painter, the late Stan Rice, whom she says was a "passionate atheist."

Decades and books later, the influence of Catholic friends and intense curiosity about Jesus and his times slowly nudged her back to faith, but not without soul-searching. "I spent a year tearing my hair out over moral questions," she said. One afternoon in 1998 she asked her assistant to recommend a priest who might hear her confession, a Catholic rite of penitence. "She said, 'I know the perfect person, and he's there now,'" Rice recalls. After a two-hour--"maybe even three"--session with her confessor, Rice returned to the Church, setting aside her reservations, especially the Catholic Church's stance on homosexuality. (Rice's son, Christopher, is gay.) "I said, 'I will leave these things in the hands of God.'"

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