I discovered Anne Rice through Belinda. It is a mesmerizing book, utterly convincing even though it is rather grotesque: it is the story of a 40 year old man in love with a sixteen year old girl. In interviews, Anne Rice said she actually wanted to make the girl fourteen, but her publishers vetoed that idea. The fact that I love this book, and hate the setup, is at the centre of why I love Anne Rice.
Anne Rice is a difficult woman. She has done some unpopular things, such as loudly taking offense to an unflattering Amazon review and recently set her legions of fans on a reader who used a copy of Pandora for a crafts project. These things make Anne Rice appear to be thin skinned, and maybe she is, but they also force me to recognize a certain difficulty in Anne Rice that I can’t help but admire. She causes a ruckus. She refuses to shut up when someone posts a review that she feels is misguided or stupid. If she were an artist, she’d be scrawling graffiti on overpasses and wearing t-shirts that say FUCK THE POLICE. She is a genuine rebel.
In the early to mid-2000s, Rice rediscovered the Catholicism that had so enraptured her in her youth. She became a hard-core Christian. Her website was almost unreadable for all the Jesus-love going on there. She handled her religion as she handled her books: it was in your face, and while there was deep thinking (she is a genuine intellectual), there was also her bedrock certainty that she was correct, and anything less than total agreement was…well, apostasy.
Her son, Christopher Rice, a talented author in his own right, was openly gay and people would ask her questions about how she handled that, considering the Catholic church’s stance on homosexuality. She would answer seriously that she would pray for her son, that she loved her son, but she could not question the authority of the church.
That broke my heart. In that transaction she illuminated an issue that probably many Christian families face. It seemed to me utterly wrong. Your child is your CHILD. And yet she believed that her child was sinning.
I would read her Tweets, hoping she might say something about one of her S&M novels or Lestat, only to be given a Psalm to contemplate or a bland warning not to sin.
Thankfully, that didn’t last long. Just as abruptly as she rediscovered her religion, she totally renounced Christianity. She wrote on her Facebook page that:
I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life.
Those who loved her and believed along with her probably felt some betrayal. She had probably seemed like such a major score for the Lord. But she was as firm in her anti-coviction as she had been in her conviction. But many of us breathed a sigh of relief. Does this mean we’ll get more sex novels? Maybe some more vampires? Whether or not her art would suffer for her beliefs, I was more excited just to get some Facebook updates from one of my favourite authors without worrying that I was going to have to quietly disagree with whatever religious message she had that day.
That whole period, which frankly seemed a bit bizarre from the outside, was valuable inasmuch as it demonstrated her integrity – she was determined to live by her own conscience and nobody else’s.
Another incident comes to mind – the details are barely remembered but I’ll try to get it right. A few years ago, JP Morgan foreclosed on her $3.6 million Rancho Mirage home. She was unapologetic about it and said she wouldn’t stop buying beautiful places to live because she liked beautiful places. It was natural to her to simply see the foreclosure as an inconvenience (at best) and not change her thoughts on the way she ought to live. She wanted what she wanted, and there was nothing that was going to get in her way.
I love that kind of thinking.
All her determination and refusal to accept anything less than what she wants goes into her novels, which are bursting with detail and vividness. They are rich and dense and filling as a flour-less chocolate torte. Only a personality that refused to compromise on her vision could have produced the Beauty books. When she wrote them, her publisher didn’t want to buy them. The publisher had no idea what to make of them. But Anne Rice didn’t tame them, soften them, or allow them to be written by committee in order to make them palpable to the masses. She went to a braver publisher, and sold them exactly as they were written. And they, like the author, are difficult. Not difficult to read but they challenge you. They ask you what you’re afraid of sexually, and why.
Anne Rice lives and writes at the far edge of the bell curve. By rights she should be a minor figure whose appeal is limited. But ironically the fact that she is so committed to her own vision – be it sex slavery or vampires – means she manages to attract huge swaths of readers. She is utterly delightful to read, whether fiction or a Facebook update. She is today’s only living rebel, a genuine feminist who refuses to be anything other than what she wants to be. And she’s a damn fine author. All writers should strive to be as independent-minded and as difficult.