Monday, January 5, 2009

Readings: Arroz con Pollo

I remember being very enthusiastic about Anne Rice’s novel, Interview With the Vampire, when I read it, sometime in the late 1970’s. I read at least two more of her vampire novels, although with waning enthusiasm. I also, at some point, found Feast of All Saints, her novel about not-quite-white society in New Orleans, in a remainders bin, and read that with a modicum of pleasure. But after that point my tolerance for Anne Rice had maxed-out. I’m pretty sure that I didn’t read any more of her novels—or, at least that if I tried, I didn’t finish them—until her two novels about Jesus Christ (Christ the Lord—Out of Egypt and Christ the Lord—the Road to Cana) were recently published. I read them both. They aren’t the best novelizations of Christ’s life that I’ve encountered, but they are both well worth reading. They are the efforts of a lapsed Catholic who has returned to the Church. As such, they are very devout, if not, perhaps, strictly orthodox (?).

Anyhoo, on a visit to the public library the other day, I happened to glance over at the new book shelf where I spotted Called Out of Darkness—a spiritual confession, Anne Rice’s natural history of her return to the Faith. I’m always a sucker for a good spiritual memoir, so I borrowed it.

As of tonight, I’ve read about 3/4 of the book. I intend to finish it, but I can’t give it a glowing review. While there is some good writing about the beauties of New Orleans and Rice’s extremely conservative Catholic childhood, overall I find the book’s pacing to be choppy, a result of having been badly edited. Moreover, I find Rice’s self-portrait to be wildly self-contradictory, and not quite believable. I find that I don’t like her very much, or sympathize much with her various modes and phases. But that’s just me. You might feel altogether differently about it.

Anne Rice is apparently about six years older than me. I was surprised to learn that she had left New Orleans and was living in San Francisco, smack in the middle of the Haight-Ashbury heart of the hippie counter-culture at the height of the sixties. For a time she and her husband had an apartment in the building that also housed the famed Free Clinic. In describing those days, Rice makes the following observation:

In the midst of rampant liberation, the flower children were stridently if not viciously sexist. “Chicks” were supposed to bake bread, clean up, feed their hippie boyfriends, and if at all possible hold a job to support the artist-poets of the group, and perhaps even fork over a bit of financial support received from frantic parents back home. It was no accident that these “chicks” wore long dresses and long hair. They looked like pioneer women, and they worked just about that hard.

Yeah, well, in short, Ms. Rice, it was paradise. It was a great system. It worked for me. And it was kicked all to pieces by the Man. We were getting laid, you see, and the Man was not. What came after, to fill that human, natural (not to say mammalian) void, was—God help us!—Betty Friedan and Bella Abzug. Oh, the humanity!

Just the other day I was trying to explain to my two daughters, both in college now, that “chick” is not a sexist designation, in any meaningful sense. But they weren’t buying it. Thanks a lot, Bella-baby.

All of that said, I am hoping that the final quarter of Anne Rice’s latest book will be inspirational. The word is out that I am in great need of that kind of thing.