Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Review: A Density of Souls by Christopher Rice

“During his first morning at Cannon, Stephen’s only companion was the collective din of whispers, snickers and openly disdainful glares he received as he passed.”-A Density of Souls by Christopher Rice
Today I want to tell you about a wonderful new author, and by new, I mean I just discovered him even though he’s been writing for ten years.  The author is Christopher Rice, son of brilliant vampire writer Anne Rice, and poet Stan Rice.  I chose to read A Density of Souls because of who Christopher’s mom is, and since the word “Rice” takes up about a quarter of the cover, I assume many other people picked up the book for that same reason.  I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered Rice’s debut novel to be a rather gripping read.
Rice wrote “Souls” in his early twenties after visiting his mother in New Orleans following her first near-death experience.  Christopher had been studying theatre, but decided to take up writing as his preferred art form.  A decade later, Rice is working on his sixth novel and will soon co-host “The Dinner Party” with Eric Shaw Quinn on XM radio.  He’s also a finalist in Out magazine’s list of most eligible bachelors. 
From the start, Rice has been labeled as a gay writer who writes gay novels.  For me, he is a writer who writes novels; he also happens to be gay.  However, themes of homosexuality, isolation, bullying, and eventual acceptance reoccur throughout his work.  
“Souls” opens with four teenagers growing up in 1990s New Orleans.  Rice shares his mother’s love of the city and beautifully recreates New Orleans on paper the way only a native can.  The novel’s main charter, Stephen, is coming to terms with being gay as well as the fact that his friends Greg, Brandon, and Meredith have disowned him during that soul-sucking transition from middle school to high school.  Stephen spends much of high school living as an outcast, a theme reminiscent of Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles.  Regardless of your sexual orientation, Stephen’s struggle to find his way during adolescence is a dreadful thing that we can all empathize with.  
Greg, Brandon, and Meredith go through their own dramas and part one of the novel ends with a stunningly horrific death that changes the course of their lives as well as Stephen’s, bringing the friends together once again, but on very different terms than before.
Part two of “Souls” fast forwards to the friends’ college years, during which Stephen embraces his homosexuality despite anonymous threats towards New Orleans’ gay community.  In the meantime, Meredith’s self-destructive behavior reaches fever pitch, and the adult characters of the novel strike up unique and engaging relationships (perhaps more so than the younger characters).  
The climax of “Souls” is pleasantly unpredictable and the book is tied up in a tight package making for a strong stand alone novel.  Rice admits that he’s not much of a series writer, and since so many bad things happen to his characters, he feels they should be left alone after one book.
Although a bit naive and histrionic at times, A Density of Souls proves to be a refreshingly strong start for a young writer.  There was certainly more substance than I ever expected and it’s clear that Rice inherited a good deal of his parents’ talent.