Like I said before, reading the 17-page Author’s Note at the end of Anne Rice’s new novel, it becomes clear that Anne and Jesus have had a head-on collision and she is still reeling. Reading the rest of the book, it becomes clear that she is reeling with love.
Not since Norman Mailer’s 1997 (bizarre yet oddly compelling) The Gospel According to the Son has a novelist of such stature attempted to write a work of fiction about Jesus, narrated by the Son himself. In Christ the Lord – Out of Egypt, a very young Jesus recounts the events Rice imagines might have taken place in his seventh year.
Over the course of that year, Jesus and his family make the journey out of Egypt and back to Nazareth. Jesus doesn’t live only with Mary and Joseph; in this account, he has a vast crowd of kin, including uncles, aunts, cousins, and his stepbrother, James. (Rice is Catholic, after all! — the perpetual virginity of The Holy Mother is a given.) The warmth and affection with which the boy narrator portrays his huge—and very Jewish—clan plants him firmly in his humanness. He is part of something extraordinarily human: a family…different personalities, old conflicts, everyday struggles, and fierce loyalty.
But Jesus is not solely human. There is something different about him, and he knows it. The mystery of Out of Egypt is one of identity…Jesus feels driven to answer the ancient question of all humanity: Who am I?
Though she can only guess at the events between Jesus’ birth and the start of his ministry, through extensive research — over three years studying a broad and deep cross-section of anthropologists, archeologists, and New Testament theologians and historians — Rice builds a convincing scenario of his early years that takes its cues from the character of Christ painted in the Gospels. While the writing style may feel choppy and overly-vulnerable at first, Rice’s raw, spare prose (a departure from her usual lush writing) creates a voice for the Son at seven years old that sounds very like the Man he will become. Highly recommended.
[Note: This is an extended version of a review that will appear in the Feb/March issue of Relevant Magazine.]