ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
In 2005, Anne Rice's book "Christ The Lord: Out of Egypt" was published. Now three years later, she has come out with "Christ The Lord: The Road to Cana."
David Kuo has this review.
Mr. DAVID KUO (Author, "Tempting Faith"; Former Deputy Director, Office of Faith-Based Community Initiatives): Who is Christ the Lord? With those words, Anne Rice opens her new novel. The question is posed by Jesus, the narrator of the book. That Ms. Rice has chosen to write the book from the point of view of, well, God, is an artistic challenge and gutsy move.
Spiritually, it is the question of the last 2,000 years - desperately needed in this day, where some theologians have rendered Jesus little more than the accidentally crucified socialist, and others as an aspiring head of the RNC.
The reality is that Jesus has been lost in the context of our time - reduced to an almost cartoonish amalgam of Cesar Chavez, Mr. Rogers and Pat Robertson. It is precisely this caricature of Jesus that Anne Rice undoes in her new book, "The Road to Cana," the second in her Christ our Lord series. The novel is a wonder. Ms. Rice clearly revels in the artistic and spiritual challenge of creating a fully human Jesus. And she succeeds. This Jesus she brings to life transfixes. In narrative pacing and character development, Rice's Jesus is a revelation.
He is vulnerable, grasping at the contrasts of his life, the amazing stories of his birth - magi, shepherds and angels, and his life as an unmarried man in a worn woolen robe, in a dusty, drought-stricken town. He is fierce - confronting an accusing crowd and calling down torrential rains from heaven with an unspoken prayer.
He is a man in love; in that love, we find the dramatic and theological core of "The Road to Cana." Her name is Avagail. She is the town's beauty, and she is tenderly crafted by Anne Rice. Jesus dreams of her in dreams he cannot control, dreams all men dream. Dreams of lips against lips. But he cannot have her. This he knows, though he does not know why.
The heartbreak of this loss of this very human love is profound. It reintroduces Jesus as a man of sorrows in a very approachable way. But Avagail is more than a love interest. She also serves as a metaphor for our own brokenness and the extent to which Jesus will go to heal that brokenness. There is a scene that left me gasping. Avagail - victimized by the culture's violence and her bitter, broken father - goes out of her mind with grief.
She appears in a hidden grove where Jesus rests, pleading with him to take her, to make her the harlot she concludes she must be. He resists, but not because he is some asexual being. He does not take her because he knows who she really is - a precious and innocent soul in the midst of great anguish - and because he knows who he is: the sacrificial lover. To her, yes, but also to humanity. At tremendous personal cost, Jesus shields and shepherds her through the crisis and into the arms of a man who can give her what she needs and longs for.
We are all Avagail. We spin unaware, lost, reaching for comforts we do not really want. But in the midst of our occasional confusion and panic, Ms. Rice reminds us there is one who knows the way of sorrow and confusion and loneliness and temptation, and who wants to comfort and shield us.
"The Road to Cana" is a masterful book written by an extraordinary writer at the height of her powers. It deserves to be read for that reason alone. But it also deserves to be read to better understand the most dynamic person in human history - Christ the Lord.
SIEGEL: David Kuo was deputy director of the Office of Faith-Based Community Initiatives in the Bush administration. He is the author of "Tempting Faith."