Monday, July 13, 2009

Book Review: Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana, by Anne Rice

I did not think that I would like this book.

Back in the day, I read Rice's Interview with a Vampire slowly and painfully - the writing was hyper-Tolkienesque in density, the characters were not easily liked, and the action seemed excessively slow. I never saw an reason to pick up another book in the series. In addition, I heard enough third and fourth-hand about Rice's attitude towards fan-fic writers and towards editors ("I write and rewrite every page until it is how I want it to be, and I don't need editors to give me their feedback") to harbor a low level of hostility to the woman and how she conducted her craft.

And when word came out that Anne Rice had (re)found God, and was only going to write Christian fiction, I joined with other people in mocking and sneering at her pretension. (I regretted this since.)

It was a bit of that regret that drove, in part, my picking up the paperback from the rack in the department store. What the rest of my motivation was, I can't say. I will say that I bought the book practically without opening it, which is not usual for me. (Reading the first page is a decent litmus test to see if I will like the book at all.)

Starting on vacation, I pulled it out when I got to the airport. And by the end of the third page, I was hooked on the language and the voice Rice used for Christ.

If it were not for the name on the cover, I would not have know the book was written by the same person who wrote Interview - this book was written lightly, in spare language that was no less carefully chosen, but also infused with a joy and appreciation for the world that had been lacking in the vampire book.

Road to Cana is the second book in Rice's series, and covers a season in Christ's life just before and after he meets his cousin John at the Jordan.

Rice does some remarkable things in this book - she recreates the feel and rhythms of turn-of-the-age Palestine, she unravels what is known and guessed and proclaimed about the Holy Family and reweaves it into a cloth that is at once familiar and brand new, and she presents a Christ that is both God and human, and struggling with His role - and yet never ceases to be either.

This Yeshua can be seen as perfect, but he does not live in a perfect world. The faults and follies and festering anger of the people of Nazareth are drawn clearly, if sympathetically. (There are no hopeless evil things here - only humans who have done wrong.) The politics of the larger world still go on, and the ripples reach out to Palestine. The society of the time is closed in, dependent on manual labor, and tightly segregated by gender, family, and class, but the people who live in that society are not presented as caricatures. I was well satisfied not only by the world-building and the plot (which I did not guess all the details of before hand, even though most of the world knows how the story goes) but also by the care given to crafting all the secondary characters.

One of the things I appreciated best about the book was the way the rest of Nazareth treated Yeshua - they called him 'the sinless', but it was as much a weary confusion and a mockery as it was a praise-name. Yeshua confuses and disquiets these people - as, I think, he would those who knew him in any age.

In flaws I have only three major items: one, that the first two paragraphs were not the best hook, and I didn't start getting intrigued until the second page; two, that the repetition of names (while not the fault of the author) was confusing throughout (too many names starting with 'J'!) and finally, that the book lost some steam in the last couple of chapters, as Yeshua started gathering disciples. But these are minor things.

I have ordered the first book (Out of Egypt) and am looking forward to the third in the series.

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