As a fan of Anne Rice horror novels I did not know quite what to think of her writing a series a novels on Jesus. I was quite happy to hear of her return to the Catholic faith, but was rather skeptical as to what these novels would be like. I received Christ the Lord: Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana for review so I was finally able to indulge my curiosity. When someone decides to write a novel of Jesus from a first person perspective either they are pretty prideful to do so or have some measure of humility in undertaking the task. I believe the latter to be true in this case.
The novel doesn’t start off that well with the stoning of two adolescent boys for alleged homosexuality and I thought that perhaps this novel would be more about ideology than trying to plumb the depths of the incarnation.
Tom at Disputations ably noted my second concern about the novel.
"And I may have rolled my eyes as Jesus moons over the beautiful young girl who lives across the street. (Not to worry, though; Rice’s Jesus knows that the personal problems of a Messiah don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.)"
The main thing you might wonder about a first person perspective of Jesus of how the author would handle Jesus being fully man and fully God. The first half of the novel mainly concentrates on Jesus’ humanity while not discounting his divinity. It is not the "ignorant Jesus" portrayal that is such a common theological fad and the novel has Jesus being aware of his mission to a degree and at times calls in this knowledge.
The novel has Joseph as having been previously married and that the Apostle James is a step-brother and has him living to just before his public ministry. This idea comes from the Protoevangelium of James and I believe she also used some of this apocryphal Gospel in her first book on Jesus. This though is a perfectly acceptable and orthodox understanding concerning Joseph and the brethren of the Lord. Regardless she uses it to good effect. I found quite interesting the question she brings up in how the villagers might have seen Jesus who would have been somewhat of an oddity having never married. She references the Annunciation, the miracle of Jesus’ birth, the angels proclaiming his birth, and the Magnificat in the text and I enjoyed the way it was incorporated and not cast into question in any way.
The problem with so many writers is that they can only see through the lens of their time. That they have to layer on modern attitudes onto people who lived in more ancient times. The movie The Nativity Story demonstrated this problem by having a Mary displaying teenage angst and at first not accepting Joseph as chosen for her husband. Anne Rice though was able to write of the people in Jesus’s village in what seemed to me to be in an authentic way. Their concerns and worries were the concerns and worries of the time. The characters are nicely fleshed out and quite believable.
The first half of the novel dwells in the period of time just before Jesus’ public life and the end of his hidden life. The plot for this first half is somewhat interesting, but it is when Jesus’s cousin John the Baptist appears on the world stage that we come to firmer ground. It is this second half that I found quite enjoyable to read and loaded with many insights into his public ministry. Her description of meeting his cousin and being baptized and then going into the desert verge on a meditation of these events. Especially the temptation in the desert is a very imaginative description of the events and I think some of the best writing in the book. The Gospels has the calling of the Apostles compacted in time and the book treats their calling in the same way. Very rapidly we meet the Apostles and they come to join and follow Jesus and we see them at the wedding of Cana. The description of the events at Cana are also quite stirring and I found the interaction between Jesus and his mother Mary brought tears to my eyes and will help me when praying the Luminous Mysteries.
I had a couple of minor qualms of the first half of the novel which I mentioned at the beginning of the review, but I found the book to be totally worthwhile and really quite an amazing effort. There is no deconstruction of Jesus and the novel is quite orthodox and a very fruitful meditation on Jesus by Anne Rice. It really makes me look forward to the next novel in the series and I will be going back to read the first one. The best thing I can say about "The Road to Cana" is that it will be one I will put on my reread list.