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Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt.
By Anne Rice.
Knopf. 321 pp. $25.95.

Appalling. That’s the word that kept echoing through my mind as I turned the pages of Anne Rice channeling the seven-year-old Jesus Christ in her twenty-seventh novel, the first since her recent return to the Christianity of her childhood. A return to faith should never be belittled. But to celebrate her return by undertaking what is planned as a trilogy from the manger to the Cross as narrated by Him surely bespeaks a certain arrogance. For Rice, Jesus, the seven-year-old narrates in a flat, matter-of-fact way: “In the snap of two fingers everyone drew back. It seemed the whole street went quiet except for the carpenters’ hammers. I’d never heard such a quiet.” By the third page his brother James is saying, “I saw it. I saw it when he made the sparrows out of clay on the Sabbath. The teacher told him he shouldn’t do such things on the Sabbath, Jesus looked at the birds and they turned into real birds. They flew away. You saw it too.” By the fourth page Jesus has raised his first person from the dead and by the sixth page Joseph announces he is returning the whole family to Galilee. From there on it’s simple, declarative sentences of life in the Holy Land. Rice’s prose is neither pseudo-biblical speak nor is it like any language in which a child might express himself: “When I slipped into sleep, a great song opened up, and when I woke, for a moment I didn’t know where I was, and the dream was like a veil of gold being pulled away from me. I was all right. It was early morning. The stars were still there.” What are we supposed to do with that? Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt is a main selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club. Often novelists find it easier to make evil more appealing than virtue. Will the millions who bought and thrilled to Rice’s vampire tales respond in like numbers to her rendering the story of Jesus Christ?

”Cynthia Grenier