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``Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt'' by Anne Rice; Knopf ($25.95)
Forget about the vampires. Ditto for witches, mummies and ghosts. Anne Rice's familiar characters are missing from her latest novel.
Instead of the supernatural, the best-selling author has turned to the spiritual. But will her legions of readers find a story of Jesus as compelling as tales of the vampire Lestat? That remains to be seen.
The author's note for ``Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt'' talks about Rice's long journey back to the Catholic Church and her decision to write a book about Jesus - even if it doesn't please all of her fans.
"I was ready to do violence to my career," she writes. "I consecrated myself and my work to Christ."
Rice certainly has reason to seek religion. Her beloved husband of 41 years, poet and painter Stan Rice, died of a brain tumor in 2002. And Rice herself has suffered from health problems. She hasn't published a book since 2003's ``Blood Canticle,'' the last chapter in her vampire tales.
After more than two years of research and writing, Rice has crafted a novel that presents Jesus from a surprising perspective. The Jesus of this story is a befuddled boy, an immature figure who is profoundly confused, often sad and sometimes angry.
The story opens with Jesus striking one of his playmates dead. Instead of the wise Messiah of Sunday school stories, this Christ spends 336 pages trying to figure out who he is. He feels guilty about miracles he performs.
At times, Rice's Son of God seems downright thick. When his mother tries to explain the divine conception, Jesus just doesn't get this revelation:
" 'You haven't understood what I've said to you,' she whispered. She was hurt. I thought she might cry.
'No, Mamma, I do see, I understand,' I said at once. I didn't want her to be hurt. 'The Lord can do anything.' "
You won't find any direct communication from God in this tale. Jesus, it would seem, didn't come with an instruction manual.
It's no easy task for the author to present a book about Christ in the first person and written from the perspective of a 7-year-old child.
A big chunk of the novel is spent describing Jewish tradition and ceremony and scenes of everyday life in Nazareth two millennia ago. Only the diligent will keep up with who is related to whom in the early bits of the book.
Despite apparent research, the scene painting doesn't seem to match what you'll find in Rice's earlier novels. Maybe that's because it's easier to re-create 19th-century New Orleans for readers than the Middle East in the time of Christ.
And don't look for insight into religion and discussions of philosophy in the book. God is an off-stage presence.
Rice promises this is the first in a series that will take readers through Christ's life. It's a familiar story. But Rice is sharing an author's route to knowing and understanding Christ.
(c) 2005, The Dallas Morning News. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.