Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Rice's Lustful Jesus Faces Picoult's Killer Messiah: Book Buzz

March 12 (Bloomberg) -- Fornicating vampires helped Anne Rice sell more than 100 million copies of her books worldwide. Lately she has been writing about Jesus.

The second in a promised quartet of biographical novels, ``Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana,'' (Knopf, $25.95) is out now. It picks up in the ``lost years,'' -- the period not described in the Bible -- and carries on through the baptism by John, the temptation by Satan, and up to the wedding feast in Cana, where Jesus transforms water into wine.

Rice considers her latest writing a serious attempt to reimagine the life of the biblical Jesus in a way that honors religious faith.

```The Road to Cana' is, in part, a direct repudiation of `The Da Vinci Code,''' Rice says when reached by phone at her home in Rancho Mirage, California. ``In it I show Jesus as celibate and sinless and not married to Mary Magdalene.''

Still, in Rice's version, Jesus is strongly attracted to Avigail, the bride married in Cana, and even spies on her in her wedding chamber before the marriage is consummated.

``Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt'' has a half-million copies in print and outsold the last of her vampire books, 2003's ``Blood Canticle,'' according to Rice's longtime publisher Knopf, which has put an equal number of copies of this second volume into bookstores.

Rice hasn't necessarily closed the coffin on vampires. ``I may yet revisit Lestat,'' she says, referring to her most famous vampire, who drank the blood of Jesus in one book. ``But if I do write another book about him it will be a Christian book. Lestat will consecrate his life to the Lord.''

Picoult's Messiah

Jodi Picoult's 15th novel, ``Change of Heart'' (Atria, $26.95), features another kind of messiah. Shay Bourne, a prisoner on New Hampshire's death row, raises a bird from the dead and changes water into wine -- via the prison plumbing system, to the delight of his fellow inmates. The strange occurrences cause a priest to believe the prisoner may be more than a mere man.

Convicted of killing a policeman and his daughter, Bourne now wants to donate his heart to the slain cop's second, ailing daughter. His scheduled death by lethal injection, however, would render his heart unsuitable for donation.

Thereby hangs the tale, for several conflicted characters -- the priest, an ACLU advocate and the cop's wife -- take a role in trying to convert the mode of execution to hanging. This would allow donation and conform to Bourne's religious wishes.

The plot allows Picoult to transubstantiate her book from an intriguing melodrama into a contrived disquisition on morality, religion and the separation of church and state.

U.S. readers have snapped up 9.5 million copies of Picoult's books out of a total of 13.5 million copies sold across 35 countries.

Picoult currently has two paperbacks on bestseller lists, and Atria, aiming to capitalize on her momentum, has printed a million copies of ``Change of Heart'' to start, by far Picoult's largest first run.

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