cover image John the Baptizer

John the Baptizer

Brooks Hansen, . . Norton, $24.95 (391pp) ISBN 978-0-393-06947-1

In fictionalizing the life of John the Baptist, Hansen (The Brotherhood of Joseph ) reveals the messy humanity behind the saint. Even readers with a passing knowledge of Christianity will find John’s fate laid out on the first page—his head is brought to King Herod upon a platter. Hansen’s meticulously researched narrative sets John’s life in a wide context, omitting little, for better or for worse: from John’s childhood lessons to his emergence as a prophet and his capture and execution, readers find themselves immersed in the biblical world. The visceral descriptions of suffering, such as the death of Herod’s father or the cistern in which John is held captive, bring religious figures into the gritty realm of the grotesque. Yet Hansen still retains a sense of wonder in his subjects: when John’s mother gives birth after a lifetime of barrenness, or when John baptizes his Messiah-cousin, the flesh-and-blood characters step back into their familiar stained-glass poses and become larger than life. The juxtaposition of stark realism and religious loftiness has its perplexing moments, but it’s precisely what will keep the pages turning. (June)