Big sinner of US literature turns his pen on Jesus

James Frey became the bad boy of the US literary establishment when it emerged sections of his best-selling 2003 debut "memoir", A Million Little Pieces, were fabricated. His latest book, a fictional tale of how Jesus Christ would live in the 21st century, will do little to appease his critics.

Frey's forthcoming novel The Final Testament of the Holy Bible will explore the Second Coming in the form of "Ben Jones", the Messiah, who smokes marijuana and has sex with prostitutes. Frey has teamed up with billionaire US art dealer Larry Gagosian to distribute the work. The book will be released on Good Friday, 22 April.

Frey has said previously that the book was his "idea of what the Messiah would be like if he were walking the streets of New York today".

The protagonist Ben Jones's real name is Zion Avrohom, and he lives in a dirty apartment in the Bronx, New York. His tale is told through the stories of his friends, family, and followers, and explores what it means to be Christian in present-day society. A spokesperson for the Gagosian Gallery, who announced the gallery will release a limited print run of 10,000 copies, added: "Though he is the Messiah, Ben is not the man to whom Christians have prayed for the past 2,000 years."

The books will be packaged in leather cases with a cover image by Gregory Crewdson, a US photographer who specialises in surreal images. They will be sold via the New York galleries, as well as online, with digital versions for the iPad and e-books too. There will also be 1,000 collectors' editions signed and numbered by Frey.

"It's supposed to be a theoretical third volume of the Bible," Frey told the New York Post. "There was the Old, there was the New, and this is the Final."

In expectation of ensuing controversy, Frey added: "I'm sure the religious right will go crazy because of the story of Ben." His British publisher, Roland Philipps, echoed this, suggesting it was the motivation behind Frey's unconventional publishing deal with the Gagosian gallery. "James couldn't imagine a corporate publisher standing by him in an environment of potential death threats, book burnings, and bannings in the US," he said.

Frey's debut, which explored the years the writer spent battling with alcohol and drug dependency, sold eight million copies. After its release, however, it emerged the author had embellished some of its details, such as the fact he only spent a few hours in police custody rather than three months in jail as he described. He appeared on Oprah Winfrey's show in 2006 and received a dressing down from the television personality, who had chosen A Million Little Pieces for her influential Book Club. Frey has since written two more books, the memoir My Friend Leonard (2005) and the novel Bright Shiny Morning (2008).

Frey's last controversy came in November, when an article appeared in New York magazine about the author's recently-founded Full Fathom Five, a company focusing on producing commmercial young adult novels co-written by a team of aspiring writers. Calling it a "fiction factory", the magazine described the contracts offered to writers as "brutal". One of the writers signing up to the project declared: "It's a crappy deal but a great opportunity." In exchange for producing a finished book within a set number of months, the writer would receive $250 (£155) along with a percentage of revenues generated by the project.

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