Left Behind: Chapter 20, Part 1
As always we have a comment of the week. This week that "honor" goes to scripto for putting his finger on the pulse of the characters:
"He had left the church when he left the claustrophobic family situation that threatened to drive him crazy as a young man..."
Bucky and Rayford were locked in a closet growing up. Explains their social skills.
Indeed, we can hardly say that they were raised by wolves since- let's face it- pack hunting canines usually have quite superb social abilities. Then again, given what we know about Rayford and Buck, I can imagine a closet being quite attractive as a day care option. Congratulations, scripto, and keep at it everyone! We're gradually staggering closer to the end of this book!
And with that, let's begin! As always, page/line numbers are in bold, quotes from the book are in block quotes, my commentary is in regular print, and you can navigate the whole series with the provided tag.
In an order determined by a skill check (I rolled a 20 for a critical strike!)...
Rayford Steele: Airline captain. Husband of Irene Steele. Possible former gay porn star. Ditherer. No longer attracted to Hattie. Bad father. Cries a lot. Lying hypocrite. Christian.
Irene Steele: Wife of Rayford Steele. Born-again Christian. Not perfect, just forgiven. Reader of marriage books. Cleans obsessively. Likes egg in her coffee. Bakes really silly cookies. Likes butter churns.
Cameron "Buck" Williams: Reporter. Known for "bucking tradition and authority."
Hattie Durham: Flight attendant. Toucher. Hottie. Hysterical female type. Girl power devotee. Unhealthily thin. Twenty-seven years old. Blonde. Claims no moral or religious code.
Chris Smith: Airline co-pilot. Worked with Rayford Steele. Father of two. Husband. Killed himself.
Chloe Steele: Daughter of Rayford Steele. Student at Stanford. Religiously unaffiliated. Kinda stupid.
Chaim Rosenzweig: Israeli chemist. Kinda freaky. Friend of Buck's.
Raymie Steele: Son of Rayford Steele. Taken in the rapture.
Dirk Burton: English guy Buck knows. Graduated from Princeton. Kinda gullible.
Joshua Todd-Cothran: English finance guy. May have the nickname "duck lips."
Jonathon Stonagal: American ultra-rich dude. Involved in international monetary cabal. Has ties to duck lips.
Marge Potter: Steve Planck's secretary. Matronly.
Lucinda Washington: Fiftyish black woman. Raptured.
Ken Ritz: Pilot. Profiteering on the rapture. Actually quite polite. Fired for being too careful. Believes in aliens.
Juan Ortiz: Global Weekly international events editor.
Jimmy Borland: Global Weekly religion editor.
Barbara Donahue: Global Weekly financial editor.
Nigel Leonard: Employee of the London exchange.
Alan Tompkins: Investigator at Scotland Yard. Friend of Buck. Kind of a chickenshit. Blown up by an evil conspiracy car bomb.
Bruce Barnes: Visitation Pastor at New Hope Village Church. Likes to be mysterious.
Vernon Billings: Pastor at New Hope Village Church. Likes video tape. Raptured.
Eric Miller: Reporter. Rival of Buck's. Able to climb stairs really fast, but not as fast a runner as Buck. Kinda a douche.
Gerald Fitzhugh: President of the United States. Talks like a moron.
Stanton Bailey: Publisher of the Global Weekly.
Carolyn Miller: Wife of Eric Miller.
Alex Phonecompany: Friend of Buck's. Works at the phone company.
Chapter 20: In which Drek refuses to explain what's about to happen because it's just too damned unreasonable to encapsulate in a pithy summary.
Page 361- Line Donkey:
No quote, but the chapter opens with Rayford and Chloe in the Pan-Con Club waiting for Hattie to arrive. Rayford stops to leave a message for her (Hattie) only to have the receptionist inexplicably give him Hattie's message from Buck telling her that he (Buck) will be arriving shortly. That's a pretty shitty club if it routinely gives out private messages to third parties, you know? Alas, as ever, narrative convenience trumps reasonable behavior because the authors are quite possibly the laziest fiction writers I have ever encountered.
Page 361- Line 11-16:
Rayford and Chloe were sitting near the entrance when Hattie rushed in. Rayford smiled at her, but she immediately seemed to slow, as if she had just happened to run into them. "Oh, hi," she said, showing her indentification at the counter and taking her message. Rayford let her play her game. He deserved it. [emphasis added]
Well he's a smug little git, now isn't he? Is it really contrition when you decide your own penance? It sorta seems to me like that takes the sting out of it. Eh. Whatever. If you didn't realize by this point in the book that Rayford is an arrogant jackass you just haven't been paying attention. On an unrelated note: why the hell does Hattie have to flash an ID to get her own message when Rayford was able to get it just by showing up and not asking for it?
Page 362- Line 1-2:
"I really shouldn't have come to see you," she [Hattie] said, after being introduced to Chloe.
Sweetie, you don't know the half of it. But, alas, you're here, so we may as well move on to the sales pitch promptly, right? Apparently not, as Hattie makes a point of bragging about meeting Nicolae Carpathia and insists on calling Buck back, thereby giving the authors a chance to jump back to Buck. He apologizes for leaving her in a cab and, upon realizing that she's with Rayford, tries to get her off the phone. And fails.
Page 363- Line 1-9:
"Buck, I don't want you to feel obligated to entertain me."
"Sure you do. You're a nice guy, but it's obvious we're not kindred spirits. Thanks for seeing me and especially for introducing me to Mr. Carpathia."
"Hattie, I could use a favor. Would it be possible to introduce me to this captain? I'd like to interview him. Is he staying overnight?"
Ah, yes. Hattie is just so obviously petty and jealous, not to mention self-absorbed. She's trying to clumsily manipulate... actually, I don't really know who she's trying to clumsily manipulate. Her character is so two-dimensional, I'm honestly at a loss to explain her motivations. Regardless, if she were the authors' brand of Christian, obviously the jealousy and manipulativeness wouldn't be there. Of course. Remember, folks: not better, just forgiven. Right. Sure. Anyway, after the authors switch us back to Rayford, Hattie asks Rayford if he minds, he says he doesn't while privately minding, and they wave Buck over to join the group.
Page 364- Line 16-21:
"What do you [Buck] want to interview me [Rayford] about?"
"Your take on the disappearances. I'm doing a cover story on the theories behind what happened, and it would be good to get your perspective as a professional and as someone who was right in the middle of the turmoil when it happened."
What. The. Fuck? I have two issues with the above. First, his "perspective as a professional"? A professional in WHAT? Is he a professional in rapturing or something? Because last time I checked mysterious phenomena that are beyond science as presently understood are not routinely unraveled by airline pilots. I mean no offense to air crews, don't get me wrong, but while a pilot and a lawyer are both "professionals" they have very different areas of expertise. Or, put differently, I'd rather be defended by a guy who went to law school and driven around the sky by a dude who went to flight school. So why on Earth is Rayford's opinion so bloody interesting? Second, "someone who was right in the middle of the turmoil"? Does he mean the rapture? Because by chapter twenty I should think it apparent from the giant hairy deal the authors have made of it that EVERYONE was right in the middle of it. Jesus. That's as all-inclusive as saying that he wants to interview Rayford because he (Rayford) has a pulse and respiration. Wow, those are some awesome credentials. And as you might guess Rayford, with his newfound humility, misses that part entirely.
Page 364- Line 22-24:
What an opportunity! Rayford thought. "Happy to," he said. "You can join us for dinner then?"
"You bet," Buck said. "And this is your daughter?" [emphasis original]
And he leaps on the chance to use a magazine article as a vehicle for "saving souls" with all the ferocity of a starving wolf in a pen full of sheep with steaks stapled to their foreheads. And then the narrative jumps back to Buck.
Page 364-365- Line 364: 25-27- 365: 1-2:
Buck was stunned. He loved Chloe's name, her eyes, her smile. She looked directly at him and gave a firm handshake, something he liked in a woman. So many women felt it was feminine to offer a limp hand. What a beautiful girl! he thought. [emphasis original]
Oh, shit! NNNNNOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!! Oh for crying out loud! He's in his thirties, she's in college! It's equivalent to me dating one of my own students.* To be more precise, she's a Junior, so she's most likely 20-21 while Buck's age is... somewhat mysterious. My margin note at this point asserts that he's 33, but I can't find where I got that from and in a few pages his age is given as something else. So, hey, we're looking at a 12-13 year age difference, tops. You have got to be f-ing kidding me! Gah. For the record, my frustration here comes from two sources. First, while a ten year age difference isn't always an obvious problem, it tends to be more of one when one of the two folks is as young as Chloe is. Second, this is about the only way this book could get worse- by trying to depict a romance. We are all screwed. At least he's in a group with her father and can't hit on her when Rayford's around.
Page 365- Line 7-11:
"Look," Hattie said, "the captain and I need a few minutes, so why don't you two get acquainted and we'll all get back together later. Do you have time, Buck?"
I do now, he thought. "Sure," he said, looking at Chloe and her father. "Is that all right with you two?"
Oh, goddamnit. Please say no. Just... come on! I can't handle a dozen paragraphs of awkward Christian romance. For the love of all that is decent, PLEASE!
Page 365- Line 12-15:
The captain seemed to hesitate, but his daughter looked at him expectantly. She was clearly old enough to make her own decisions, but apparently she didn't want to make things awkward for her dad.
Heh. That's rich. Chloe will make Rayford feel awkward. Right. Unfortunately, Rayford grants Chloe permission to wander a public place with a single man unescorted and we wade hip-deep into horseshit.
Page 365- Line 21-27:
It had been a long time since Buck had felt awkward and shy around a girl. As he and Chloe strolled and talked, he didn't know where to look and was self-conscious about where to put his hands. Should he keep them in his pockets or let them hang free? Let them swing? Would she rather sit down and people watch or window-shop?
Oh my f-ing god. This just can't be happening. It's too absurd. Hell, this level of awkwardness was very unpleasant to experience back when I was sixteen, is only marginally endearing in actual sixteen year olds viewed from my present old age, and is just goddamn irritating in a grown man. He's a globe-trotting secret agent/journalist and when he encounters an attractive and much younger woman all he can do is stutter, "Huh, huh. You sure are purdy!" Anyway, he makes conversation by asking her about herself and she babbles about her family while he thinks about how his palms are sweaty or something. Please note, as well, that throughout this bit when I say that one of them "babbles," by and large I don't mean that I'm skipping over dialogue that's given by the authors. No, I mean that the authors just assert that they're talking but don't use that as an opportunity to tell us anything.
Page 366- Line 2-3:
This was a girl he could be interested in, but she had to be at least ten years younger than he was.
And apparently Buck is bad at math. Yes. Definitely "at least". She asks him about himself and he babbles about this and that.
Page 366- Line 10-14:
When the conversation lulled, Chloe caught him gazing at her, and he looked away. When he looked back, she was looking at him. They smiled shyly. This is crazy, he thought. He was dying to know if she had a boyfriend, but he wasn't about to ask. [emphasis original]
I want to die. This is like what would happen if you took a whole rack of pornos and cut out all of the sex, leaving just the scene where the pizza guy shows up and the customer doesn't have correct change. I hope Warbler is still lurking so as to see his worst fears come true!
Page 366- Line 15-17:
Her questions were more along the lines of a young person asking a veteran professional about his career. She envied his travel and experience.
Well, he is very good at traveling. You don't get a seat-shaped ass like that overnight, you know. Regardless, she asks if he's been married, he says no, she reveals that she's only had "one steady," which is pretty funny since nobody uses that expression anymore, and then Buck awkwardly compliments her on her beauty. Blessedly, this shit is nearly at a (temporary) end, though the authors insist on adding insult to injury.
Page 367- Line 12-18:
She stopped in front of a gourmet bakery shop. "You feel like a cookie?" she asked.
"Why? Do I look like one?"
"How did I know that was coming?" she said. "Buy me a cookie and I'll let that groaner die a natural death."
"Of old age, you mean," he said.
"Now that was funny." [emphasis original]
No, it wasn't. There has never been anything intentionally amusing in this book. No, not once. So, besides having sand for brains, Chloe also apparently has a terrible sense of humor. This book is going to drive me to drink. Thankfully, at this point we return to Rayford and Hattie. And you have to realize how much it pains me to know that I'm actually glad to be reading about Rayford again.
Page 367- Line 19-20:
Rayford was as earnest, honest, and forthright with Hattie as he had ever been.
That's not saying a lot, actually, both because he's rarely been honest with Hattie specifically and because he's been plotting for chapters now to manipulate her into a position where he can preach at her. So, shit, mission accomplished I guess.
Page 367- Line 23-25:
"Hattie," he said, "I'm not here to argue with you or even to have a conversation. There are things I must tell you, and I want you to just listen."
Ah, yes, the rhetorical equivalent of "Lie back and think of England." Maybe we've been too hard on Irene if this is how Rayford treats his women. On a more direct note, however, this really has been my experience of most "discussions" with people who want to convert me to Christ or whatever: it's a one-way street as they just want to tell me "how it is" and have no interest in considering counter-arguments. Wonderful. Fortunately, Hattie is prepared with limp resistance that Rayford will quickly overwhelm and crush.
Page 367-368- Line 367: 26-27, 368: 1-4:
"I [Hattie] don't get to say anything? Because there may be things I'll want you to know, too."
"Of course I'll let you tell me anything you want, but this first part, my part, I don't want to be a dialogue. I have to get some things off my chest, and I want you to get the whole picture before you respond, OK?"
This isn't necessarily an unreasonable request on Rayford's part, but he's not really showing off the kind of Jesus-like humility that you'd think he'd be striving for. Then again, Jesus claimed to be the son of god, so maybe Rayford is nailing it spot-on.
Page 368- Line 5-6:
She shrugged. "I don't see how I have a choice."
"You had a choice, Hattie. You didn't have to come."
Ah, lovely. He demands she meet him, bugs her to meet him, harasses her to meet him and, when she does, he claims that her agreement means that she also agreed to shut the fuck up at his request. I think Rayford does not grasp how adults talk to each other. But, hell, what else is new, right? Anyway, Rayford and Hattie spend another page on the preamble, during which Rayford convinces Hattie to shut the hell up and then... ah, well, you'll have to wait for next week to find out, as I'm calling the midpoint here.
I think the best summary for today comes from the margin note I scrawled on this page, which reads: "Why are we always asked to give them the floor? Seriously." This refers to this weird notion that somehow those of us who don't believe in the Christ of evangelical Christianity are somehow obligated to allow those who do to preach at us. Thing is, we're not. And, amazingly enough, polite society doesn't require that either- I do not have to listen to proselytizing if I don't wish to, no matter how much someone might want to preach to me. In perfect honesty, with attitudes like Rayford's- particularly the utter disinterest in listening to any alternative views- I can't see why I should bother to listen. I've heard these ideas before, dealt with these claims, and found them wanting. Yet, here we are with the authors using Rayford as a model for how their version of Christians should preach the gospel. And, indeed, in their world the gospel isn't about love, tolerance, or forgiveness, but rather about proving how awesome you are by constantly telling others how awesome they are not. And boy do I wish they would stop.
But, whether they stop or not,** we're at an end for the moment. Come back next week when Rayford gets all fire and brimstone on Hattie's ass and Buck just thinks about Chloe's ass in general. So, basically, next week will have a lot of ass. Yay?
* To which my wife would surely object.
** I wouldn't hold my breath...
Labels: Left Behind