The Overton Window: Chapter 6
As I mentioned I am once again selecting a comment of the week, and this week that "honor" goes to whatisthewhat for her piercing insight into both Noah's character and the authors' writing acumen:
I think you miss the point of Noah's scrapbooking. Someday, he'll have a corridor that looks like the inside of his brain, too. Except for the patchy bits of empty wall, for when he forgets what he's thinking, where he's walking, or what he's supposed to do next.
Also, "This task he'd been given had started out strange, and then one by one the calls had only gotten stranger." Is it only me, or does the subject shift from "task" to "calls." Are both strange? Isn't there a simpler way to convey this? Oh, yes. Two sentences.
Ah, yes, two sentences would be helpful, except the authors forgot where they were going with that sentence by the time it was half over. So, hey, they have that in common with Noah. Great work everyone, and keep it up- we have a lot of chapters yet to go. And yes, that is a threat.
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. My footnotes use the traditional star system (e.g. *, **, etc) while references included in the Afterword to the book are noted with numbered parenthetical tags (e.g. (1), (2), etc.). Make it so!
Dramatis Personae: In ascending order of BMI.
Eli Churchill: Former janitor at a volcano lair. Fan of remote telephone booths. Shot in the head by parties unknown.
Beverly ???: Mysterious correspondent of Eli Churchill's.
Noah Gardener: 28 years old. Sets the dating bar "medium-high".
Molly "Hottie McPretty" Ross: Dresses like a hippie, but not really. Looks like a free spirit. Perfectly captures the essence of womanhood. Auburn hair. Green eyes. Pale skin. Has a tattoo on her chest. Wears a silver cross around her neck.
Arthur Gardner Noah's father. Owner of Doyle & Merchant. Megalomaniac. Surprisingly vigorous for a 78 year old man.
Chapter 6: In which Noah takes a cab ride, is stopped by soldiers for... some reason, is interrogated by... someone, and then walks away.
Recommended Mood Music:
Page 37, Line 1:
"Aw, come on, man, what are we doing on Park Avenue?"
I dunno. Maybe you rolled a five just after landing on "Community Chest"? And yes, that joke is only slightly less crappy than the first line of Chapter 6 that it riffs off of, but that just emphasizes how bad this book really is. You're welcome.
Page 37, Line 2-7:
Over the years Noah had confirmed many times that there truly is such a thing as a bad night. When these doomed evening arrive you can't avoid them. The jinx comes at you like a freight train, and by the time you're caught in the glare of those oncoming lights it's far too late to avoid the disaster. The best you can do is make your peace with doom and ride out the curse until sunrise.
You know, I think a book in which a series of bad things happen to Noah Gardner could be an entertaining read. However, if you're going to essentially lead with the punchline (i.e. "Boy, did Noah ever have a shitty night!") you have to make sure that the now-telegraphed joke is actually funny. Sadly, I don't think the authors realized this before writing the remainder of the book. It isn't funny and, while he does have a bad go of it, he's so unlikable that frankly we just wish that one of his unfortunate misadventures would have a terminal conclusion, thereby sparing us more time with Noah Gardner.
Page 37-38, Line 37: 17-18, 38: 1:
Take this night, for example: Noah's first mistake had been opting to hail a cab instead of waiting a few minutes for a limo from the company motor pool.
I like to think of that passage as one of the many, recurring moments in this book when the authors jump up and down and scream, "Did we mention that Noah is super rich and powerful? Isn't that exciting?" No. No, it fucking isn't. Indeed, writing about a super rich protagonist is something of a liability, because it's more difficult to craft plausible obstacles. It's like trying to create an opponent for Superman: when your hero can fly, shoot lasers from his eyes, lift a bus with he bulging biceps, and is invulnerable- not to mention dance- there isn't a whole hell of a lot anyone can do to stop him. It is, perhaps, good to know that Noah has a ton of money, but it's truly pointless to write as though you're a Robin Leach wannabe when trying to craft a "thriller".
Page 38, Line 6-12:
As the windshield wipers slapped in and out of sync with the beat of some atonal Middle Eastern music blaring from the radio, the man at the wheel launched into an animated flurry of colorful epithets in his native tongue. He seemed to be deflecting all blame for the gridlock onto his GPS unit, the dispatcher, the car ahead, and especially the yellowed ivory statuette of St. Christopher glued cockeyed to the dash.
I think the above was supposed to be humorous but, of course, isn't. Imagine how it would have been, on the other hand, if instead of being told what was going on in executive summary format, we were shown the scene. You know, if we heard Khaled- I'm going to call him that because I want to- screaming about the pigfaced dispatcher giving him this stupid cab with its broken GPS unit. Hell, you can even hear an actual character if you listen closely: "Ah, my friend, they hate me because I am so good. I can drive anywhere in this town in twenty minutes when I don't have this stupid, shit car to deal with!" But, no, we get the precis instead. Regardless, Noah tells the cabbie to step on it and Khaled drives up on the sidewalk in his haste to get someone as annoying as Noah the fuck out of the car. As it turns out, though, "the man" is waiting for him.
Page 39, Line 6-14:
And then he [Khaled] slammed on the brakes and everything screeched to a stop.
A soldier in desert camouflage and a rain slicker was standing right in front of the cab, his left hand thrust out flat in an unambiguous command to halt. His other arm was cradling an assault rifle, which, while not exactly aimed at the cab and its innocent passenger, wasn't exactly pointed elsewhere, either. Other men in uniform came up beside the first and were directed with a muzzle-gesture to positions on either side of the taxi.
Okay, first off, this would be a highly unusual turn of events in a major American city. I mean, say what you will, but deploying the army as traffic cops isn't exactly SOP. Second, the cab and its "innocent passenger" singular? So, are we leaving out Khaled, the scary brown person, or Noah, who I would class as innocent if only because he's too damned stupid to be guilty of anything? Alas, who can tell for sure? We are told, however, that Khaled apparently has previous experience with military checkpoints.
Page 39, Line 18-21:
Noah had no such prior experience to guide him. All he felt was the Lenny's hot partrami sandwich he'd enjoyed at lunch suddenly threatening to disembark from the nearest available exit.
Ah, yes. Just what this book needed. A shit joke. Oscar f-ing Wilde, these authors are. In any case, the soldier tells Noah to exit the vehicle, none too politely I might add.
Page 39, 26-32:
Though the soldier he faced looked to be all of nineteen years old, his bearing was far more mature. He had a command in his eyes that made his rifle and sidearm seem completely redundant. It wasn't just the steely calm, it was the readiness, a bedrock certainty that whatever might happen next in this encounter, from a perfectly civil exchange to a full-on gunfight, he and his men would be the ones still standing when all the smoke had cleared.
"Noah felt his chest heaving against the smooth fabric of his blouse. He could sense the warmth, the heat, rising in his blood as he stared at the young soldier, so casually exercising his masculine power. Noah longed to feel his rough, strong hands all over him." Okay, sorry, I got carried away there but, for a book that claims to be a thriller, this thing really does feel like a solid bit of homoerotica. I think the reason in this case is the authors need to generate a sense of threat from this scene, but they also want to avoid alientating their base by insulting the military. The result is the sort of approach-avoidant narrative that you'd run into in a trashy novel, which is only fair since that's what we're reading. Regardless, the soldier demands Noah's ID and Noah, being a strong protagonist, immediately complies.
Page 40, Line 4-12:
"Sure." Despite his earnest desire to cooperate, for several tense seconds Noah's driver's license refused to slide out of its transparent sleeve. Another man in uniform had come near and, after watching the struggle for a while, he stepped up, held open a clear plastic pouch, and gave an impatient nod. Noah dropped the entire wallet into the bag, and after another wordless prompt from the man with the rifle, emptied his remaining pockets as well. The bag was zipped closed and passed to a nearby runner, who trotted off toward an unmarked truck parked up the block.
I think that has to be the most efficient mugging I've ever witnessed. I'm also wondering what gesture a dude with a rifle could use that means "empty your pockets," without being overtly threatening. Anyway, at this point it starts raining and the soldier continues his flirtation with Noah.
Page 40, Line 15-20:
The young soldier across from him didn't seem to take any notice of the deteriorating weather. He was watching Noah's face. It wasn't a macho stare-down, nothing of the kind. There really wasn't any engagement at all on a man-to-man level. The soldier kept his cool, stoic attention where he'd been trained to keep it, on the eyes where the changing intentions of another first tend to show themselves.
Yes, yes, and Noah had never envied a rifle so much in his life. We know, we know. But does Noah make a move?
Page 40, Line 24-26:
"How about this rain, huh?" he [Noah] said idiotically, as it blowing some small talk was the perfect way to play this out.
No answer. Not a twitch.
"No, you idiot! 'How about this rain'? Now he thinks you're some kind of moron! He'll never ask you to the New World Order ball now!" Seriously, I feel like I'm in a goddamn teen romance novel here. Anyway, at this point Noah manages to divert his attention from the dreamy soldier long enough to realize that Khaled has been pulled from the cab and slammed against the hood of the car with soldiers going through his pockets. Shortly thereafter Noah recalls that both presidential candidates are in town, along with "some emergency faction of the G-20" (Page 41, Line 9), whatever the hell that means, thus explaining the military checkpoint. Me, I'm still wondering about the breach of posse comitatus, but Noah seems to think this is all A-ok. Shortly thereafter the soldier gets some sort of message on the radio and gets Noah out of the cab, escorting him into a nearby truck that resembles a UPS truck but with some funky- and undescribed- logo on the side. No doubt Noah is sad that Khaled got a solid frisking while he has to settle for undressing the hot young soldier with his eyes, but that's beside the point. Inside the truck Noah encounters a drab looking woman who tells him that she just needs to ask him a few questions. She taps something into her computer and the monitors (yes, plural- the narrative makes this sound like a command center from The Matrix) come up with some sort of form and Noah's picture.
Page 42, Line 19:
"Just a few questions, all right? It's just routine, and it's required." [the drab woman said]
Required, eh? Thus suggests she either has a warrant or she works for the census bureau but, somehow, I doubt either is the case. And I don't see how getting stopped on the streets of New York by armed and uniformed members of the military is in any way routine, but hey, what do I know? I don't live in New York. Noah finally grows a spine and demands to see some ID, which she shows him. He notes that the ID doesn't include a shield, but does have that same weird logo. And then he remembers where he'd seen it before.
Page 42, Line 26-30:
Several months earlier Doyle & Merchant had pitched for the international PR business of this compnay. They'd been in the market for a complete image makeover in the face of some major allegations in the news, the growing list of which ranged from plain-vanilla war profiteering, graft, and smuggling all the way up to serial rape and murder.
Ah. Right. Exactly the people the government would pick to work traffic stops in the U.S. I should have known.
Page 43, Line 3-5:
This woman, her hairdo, and her truck were from Talion, the most well-connected private military consulting firm in the foreign and domestic arsenal of the U.S. government.
First off, I don't know that I'd really consider a bunch of mercenaries to be primarily an arm of the government. That said, mark this passage well and the name of Talion- because it will never, ever become relevant at any point in this book. It's one of the many details that pop out of nowhere and then disappear back into the aether, never to be seen again. I like to think that they're part of some parallel, much better, novel by Tom Clancy that Noah- in some sort of Thursday Next-ish way- is just stumbling through. Regardless, the drab lady starts asking Noah whether or not he's acquainted with Khaled, which is so stupid the mind boggles. Stop a random cab and ask yourself this- how f-ing likely is it that the passenger is "acquainted" with the driver? In New York City? Un-freaking-real. She starts asking pointless questions and, sensing her middle-management status, Noah remembers that he's a V.P. at a powerful company, and that he has money and shit.
Page 43, Line 26-30:
"Am I being detained here?" [Noah demanded]
"Well..." [Mrs. Drab answered]
"Am I being detained." [Noah asked, forgetting to include a question mark]
"So I'm free to go then." [Noah replied, again forgetting the question mark, but deciding to brazen it out]
Finally, the moron grows a pair to go with his new spine. Now if only the wizard would give him a brain, we'd have a real boy! Regardless, he gets up to go, she flashes Molly's flier at him and he has some weird thought about keeping his mouth shut to avoid prosecution. Prosecution for what, I have no idea, but little details like that don't matter. That doesn't stop the crazy lady, though.
Page 44, Line 14-17:
"They [Molly's group] have ties to the Aryan Brotherhood," she said, having begun to thumb through a file folder on her desk, "and the Lone Star Militia, the National Labor Committee, the Common Law Coalition, the Earth Liberation Front-"
Right. Because if there's anyone that the ELF gets along with, it's white supremacists. I mean, seriously, WTF? Anyway, Noah reminds the woman who his daddy is, grabs his shit, and hops out of the truck. As he starts to walk away he once again notices Khaled, currently being hauled away by two big dudes. Khaled is calling over and over for Noah to help him.
Page 45, Line 17-24:
But what could Noah do? You can't get involved with every unfortunate situation. It wasn't his place to intercede. For all he knew, the guy was the leader of a major terrorist cell. And besides, he was late for an appointment with a certain young woman who was in dire need of a dose of reality.
Noah turned away and kept on walking, letting the man's pleas fade away and then disappear behind him. It wasn't nearly as hard to do as it should have been.
Aaaand we see Noah's newly grown pair retract at near light speed into his abdomen. Granted, I think the authors intend Noah to be unlikable here, setting the stage for a transformation over the course of the book. Unfortunately, however, in order for this method to work the character has to actually grow and transform, which Noah does not.
That's a subject for another time, however, because we've reached the end of the chapter. Join us next time when Noah walks down the street, gets rained on, and engages in what passes for thought. Which is to say, he just walks and gets wet.
It'll be fun, I promise.*
* Of course I'm not really that trustworthy...
Labels: The Overton Window