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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Left Behind: Chapter 4, Part 1

Welcome back, humans and semi-humans, for another installment of our regular feature on Left Behind, the book that will make you thank god that you're an atheist. Last time we began to learn about the totally implausible conspiracy that is developing to rule the world. What happens this week? Well, whatever it is, you can bet it'll teach us a lesson. I'm sure the authors mean the lesson to be about Jesus, but for me it usually just boils down to, "I should really start drinking."

Our comment of the week from the last installment goes to Ken Houghton for his creative solution to the healthcare debate:

If it were that easy to initiate The Rapture, my wife would be actively pointing out potential adulterees so that we could get rid of the Raptured and have national health care.

I had never thought about that particular silver lining before, but I love it. Congratulations as well to runner-up FHR for his prescient questions about the antichrist's Romanian origins. Rest assured, FHR, the reason for this will come clear and it will be every bit as stupid as you think.

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.


Dramatis Personae

In order of appearance except when it's not...

Rayford Steele: Airline captain. Husband of Irene Steele. Possible former gay porn star. Ditherer. No longer attracted to Hattie.

Irene Steele: Wife of Rayford Steele. Born-again Christian. Not perfect, just forgiven. Reader of marriage books.

Cameron "Buck" Williams: Reporter. Known for "bucking tradition and authority." Terrible Excellent writer. Spiritually attuned. Electronics wiz. Fast typist. Clumsy on slides.

Hattie Durham: Flight attendant. Toucher. Hottie. Hysterical female type. Girl power devotee. Unhealthily thin.

Chris Smith: Airline co-pilot. Worked with Rayford Steele. Father of two. Husband. Killed himself.

Chloe Steele: Daughter of Rayford Steele. Student at Stanford.

Chaim Rosenzweig: Israeli chemist. Kinda freaky. Friend of Buck's.

Steve Plank: Buck's boss at Global Weekly. Not the sharpest tool in the shed.

Nicolae Carpathia: Businessman. Romanian Senator. Romanian President. Antichrist.


Chapter 4: In which the preaching sets in, Rayford gets home, and we discover the authors' dislike for women and non-christians.

Page 59- Line 8-10:
"Just let me do this, pal. I'm going crazy here with nothing to do, and I have my bag. I'm workin' free today. Call it a Rapture Special."

If you're curious, the preceding is what a random doctor said to Buck as he (the doctor) started to work on his (Buck's) head wound. You know, the one Buck acquired on the evacuation slide? You know, the rubbery inflatable evacuation slide that's designed to keep you from hurting yourself. Anyway, I point out the above so that you realize that Buck heard a reference to the rapture as early as chapter four. This will be important when we evaluate his investigative skills later in the book.

Page 60-61- Line 60:16-30 61:1-3:
A club attendant came by and asked if they [Buck and the doctor] could move the operation into one of the washrooms.

"I promise to clean up, hon," the doctor said. "Almost done here."

"Well, this can't be sanitary, and we do have other members to think about." [the attendant said]

"Why don't you just give them their drinks and nuts, all right? You'll find this just isn't going to upset them that much on a day like this." [the doctor replied]

"I don't much appreciate being spoken to that way." [she retorted]

The doctor sighed as he worked. "You're right. What's your name?"


"Listen, Suzie, I've been rude and I apologize. OK? Now let me finish this, and I promise not to perform any more surgery right out here in public." Suzie left, shaking her head.

Stupid woman! Questioning a man who was busy working! Kidding aside, compare this to the Buck/Hattie discussion from the last chapter. Invariably in this book whenever a woman questions a man it turns out she's being unreasonable. Unless, that is, she's trying to bring him to Jesus. And even then she's supposed to be all subtle about it.

Page 61- Line 13-15:
...while he [Buck] looked at the message from Steve Plank's secretary, the matronly Marge Potter.

Matronly, eh? So that means her BMI is above starvation level, right?

Page 62- Line 1-2:
Everybody from the senior staff is accounted for, now that we've heard from you. [Marge wrote]

Note that not one of the senior editors at a major news magazine was taken in the rapture. Hmmmm... what could the authors possibly be implying about the news industry? Take your time- it's a toughie.

Page 62- Line 4-5:
Everyone we know who's gone is either a child or a very nice person.

Yeah, you read that right: the authors are basically implying that that everyone who is a born again christian is nice. Remember in Chapter 1 (Page 4- Line 27-29) when Irene said that "Saved people aren't good people, they're just forgiven"? Yeah, you totally didn't think the authors were going to stick with that line, did you? Hang on, as the book goes on it becomes more and more evident that the unsaved have no real virtues to speak of. On a related note: does this mean the authors don't think that I'm nice? I'm hurt.

Page 62- Line 23-25:
Steve had pooh-poohed space aliens. But how could you rule out anything at this point?

I'm torn about this line. On the one hand, yes, when something extreme happens you may want to reserve judgment and consider unusual possibilities. On the other hand, for all the authors' ragging on the subject, the "space aliens" hypothesis is actually less of a leap than "Goddidit." I guess mostly I'm just glad for this faint glimmering of logical thought from Buck, which will of course be surpassed by his customary idiocy soon enough.

Page 63- Line 17-25:
"Watch the cord," he [Buck] called out occasionally as people passed. One of the women behind the counter hollered at him that he'd have to unplug.

He smiled at her. "And if I don't, are you going to have me thrown out? Arrested? Cut me some slack today, of all days!" Hardly anyone took note of the crazy man yelling at the counter woman. Such rarely happened in the Pan-Con Club, but nothing surprised anyone today.

Yes, indeed, another example of a male character yelling randomly at a woman who is getting in his way. Awesome. Again, no idea if the authors are advocating this, or just implying that non-saved men are assholes. On another note: crazy men rarely yell at counter women in the Pan-Con Club? You mean it happens at all? Frankly, I'm interested in that!

Page 65- Line 28-30:
"I'm not much for praying," Rayford admitted.

"You will be," she [random woman Rayford got a ride with] said. "I never was before either, but I am now."

Repent, sinners! The end is at hand! already happened? Yeah, and we're back with Rayford, which helps to explain the overwhelming stench of failure.

Page 66- Line 4-6:
The yard and the walk were spotless as usual, and the huge home, his trophy house, was sepulchral.

Ah, stupid Rayford! Making money instead of praising Jesus. At least this tiny sliver of the book has a firm foundation in the bible. I mean the part about money being incompatible with salvation. Oddly, that part of the bible doesn't seem to get as much play among Republicans as the whole "stone gay people" bit.

Page 66- Line 11-13:
Irene was a fastidious housekeeper. Her morning routine included the coffeepot timer kicking on at six, percolating her special blend of decaf with an egg.

Ah, yes, Saint Irene: loves Jesus and keeps the home spick and span for her husband. If you were hoping Irene would have some sort of job... yeah, well, just give up. On another note: she puts an egg in with the coffee in the pot? What the hell? Ewwww? Actually, this apparently is a way to make coffee but is mostly for when you don't have a modern coffee maker with a filter and so forth. Near as I can tell, you mix the egg (shell and all) in with the grounds and put the whole thing in boiling water. Mix it all up, then let it sit. The egg will sequester the grounds into the bottom of the pot, and then if you're careful you can pour the clean coffee off of the top. So, Irene isn't a total freak. On the other hand, Rayford's house is really fancy and the coffee maker is fancy enough to include a timer. So, given that, why then is the coffee maker so sucky that she has to use an egg to brew the coffee? For that matter, presumably she sets it up the night before, in which case not only is she brewing coffee with an egg in it, she's brewing coffee with an egg that's been at room temperature for hours. Gah. So why does Irene go through all this foolishness? Your guess is as good as mine, but I'm betting it's because the authors can't be bothered to make sense.

Page 66- Line 13-15:
The radio was set to come on at 6:30, tuned to the local Christian station.

Beat that dead horse! Beat it, I say!

Page 67- Line 7-10:
He [Rayford] flicked off the radio, which was piping the Christian station's network news hookup into the air, droning on about the tragedy and mayhem that had resulted from the dissapearances.

You might be wondering at this point why the Christian station is still on the air post-rapture. Eh. The answer basically is that some Christians suck at being Christians. Don't worry- details will follow soon enough.

Page 68- Line 9-10:
Rayford hated himself for his broken promises to spend more time with Raymie.

He particularly hated himself for not only giving his son a stupid name like "Rayford," but for having the nerve to make it even worse by referring to the poor kid as "Raymie." Also, yes, the unsaved man is a terrible, self-absorbed father. The authors are truly beating that horse corpse into a thin red paste.

And with that, folks, we reach the end of another disappointing episode of Left Behind. Tune in next week when Buck spends a little time describing the antichrist, argues with women more, and Rayford sinks deeper into self-loathing and despair. Don't worry, though: the second half of the chapter isn't half as interesting as that makes it sound.

See you then!



Blogger Ken Houghton said...

"The yard and the walk were spotless as usual, and the huge home, his trophy house, was sepulchral....Irene was a fastidious housekeeper."

Now I'm really confused. The entire point of The Sequel* is that Jesu Xo is willing to forgive everything—but that camel/needle story** is also sourced there.

So here we have Irene, who lives rich and spends all of her time keeping her own house clean. No charitable work, no good of society. Just some combination of sloth (no work outside the house, or for others), pride (fastidious house), and arguably gluttony (since the home itself is defined as extravagant and she lives there willingly and actively).

So if we don't have forgiveness being enough—as Don Henley ("The Heart of the Matter") and Alan Arkin ("The Amazing Grandy," F&SF, Aug 2001) claimed—how does a woman who commits two or three Deadly Sins on a daily basis get Raptured?

*The Sequel, best I can tell, consists of four Rashomon-like accounts of some frail carpenter who dies even before his legs are broken, what his followers supposedly did, a series of boring personal letters, and an ending worthy to be included in The Original, with those seven trumpets blowing sweet rock-and-roll and all that, which I guess is what this book is supposed to be about.

**As opposed to a camelback story, but that would be a fetish, except in ChuckToddWorld.

Thursday, September 10, 2009 10:35:00 AM  
Blogger JLT said...

So, Rayford's son and wife have just disappeared, world-wide planes have crashed, people have died, disaster all around, no one knows for sure what has happened yet - and he's so bored by the radio "dron[ing] on about the tragedy and mayhem" that he flicks it off?
I'd be glued to the TV trying to make sense of what has happened or trying to reach my daughter or having a drink. Probably all of that. Maybe I'd even try to find my wife and son - how does he know for sure they are really gone? They could've been involved in a car accident or something like that. Or is he already convinced that they were raptured?
OTOH, maybe he is so happy that he doesn't have to listen to that christian station anymore, that he forgets about everything else for the moment.

Saturday, September 12, 2009 1:57:00 AM  
Blogger scripto said...

"The yard and the walk were spotless as usual, and the huge home, his trophy house, was sepulchral."
Sepulchral - you mean clean but smells bad? I'm not sure the cops are going to buy the whole Rapture thing when they start quizzing Ray about the missing mrs.

Monday, September 14, 2009 1:59:00 PM  

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