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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Left Behind: Chapter 4, Part 2

It's that time, boys and girls: time for another installment of our regular series on Left Behind, the book that will make you happy to be a heathen. Last time, as you may recall, Rayford managed to get home and realize what a lousy father he was. What happens this week? My guess is more of the same!

As always, we have a comment of the week. This time it goes to JLT for his extended observations on Rayford's curiosity, culminating in an amusing hypothesis:

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.

A plausible hypothesis indeed! Scripto also deserves a nod for his humorous speculation on the connotations of "sepulchral." Keep those comments coming and maybe next time YOU will have the comment of the week!

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. Bad father.

Irene Steele: Wife of Rayford Steele. Born-again Christian. Not perfect, just forgiven. Reader of marriage books. Cleans obsessively. Likes egg in her coffee?

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.


Page 68- Line Something:

No quotation, I just wanted to let you know that we're back with Buck. It begins with Buck looking over his notes from his interview with Chaim Rosenzweig. Initially, we're treated to a story about how a number of world dignitaries visited Rosenzweig, trying to charm him into revealing the formula for his super-fertilizer. He turned them all down, of course, and laughs at their attempts. Honestly, it makes the guy sound like the sort of asshole who finds the homeless hilarious. He then goes on to gush about how much he loves Carpathia (aka the antichrist), who honestly over the next few pages comes off like a pretty nice guy. Notably, Carpathia is in favor of arms reductions. Yes, clearly Jesus would not have approved of beating swords into plowshares. Then we get to this bit of weirdness...

Page 70- Line 19-22:
This man [Carpathia] is about your [Buck's] age, by the way. Blonde and blue eyed, like the original Romanians, who came from Rome, before the Mongols affected their race.

Leaving aside the vaguely disturbing reference to the Mongols "affecting their race" this is a key bit because in many readings of revelations, the antichrist comes from eastern Europe and is "Roman." Now, some scholars would take this as a sign that revelations was, at best, meant as a coded message about the politics of the time or, at worst, utterly fucking loony. The authors, however, assume this means that the antichrist is genetically "Roman" but comes from somewhere else. And, you'll recall, was fathered by two gay men. If all this doesn't confuse you, you just aren't paying attention. Alas, it often seems as though absurdly confusing plans are exactly what evangelicals think indicates the hand of god, which basically makes Rube Goldberg the messiah.

Page 71- Line 19-27:
Suddenly it was Buck's turn at the counter. He gathered up his extension cord and thanked the young woman for bearing with him. "Sorry about that," he said, pausing briefly for forgiveness that was not forthcoming. "It's just that today, of all days, well, you understand."

Apparently she did not understand. She'd had a rough day, too. She looked at him tolerantly and said, "What can I not do for you?"

See? Silly woman! The Man apologizes, and is she grateful? Oh no! She has to be all snarky about it. Seriously, though, she claims that it's her little joke because she can't actually help anyone at the moment. Right. For what it's worth, however, in about two pages she actually does help by getting Buck in contact with some transportation. This will allow him- ever so slowly- to make his way to New York. So that's nice. In any case, shortly after the above exchange she asks Buck if he's a Pan Con Club member. And if you liked how manly Buck was with the e-mail, you're gonna love this...

Page 72- Line 12-16:
"Lady, I'm, like, a kryptonite member."

He flashed his card, showing that he was among the top 3 percent of air travelers in the world. If any flight had one seat in the cheapest section, it had to be given to him and upgraded to first class at no charge.

My comment in the margins reads, "Golly!" which more or less sums it up. If you want more commentary than that... well... I dunno what "top 3 percent of air travelers" means. That he travels a lot? That he's just, you know, really good at it? I think it mostly means he's great at eating honey roasted peanuts while keeping his fat ass in an uncomfortable chair, which isn't the sort of thing I would brag about. In any case, it's time for us to get back to Rayford, who is busy drowning in guilt. The first two sentences of his section, however, are just mind boggling...

Page 73- Line 18-20:
Hearing it [the rapture] on the radio or seeing it on television was one thing. Encountering it for yourself was something else again.

GAH! Rayford, you encountered it yourself on your own f-ing plane! You encountered it just a few hours ago, moments after it happened! You were encountering it the entire time you were trying to get home! For crying out loud, that guy from Memento had a stronger grasp of the past-tense than you do!

Page 74- Line 7-10:
How grateful he [Rayford] was that Chloe was still here and that somehow he would connect with her! But what did that say about the two of them? They were lost.

So, yeah, get used to this sort of thing from Rayford. See, this book is basically evangelical porn.* And like all porn it has ages and ages of boring bits which are then punctuated by the "action" and then eventually the money shot. In porn the action is, as Robin Williams put it, "like an industrial film covered in fur", and the money shot is... uh... the money shot. In Left Behind, the action is ferociously grating remorse with associated brow beating and the money shot is a conversion to Jesus. Certainly after each and every conversion in this book you'll feel vaguely dirty so, yeah, I think the comparison is apt. In any case, in a few lines Rayford notices a picture of himself in his son's room that he (Rayford) autographed.

Page 74- Line 6-27:
He [Rayford] shook his head. What kind of a dad autographs a picture for his own son?

Oh, wait, shit, this was on Jeopardy just the other night...

Page 75- Line 4-7:
What a beautiful, frilly place Irene had made it [his house], decorated with needlepoint and country knickknacks. Had he ever told her he appreciated it? Had he ever appreciated it? [emphasis original]

I can't say about Rayford but I, for one, am really, really happy that my wife doesn't insist on decorating the house with "needlepoint and country knickknacks." I mean, what the fuck does that even mean? A butter churn for an end table? And how many "Bless this Mess!" needlepoint decorations does one house need? We're not living in the set from Little House on the Prairie for crying out loud!

Page 75- Line 11-13:
He [Rayford] did not deserve her [Irene]. He deserved this, he knew, to be mocked by his own self-centeredness and to be stripped of the most important person in his life.

Ironically, his belief that he deserves to be mocked for being self-centered is, basically, a way of interpreting a widespread event (i.e. the rapture) as being somehow specifically about him. Yes, folks, that's right: recursive egotism! You saw it here first! On another note: I hope you're enjoying this little guilt hurricane, because we're going to be slogging through it for a couple of chapters yet.

Page 75- Line 27-30:
He [Rayford] put the ring in his jacket pocket and noticed the package she [Irene] had mailed. Tearing it open, he found two of his favorite homemade cookies with hearts drawn on the top in chocolate.

Yeah. Her marriage is waning, she reads marriage books for answers and she picks... sending him cookies through the mail. Frankly, I'm almost sorry he didn't bang Hattie. It is also increasingly apparent that he was married to June Cleaver, but without the sex appeal.

Page 76- Line 8
And Rayford cried himself to sleep.

Which is more or less how I felt when reading this for the first time. Before we end for the day, I feel I should mention something my wife pointed out. I commented to her on how Rayford was hating himself for working so hard to earn money, and about how Irene apparently spent all day keeping house, doing needlepoint, studying the bible, baking cookies, finding antique spinning wheels, and whatnot. In any case, my own wife observed in response, "So, wait, they're criticizing him for doing the things that he had to do so that they could afford to have her stay home full time with the kids? Even when one kid was out of the home at college?" Indeed, this is a good point. Apparently the good woman is a homemaker- and Irene is the only woman who has been depicted favorably thus far- but her husband is supposed to support her, comfortably, without actually working. What the hell? What makes it even sillier is so far in the book Rayford is devoid of any hobby interests and never actually had an affair with anyone, much less Hattie. Rest assured, in the next chapter we learn that he did have at least one hobby: drinking. Still, it doesn't appear that he had a drinking problem and, in any case, if I was married to Irene I might start hitting the bottle too. It thus appears that whenever he wasn't at work, he was probably at home. One can only imagine what the authors think of parents who rarely get to see their children because they have to work. Are they bad parents? Within the context of this book, I'd have to say yes, even though my personal opinion is substantially different. There's a weird kind of class story embedded in this book that is frankly oppressive, not to mention unrealistic for the vast majority of Americans.

And with that, dear readers, we come to the end of Chapter Four. See you next time when we basically fart around for two dozen pages and experience little or no plot development. So, you know, the usual.

* Hat-tip to plain(s)feminist who predicted this analogy from the very beginning. I actually came to this conclusion on my own during the reading, but was touched (pardon the expression) to know someone else had concluded the same thing.



Blogger Ken Houghton said...

A key reason porn works is the Fluffer. Knowing that, I fear you're misinterpreting the role of the women in the book.

Consider the ununderstanding woman. She lifts Buck up higher and higher, until he proudly declares himself "kryptonite," i.e., stronger than Superman.

The Fluffer on a porn set tends (I am told) to be a woman as well. LaHaye is simply Following the Form.

Thursday, September 17, 2009 9:50:00 AM  
Blogger Mister Troll said...

For crying out loud, this is only page 68? Please tell me this book is under 100 pages long. (Page 74 plus "two dozen" = The End?)

I still think that this Roman (Romulan?) dude sounds more like he might be Santa Claus than the devil, but maybe that's just me.

And, um, Buck is going to go somewhere "slowly"? More slowly than that plane ride we were treated to?

Thursday, September 17, 2009 10:13:00 AM  
Blogger LemmusLemmus said...

"Yes, folks, that's right: recursive egotism!"

I didn't know Niklas Luhmann had a sideline in Christian novels.

Thursday, September 17, 2009 10:57:00 AM  
Blogger scripto said...

"Suddenly it was Buck's turn at the counter. He gathered up his extension cord and thanked the young woman for bearing with him."

OK. So in what language was this thing originally written?

Friday, September 18, 2009 5:30:00 AM  

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