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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Left Behind: Chapter 8, Part 2

Welcome back ladies and gentlemen to our regular feature on Left Behind, the book that will make you long for the sweet release that only death can bring. Last time Buck argued with his editor for a while and got home to his apartment. And if that sounds exciting, you obviously didn't read last week's installment. What happens this week? Not that anyone should care, but it involves Rayford, guilt, and more guilt. Did I mention there's going to be guilt?

As always we have a comment of the week. This week the prize goes to Jay for his observation about the plausibility of certain details in Left Behind:

Since when do nationalists, Jewish or otherwise, want a supernational government? It's more than "unlikely", it's self-contradicting.

Actually, I have the exact same reaction every time they bring up the whole "Jewish Nationalist" bit, but staggering levels of ignorance don't seem to bother the authors so, hey, why should it bother us? Still, in the context of this book, the quesion isn't "who wants a supernational government" so much as "who wants a supernatural government"? Regardless, this week's episode is a bit longer and meatier than last week's so, hopefully, y'all will find more juicy stoopid to sink your teeth into. Huzzah!

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

Arranged by the shade of their auras...

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

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." Terrible Excellent writer. Spiritually attuned. Electronics wiz. Fast typist. Clumsy on slides. Travels a lot. Graduated from Princeton. Human alarm clock. Expert in Romanian politics.

Hattie Durham: Flight attendant. Toucher. Hottie. Hysterical female type. Girl power devotee. Unhealthily thin. Twenty-seven years old. Blonde.

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. Favors arms reductions.

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.

Jonathon Stonagal: American ultra-rich dude. Involved in international monetary cabal.

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.


Page 142- Line Fedora:

No quote, but we begin this chapter with Rayford, who is basically reminiscing about his past. His parents died when he was young, but from the text that doesn't seem to have bothered him, particularly. He became a pilot in the "military reserve," which in context I think means air force, but who knows? Could be he was in the Navy or the Marines since all three services have their own jet aircraft. I generally think of the Navy and the Marines as too hard-core for Rayford,* however, so I stand by my Air Force guess. And then we rejoin our current story... sort of.

Page 143- Line 1-4:
He [Rayford] had met Irene in Reserve Officer Training Corps in college. She had been an army brat who had never rebelled. Many of her chums had turned their backs on military life and didn't even want to own up to it.

Own up to... what now? Is it a sin to turn your back on a military career? Huh? And as long as we're on the subject: "chums"? Are we in a Leave it to Beaver episode now? Honestly, have the authors conversed with actual humans any time in the last thirty years?

Page 143- Line 8-14:
They were married when Rayford was a senior in college and Irene a sophomore. She dropped out when he went into the military, and everything had been on schedule since. They had Chloe during their first year of marriage but, due to complications, waited another eight years for Ray Jr. Rayford was thrilled with both children, but he had to admit he had longed for a namesake boy.

Aside from the obvious lack of religion, it's like a perfect little fundamentalist fairy tale! Man is a heroic soldier, marries pretty younger girl when they're both young, she drops out before she finishes her education, are immediately fruitful and multiplicative. How lovely. As an additional note, I love that they had Chloe in their first year of marriage. This is mostly because I prefer to believe that this is the authors' subtle way of indicating that Rayford and Irene were totally engaging in premarital sex. I mean, hell, two weeks after the wedding is "in their first year of marriage". Rayford, you dog!

Page 143- Line 20-23:
It was a particularly difficult pregnancy for Irene, and Raymie was a couple of weeks late. Chloe was a spirited eight-year-old, so Rayford disengaged as much as possible.

He what now? His wife was having a hard time and Chloe was in need of... what? Guidance? Attention? Love? And he did what, now? "Disengaged as much as possible"? Is there anything to like about this guy? I mean that seriously, he's a protagonist for crying out loud, but I keep hoping he'll trip and fall into a chipper-shredder or something.

Page 143- Line 24-26:
Irene, he believed, slipped into at least some mild depression during that time and was short tempered with him and weepy.

I dunno, dude, it just sounds to me like she's realized she's married to Rayford Steele. Depressed? Short tempered? Weepy? Yep, sounds about right.

Page 144- Line 1-8:
He had drunk more during that period than ever before or since, and the marriage had gone through its most trying time. He was frequently late getting home and at times even fibbed about his schedule so he could leave a day early or come back a day late. Irene accused him of all manner of affairs, and because she was wrong, he denied them with great vigor and, he felt, justified anger.

In the margins at this point I scrawled, "Ah, yes, without Christ marriage sucks. Too true." I often hear my lovely wife sighing in regret, wishing that she'd married a good christian man who would let her stay home and collect olde timey washtubs all day instead of a mean atheist like me. Oh, Left Behind, where were you when we needed you? On an unrelated note: where exactly was he staying when he would leave a day or early or come back a day late? He didn't have a mistress so, what, was he just crashing at the local Motel 6? Oh, wait, I've got it! "Young man, there's no need to feel down..."

Page 144- Line Canine:

No quote, but Rayford basically sits around and thinks about how he wanted an "old-fashioned affair" (Line 16), whatever the hell that is, but was too much of a geek to go out and get one. No, seriously, that's what it says. I don't know how we, as readers, are supposed to feel about this. Grateful, for the sake of his marriage? Sad, because otherwise he'd be a more interesting character? Bored as hell, because this book is really, really dull? Whatever. He observes that after Raymie was born he decided to grow up a bit, which is funny since he still seems like an immature little dumbass. And then the guilt gets really deep...

Page 145- Line 1-8:
He felt like a failure. He was so unworthy of Irene. Somehow he knew now, though he had never allowed himself to consider it before, that she couldn't in any way have been as naive or stupid as he had hoped and imagined. She had to have known how vapid he was, how shallow, and yes, cheap. And yet she had stayed by him, loved him, fought to keep the marriage together.

So... she saw him the way he now sees Hattie? For that matter, what the hell happened to Hattie, anyway? Without her around we've hardly had any grousing about young people at all! Anyway, back with Irene: is this supposed to be a model to emulate for Christian women? If your husband is a terrible person who abandons you when you're depressed and is prevented from having an affair only by his own ineptitude, you should stay with him because... why? Moreover, you pretend not to realize he's a loser because... why? I love the idea of spouses being supportive, but there IS a difference between "supportive" and "doormat" and I don't think the authors have a clear sense of that.

Page 145- Line 9-11:
He [Rayford] couldn't argue that she [Irene] became a different person after she switched churches and got serious about her faith.

Okay, so, she was still weepy and unstable as per Page 143, Line 24-26? Praise Jesus!

Page 145- Line 15-19:
Now he [Rayford] knew from seeing her list that she had never given up [on converting him]. She had simply taken to praying for him.

No wonder Rayford had never gotten that close to ultimately defiling his marriage with Hattie Durham.

Okay, first, this passage is obviously meant to imply that prayer works but, wow, in what mysterious ways. Evidently prayer wasn't enough to bring Rayford to Jesus pre-rapture, but it was sufficient to keep him from dipping his wick. And where exactly does free will come in? This book's theology is incredibly tortured and confusing because prayer works pretty much whenever something good happens, but bad stuff is always our fault. Wait, sorry, that actually is what a lot of theology argues. Never mind. Second, "ultimately defiling his marriage"? What kind of kinky shit is Hattie into, exactly?

Page 145- Line 20-25:
How ashamed he [Rayford] was of that silly pursuit! For all he knew, Hattie was innocent. She had never bad-mouthed his wife or the fact that he was married. She had never suggested anything inappropriate, at least for her age. Young people were more touchy and flirtatious, and she claimed no moral or religious code.

Wow, how I've missed the authors' comments about people "Hattie's age". Seriously, these guys hang out on their back porch and yell at the squirrels. On a related note, I have no idea what the fuck to make of that "she claimed no moral or religious code" business. I mean, is it typical in most people's experience for co-workers to make each other fully conversant with their stance on moral issues? Frankly, most places I've worked, I couldn't care less so long as they do their job well, promptly, and with as few annoying quirks as possible. Besides, if Hattie didn't have some sort of moral code, I'm guessing she wouldn't even be vaguely functional in society. Still, I guess I have to give the authors credit for perhaps accidentally implying that morality is not quite the same thing as religion. Anyway, Rayford whines for a while about how much of a dumbass he's been and how much he misses Chloe. He tries to watch t.v. but it just won't hold his interest. In the margins I scrawled, "One of the hardest parts of grief is boredom and this book has it in spades." Honestly, I don't know if that remark implies sympathy for Rayford or not. Then he gets to thinking about Chloe's itinerary.

Page 146- Line 27-29:
He [Rayford] remembered the oldest joke in the airline industry: Ozark spelled backwards is Krazo. Only it didn't amuse him just then.

I'm sorry, time out: has that joke amused anyone in the history of mankind? Hell, I've got one for you: Rayford spelled backwards is Drofyar! Ha! That's "funny"! What the f-ing crap is wrong with these guys? Also, FYI, this is the one and only time that it will matter that Chloe flew through Ozark. So, back on page 132 when the authors specifically pointed out that she was in Ozark? Yeah, they were setting up this joke. I understand that Andy Schlafly believes that true humor only appeared after Christianity but, you know, I'm not so sure. Regardless, at this point Hattie actually calls Rayford to see how he's doing. He hustles her off the phone quickly in case Chloe should call and then, you know, feels guilty...

Page 147- Line 15-22:
She [Hattie] had sounded hurt. He [Rayford] was sorry about that, but not sorry that he had gotten rid of her for the time being. He knew she was only trying to help and be kind, but she hadn't been listening. She was alone and afraid just like he was, and no doubt by now she had found out about her family. Oh, no! He hadn't even asked about them! She would hate him, and why shouldn't she? How selfish could I be? he wondered. [emphasis original]

Well, at least they didn't say, "...only trying to help and be kind for her age." That's an improvement, I guess. And, honestly, I think a few of us could answer Rayford's rhetorical question at length by this point in the book. Anyway, he decides to call Hattie back to calm his psyche but discovers her line is busy just in time for the narrative to switch back to Buck, who has been trying to get in touch with Dirk Burton in London. He is unsuccessful in this regard, but does hear from- of all wacky coincidences- Hattie Durham! Buck mentally grouses about how Hattie is wanting to talk, and makes a mental note to take his home number off his next batch of business cards. He then ends the call with the following:

Page 149- Line 14-16:
"I understand," he [Buck] said, though he doubted he ever would. Maybe Hattie showed more depth and sense when she wasn't under stress. He hoped so.

Ah, yes, well, we can't all be secret agent/reporter/chronic masturbators like you, now can we, Bucky? In the margins at this point I wrote, "This dude hates women, but then again Hattie is pretty hate-able." Indeed, like every other character in this book. And, believe it or not, we switch back to Rayford after about two pages with Buck.

Page 149- Line 17-20:
Rayford was glad Hattie's line was busy, because he could tell her he had tried to call her right back, but he didn't have to tie up his phone any longer. A minute later, his phone rang again.

Ah, yes, so apparently when you have asshole thoughts about an annoying co-worker, god has that annoying co-worker call you immediately. Yep, Hattie was calling him again. He asks her about her family, she says they're fine, they add a few pleasantries and then he hangs up to await Chloe's arrival.

And, coincidentally, that ends the chapter. So what have we learned? Eh. Effectively nothing, except that Rayford is even more of an ass than we previously believed, and that the authors are even less acquainted with humor than we thought possible. Just wonderful. In any case, come back next time when we get to watch Buck have a long-distance pissing contest with... um... some guy and Chloe finally, finally arrives. Sadly, it's only moments after her gutheartwrenching return that Rayford starts in with the Jesus talk. Bring your barf bags, because the preaching will be flying like never before.

You're gonna love it.

* No offense to the Air Force, it's just that while I CAN see Rayford flying an AWACS in peacetime I cannot see him landing an F/A-18 on a carrier deck.



Blogger scripto said...

"They had Chloe during their first year of marriage but, due to complications, waited another eight years for Ray Jr."

That's one hell of a headache.

Thursday, November 12, 2009 1:29:00 PM  
Blogger Ken Houghton said...

scripto wins!

"Irene, he believed, slipped into at least some mild depression during that time and was short tempered with him and weepy."

Whew! Knowing it's around a decalogy, I was afraid the authors were actually closeted Scientologists. But since they believe in post-partum depression, the latter is not true.

Thursday, November 12, 2009 3:44:00 PM  

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