Total Drek

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Left Behind: Chapter 13, Part 2

Welcome back one and all to our regular feature on Left Behind, the book that makes one long for the thrill of watching paint dry. Last time Rayford had a fairly stupid conversation with Chloe and Buck kinda screwed around. What happens this week? Eh... not much, just a speech from the anti-christ.

As always we have a comment of the week. This week that "honor" goes to Ken for, more or less, raising a point that horrifies even me:

"So, basically, we're reading about Buck reading. It's like some kind of French post-modern cinema project, but with vastly less nudity."

Normally, I would consider that a pity. In this case, though, it's the first sign of mercy the authors have shown in over 200 pages.

And now I'm thinking about Buck and his airplane seat shaped ass walking around naked. Not good. Not good at all. I'd also like to extend an honorable mention to scripto, whose comment last week reminded me of a dark time years ago when I actually read both "Battlefield Earth" and the entire "Mission: Earth" trainwreck. And as lousy as Hubbard's writing is, it still beats the pants off of Left Behind. But now we're talking about Ken's idea again.

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

Who cares what order they're in?

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." 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. 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.

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. Killed himself Murdered. Left handed.

Joshua Todd-Cothran: English finance guy.

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.


Page 238- Line Barbecue:

No quote, but we return to Rayford and Chloe who are discussing Rayford's past lusts for Hattie and his plan to convert her, if possible. Chloe is a bit pissed about the whole thing but, along the way, raises an interesting point:

Page 238- Line 18-21:
"What if this strategy with Hattie just makes you all the more attractive to her? What's to keep you [Rayford] from being attracted to her, too? It's not like you're still married, if you're convinced Mom is in heaven." [Chloe asked]

Yeah. This is an interesting question that I figured we'd work around to sooner or later. Much like we're forced to wonder if humans are sterile following the rapture, since that would make the most sense, we might also ask whether remarrying is appropriate in Rayford's position. I mean, he pretty much knows at this point that Irene will be born again or whatever in seven years so, really, this is just an extended separation from Irene. So you'd think the answer to this would be, "No, Chloe, I know your mother is in heaven and I'll wait for her as god commands." That is not, however, the answer we get.*

Page 238- Line 22-28:
Rayford ordered dessert and laid his napkin on the table. "Maybe I'm being naive, but your mother being in heaven is just like losing her to sudden death. The last thing on my mind is another woman, and certainly not Hattie. She's too young and immature, and I'm too disgusted with myself for having been tempted by her in the first place."

I don't even know what warrants the facepalm more: his reference to Hattie as "too young and immature," as though he's f-ing Yoda, or his assertion that Irene's disappearance in the rapture is just like sudden death. Sure it's sudden, Rayford, but you now believe that you're going to see her again in seven years. Seems like that would be pretty good incentive to keep it zipped up until then. And if the incentive isn't enough, how about the awkwardness of introducing your new wife to your old wife? Sadly, if you were to keep reading this series (which I, frankly, haven't the courage to attempt) you would learn that Rayford does get married again- and in the very next damned book at that. So, hey, another chance for a logical response to theology blown out of the water. Regardless, Chloe relents since she clearly can't deter Rayford from his new plan- he clearly has a will of Steele- and just satisfies herself with setting her father up for a "witty" rejoinder.

Page 239- Line 13-16:
"I don't know, Dad. I think it's a little too soon to be pushing her toward God."

"How soon is too soon, Chloe? There are no guarantees, not now."

Bum-bum-BUM! How ominous! How threatening! How sick I am of being told to believe because otherwise I'm going to get fucked by the things I don't believe in! Gah! Why not just tell me that unless I ring my house in salt, unicorns will eat all the food in my pantry? It's the same thing! Anyway, following that dramatic line, we're suddenly back with Buck.

Page 239- Line 17-25:
Steve pulled from his breast pocket two sets of press credentials, permitting the bearers to attend Nicolae Carpathia's speech to the General Assembly of the United Nations that very afternoon. Buck's credentials were in the name of George Oreskovich.

"Do I take care of you, or what?" [Steve asked, grinning seductively]

"Unbelievable," Buck said. "How much time do we have?"

"A little over an hour," Steve said, rising to hail a cab.

They go on to discuss how they're going to get Carpathia to see Buck given that people think that Buck is currently a pale pink mist lightly smeared across a pub parking lot. They really never develop a plan on this point, though the authors desperately try to insert something ominous.

Page 240- Line 9-18:
"I [Steve] don't know. Maybe I'll tell him [Carpathia] that it's really you [Buck]. Then, while you're with him, I'll release the report that your obit was wrong and that right now you're doing a cover-story interview with Carpathia."

"A cover story? You've come a long way from calling him a low-level bureaucrat from a nonstrategic country."

"I was at the press conference, Buck. I met him. And I can at least gauge the competition. If we don't feature him prominently, we'll be the only national magazine that doesn't."

Cue the mysterious and unsettling music. Charismatic stranger rises from obscurity and low office to become the darling of the media? Who can it be? Why, it must surely be the anti-christ! And is it any wonder that, prepared by this book, certain segments of the population find Barack Obama to be terrifying? I mean, hell, he's got a funny name and doesn't want to bomb anybody! What more do you WANT? Frankly, right now, I'd settle for a shot of vodka, but that would only be to dull the pain. Anyway, Buck and Steve get into the U.N. General Assembly chamber and then Carpathia enters, stage left!

Page 241- Line 12-20:
Carpathia entered the assembly in a dignified yet inauspicious manner, though he had an entourage of a half dozen, including Chaim Rosenzweig and a financial wizard from the French government. Carpathia appeared an inch or two over six feet tall, broad shouldered, thick chested, trim, athletic, tanned, and blonde. His thick shock of hair was trimmed neatly around the ears, sideburns, and neck, and his navy-on-navy pin-stripe suit and matching tie were exquisitely conservative.

He's the very model of a modern major character. He knows information vegetable, animal and spiritual. He knows the UN delegates and he quotes the fights historical. From Jericho to Megiddo in order categorical.

Page 241- Line 21-26:
Even from a distance, the man seemed to carry himself with a sense of humility and purpose. His presence dominated the room, and yet he did not seem preoccupied or impressed with himself. His jewelry was understated. His jaw and nose were Roman and strong, his piercing blue eyes set deep under thick brows.

He's very well acquainted, too, with matters mathematical. He understands equations, the simple, spiritual and quadratical. About binomial theorems he's teeming with a lot o' news. With many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse!

(On a more serious note: "his jewelry was understated"? Do they mean his watch? Because I have a hard time picturing such an elegant man having the kind of accessories one normally expects from an extra on the Sopranos. Also, can I just point out that- so far- Carpathia is by far the best described character in this book? Just think about that for a bit and see if the authors tendency to fawn all over what they consider evil doesn't creep you out just a smidge.**)

Page 241- Line 27-30:
Buck was struck that Carpathia carried no notebook, and he assumed the man must have his speech notes in his breast pocket. Either that or they were being carried by an aide. Buck was wrong on both counts.

With many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse!
With many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse!
With many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotepotenuse!

Ahem! In any case, Secretary-General "Mwangati Ngumo" (Page 242- Line 1) announces that Carpathia is going to speak and that he (Carpathia) would be introduced by Dr. Chaim Rosenzweig.

Page 242- Line 9-10:
The popular Israeli statesman and scholar said simply...

Wait, what? Rosenzweig is the guy who invented the Israeli uber-fertilizer. The one that Israel has refused to share with anyone. The one that Russia tried to nuke Israel into the Jurassic over. The one that Rosenzweig refused to give to anyone else, even when they begged. This is the same guy who has been hiding on an Israeli military base so that the rest of the world doesn't kidnap him. Since when is that guy either "popular" or a "statesman"? What. The. Fuck? In any case, Carpathia takes the stage, thanks Rosenzweig, and just starts talking off the cuff. I'd quote the description, but I'm tired of using lyrics from the Pirates of Penzance in this post. You'll love this bit, though...

Page 242- Line 23-27:
He [Carpathia] mentioned respectfully that he was aware that it had not been a full week yet since the disappearance of millions all over the world, including many who would have been 'in this very room.'

When I read that last bit I laughed so hard I think I peed myself a little. Sure, right, of course! The general assembly of the United f-ing Nations would be just packed with evangelicals. Moreover, exactly the kind of evangelicals who would qualify in the authors' view for that express ticket to heaven. Sure. And if you believe that, I have some ocean front property to sell you by the Mare Tranquillitatis. In any case, Carpathia goes on in glowing terms and then gets to a history lesson/conspiracy theory primer.

Page 243- Line 15-29:
"Our forebears were thinking globally long before I was born," Carpathia said. "In 1944, the year the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank were established, this great host nation, the United States of America, along with the British Commonwealth and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, met at the famous Dunbarton Oaks Conference to propose the birth of this body."

Displaying his grasp of history and his photographic memory of dates and places, Carpathia intoned, "From its official birth on October 24, 1945, and that first meeting of your General Assembly in London, January 10, 1946, to this day, tribes and nations have come together to pledge their wholehearted commitment to peace, brotherhood, and the global community."

I don't even know what to do with that reference to the IMF and World Bank that got shoehorned into the first paragraph, except to observe that they're only there to help support wacky conspiracy theories. I also have to say that I'm distressed that the authors are basically implying that any attempt to reach peace among the nations of the Earth is clearly the work of the anti-christ. So remember kids, Jesus wants you to fuck your neighbor up. Wait, that can't be right... Regardless, Carpathia starts listing the nations of the U.N., which frankly sounds more like a particularly dull bar bet than a good rhetorical strategy. Alas, the authors disagree...

Page 244- Line 9-17:
A minute into his [Carpathia's] list, representatives noticed that with each name [of a country], someone from that country rose in dignity and stood erect, as if vowing anew for peace among nations. Carpathia smiled and nodded at each as they rose, and nearly every country was represented. Because of the cosmic trauma the world had endured, they had come looking for answers, for help, for support. Now they had been given the opportunity to take their stand once again.

If you can get through that without feeling sick to your stomach, you're stronger than I. And this shit goes on for another page or so with a loving description of how excited everyone is to be named by Carpathia. They even start a dramatic slow clap. Buck and the other journalists even join right in when their countries are named, a fact that doesn't bother Buck at all.

Page- Line 22-28:
Something had happened in the disappearances of loved ones all over the globe. Journalism might never be the same. Oh, there would be skeptics and those who worshiped objectivity. But what had happened to brotherly love? What had become of depending on one another? What had happened to the brotherhood of men and nations? [emphasis added]

So... wait. Brotherly love is a bad thing now? And we're still taking digs at skeptics even when that skepticism would help battle the f-ing anti-christ? The message in this book is just utterly incoherent, isn't it? Anyway, Carpathia rolls on with his civics lesson, managing to cram in the name of every Secretary-General ever as well as the functions, headquarters, and staff of every sub-part of the entire organization. And somehow this all remains interesting even though I have never, ever heard an org chart that I would want to deliver as a speech. But, hey, he's supernatural. What're you gonna do?

Page 247- Line 4-5:
After this, Buck knew, Nicolae Carpathia would be embraced by all of America. And then the world.

Cue the dramatic music. My margin notes at this point read, "A smart, gifted man who wants to end war and help mankind? Clearly he must be evil." And folks, it just doesn't get any more depressing than that.

Well, that brings us to the end of chapter 13. Come back next time when Buck's man-crush on Carpathia deepens and Chloe and Rayford... you know... just keep on being Chloe and Rayford.

At least I tell it like it is.

* For the record, I'm not making this assertion generally but, rather, specifically given Rayford's circumstances. It's not like Irene died young and he's facing forty years of occasional guilt-ridden self-pleasuring episodes. She was taken in the rapture which starts a seven year clock.

** Someone might- quite fairly- point out that I am spending an awful lot of time myself describing something I don't like, by which they would mean this book. Fair enough, but here's the thing: I'm providing my reactions after actually reading the literature promulgated by a group that would like to convert me. The authors, in contrast, are lavishing attention on a fictional character they claim to hate. I certainly don't think that the amount of energy an author puts into a character necessarily indicates how the author feels about that character- and if it does we desperately need to arrest Thomas Harris- I'm just saying that when the only character in the entire book that receives a passingly adequate description is the villain, it might suggest a few things.



Blogger scripto said...

"The last thing on my mind is another woman..."
I knew it. I told you there was something funny about that guy from the get go.

"...and I'm too disgusted with myself for having been tempted by her in the first place."
So the conversion therapy didn't take?

Do I take care of you, or what?" [Steve asked, grinning seductively]

"Unbelievable," Buck said. "How much time do we have?"

"A little over an hour," Steve said, rising...

Oh, c'mon.

Thursday, January 28, 2010 3:18:00 PM  
Blogger Ken Houghton said...

"If you can get through that without feeling sick to your stomach, you're stronger than I. And this shit goes on for another page or so with a loving description of how excited everyone is to be named by Carpathia."

Brad Denton did something similar at Armadillocon 16 in Austin in 1994. Maybe the author(s) was/were there?

On a more serious matter, can you please divide the Dramatis Personnae into the Living and the Dead? Otherwise, every time we see Lucinda Washington's name, we're going to realize that all the non-white people were raptured--or at least don't exist in LeftBehindWorld.

(I would say The Quick and the Dead, but that would leave anyone still on Earth out of the list.)

Friday, January 29, 2010 12:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sunday, February 14, 2010 11:58:00 AM  

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