Total Drek

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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Left Behind: Chapter 20, Part 2

Welcome back one and all to our regular feature on Left Behind, the book that makes the Weekly World News seem logical by comparison. Last time Buck developed the hots for Chloe and Rayford started to lay the smack down upon Hattie. What happens this week? Pretty much more of the same.

As always we have a comment of the week. Last week we had something of an embarrassment of riches with several folks commenting quite enthusiastically. This week the "honor" goes to Ken Houghton for basically arguing that the authors don't suck at writing, they've just discovered "exciting" new vistas of literary expression:

"the authors are quite possibly the laziest fiction writers I have ever encountered."

Just because they know nothing and tell less about sex, family relationships, Christian behavior, and infrastructure maintenance (unless only 144,000 people were transported--in which case that plane was a ridiculous outlier and the book makes less than no sense)?

You've got to come up with a better reason than that, drek, or Believers will point out that You Just Don't Understand. Or, as the previous version of Rayford--Dr. Sevrin from the season that shouldn't exist of TOS--said, roughly, "I've gone beyond their Science."

They have created a new form of No-vel: the ancient G-ds get trivialized, their worshippers become small-minded navel-gazers who treat the rest of the world as inferior to hide their own eclipsing.

Normally, such people are either (1) treated sympathetically by leaving their bitterness off-stage or out of the work or (2) treated as what they are, and shown as being bitter against the Good of the Hero(ine)s.

These guys decided to show these bitter characters with all their flaws and treat them as sympathetic. Their brilliance passes all understanding, and the sooner we all let the typeface just flow over us until we reach the Glories of The End, the sooner we will all be able to Celebrate that, seven years later, Israel still exists and the authors are still publishing post-post-Industrial "no-vels."

Indeed, Left Behind reminds me somewhat of that scene from Defending Your Life where Albert Brooks discovers that godly food tastes like ass. Maybe someone can enjoy this fiction, but sure as hell not me. Or anyone I particularly like.* An honorable mention to Dutchdear as well for putting things so delicately. Thanks for all the commentary last week, folks, and keep it up!

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 an order determined by fiat...

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. Fast runner. Hot for Chloe.

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. Possibly hot for Buck.

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. Press secretary for Nicolae Carpathia.

Nicolae Carpathia: Businessman. Romanian Senator. Romanian President. Secretary-General of the United Nations. Antichrist. Favors arms reductions. An inch or two over six feet tall. Broad shouldered. Thick chested. Trim. Athletic. Tanned. Blonde. Blue eyes. Thick eyebrows. Roman nose and jaw. Carries self with a sense of humility and purpose. Wears understated jewelry. Excellent memory.

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. May have the nickname "duck lips."

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.

Mwangati Ngumo: Secretary-General of the United Nations. President of Botswana. Botswanan national.

Eric Miller: Reporter. Rival of Buck's. Able to climb stairs really fast, but not as fast a runner as Buck. Kinda a douche. Died Murdered by falling being pushed off of the Staten Island ferry. A strong swimmer.

Gerald Fitzhugh: President of the United States. Talks like a moron.

Stanton Bailey: Publisher of the Global Weekly.

Carolyn Miller: Wife of Eric Miller.

Alex Phonecompany: Friend of Buck's. Works at the phone company.


Page 369- Line Buick:

No quote, but we resume with Rayford and Hattie, who are chatting about their flirtatious past. He begins by apologizing for ever being interested in her, asserting the obvious by stating that it would have been wrong for them to become involved, a point at which she furrows her brow and looks offended.

Page 369- Line 24-28:
"Yes," he said, "it would have been wrong. I [Rayford] was married, not happily and not successfully, but that was my fault. Still, I had made a vow, a commitment, and no matter how I justified my interest in you, it would have been wrong."

And for once, I actually agree with Rayford. Yes, obviously, cheating on your wife is not right.

Page 369- Line 29:
He could tell from her look that she disagreed.

Well, you know, people her age lack morals.

Page 369-370- Line 369: 30; 370: 1-4:
"But now I [Rayford] have to tell you how grateful I am that I didn't do something- well, stupid. It would not have been right for you either. I know I'm not your judge and jury, and your morals are your own decision. [emphasis added]

What the hell does that even mean? And why is it that the phrase "I'm not your judge and jury" almost always means, "But I'm going to pass judgment on you anyway"? Regardless, Hattie gets all weepy and then Rayford decides to be "nice" to her.

Page 370- Line 10-12:
He smiled. "I'll let you break your silence temporarily," he said. "I need to know that you at least forgive me."

Oh, really, Rayford? You'll permit her the right to speak just long enough to forgive your sorry stupid ass? What if she doesn't want to forgive you? Alas, instead she starts to cry and runs off to the bathroom for a moment or three to recover her composure. I'll leave it to you to draw what conclusions you will about how the authors mean us to view women here. That said, I love that the only purpose the authors see for listening to those who disagree with them is so that those others can express forgiveness. Oddly, that is not the sentiment I most want to express where the authors are concerned.

Page 371-372- Line 371: 30; 372: 1-4:
Rayford dug out Irene's Bible and quickly scanned some passages. He had decided not to sit talking to Hattie with the Bible open. He didn't want to embarrass or intimidate her, despite his newfound courage and determination. [emphasis added]

Try, "freak out" dude. Seeing someone try to talk to me with an open bible in their lap doesn't generally embarrass or intimidate me. Hell, about three-quarters of the time it's the debating equivalent of screaming "Easy meat" at me. But then again, what would you expect when even this simplified "preaching for dummies" book we're reading fails to prepare its readers for the possibility that non-Christians may actually prosecute counter-arguments? Additionally, I don't know at all what to make of the last part of that sentence- are the authors implying that his newfound "courage and determination" would normally make him want to intimidate and embarrass her? Yeah... just like Jesus would have wanted, I guess. Regardless, we suddenly jump back to Buck and Chloe, who are romantically eating cookies in an airport. Silly Buck- everyone knows that if you really want to get into her pants you should hit the Duty-Free store. Regardless, Chloe remarks that Buck is going to love Rayford's theory on the disappearances, and we're off to the races.

Page 372- Line 18-23:
"You [Chloe] say your dad's theory, as if maybe it's not yours, too. Do you two disagree?"

"He thinks we do, because I argue with him and give him a hard time about it. I just don't want to be too easy to convince, but if I had to be honest, I'd have to say we're pretty close."

Oh, come ON! She's essentially convinced without the barest shred of evidence or argumentation. Rayford throws shitty arguments at her, he exposes her to emotional blackmail, we wait a few chapters and- BOOM- she's just about ready to convert. I admit, I started reading this book in the hopes of running into a compelling explanation of the evangelical position and I just haven't run into anything even vaguely close. I've pretty much got the rhetorical equivalent of blue balls here. Poor metaphors aside, however, Buck and Chloe chat some more during which Buck insults her by calling her, first, a college kid and then, second, a collegian. I wasn't aware that anyone used the term "collegian," but hey, there you go. I guess it's just Buck continuing his long and authoritative tradition of bucking tradition and authority. She then turns things back on Buck in the most boring way possible.

Page 373- Line 19-23:
"How old are you, Buck?"

"Thirty and a half, going on thirty-one," he said with a twinkle.

"I say, how old are you?" she shouted, as if talking to a deaf old man. Buck roared. [emphasis original]

Yes. Truly witty. I f-ing hate these people.

Page 374- Line 2-16:
She frowned and punched him. "I was just going to say that I like the way you say my name."

"I didn't know there was any other way to say it," he [Buck] said.

"Oh, there is. Even my friends slip into making it one syllable, like Cloy."

"Chloe," he repeated.

"Yeah," she said. "Like that. Two syllables, long O, long E."

"I like your name." He slipped into an old man's husky voice. "It's a young person's name. How old are you, kid?"

"Twenty and a half, going on twenty-one."

"Oh, my goodness," he said, still in character, "I'm consortin' with a minor!" [emphasis original]

Oh, bloody hell. This is truly the lamest courtship I think I have ever witnessed. They're flirting over good pronunciation and the fact that there's at least a decade's worth of age difference. Shit, he was in college when she was ten. I'd worry how Rayford was going to react to his baby girl getting hit on by a seedy character like Buck but, fortunately, he and Buck have something in common. And no, I don't mean that given the Hattie situation, they both want to bone younger women.

Page 374- Line 24-25:
"Oh, do [take an earlier comment as a compliment]" he said. "Few people your age are as well-read and articulate as you are."

See? Buck and Rayford both hate the young! They really do have something in common! Anyway, Chloe asks Buck about Nicolae Carpathia and he starts to tell her, at which point the narrative jumps back to Rayford and Hattie, who has come back from the ladies' room so that Rayford can commence preaching at her. And I can't tell you how dirty it makes me feel that I'm actually glad to be reading about Rayford again. Anyway, he sort of resolves lingering feelings with Hattie and then she agrees to sit still while he talks at her. He explains that he really, really wants to tell her the next bit now and she asks whether it's because he's hoping that she'll buy into his idea or something.

Page 376- Line 8-9:
"That's my [Rayford's] hope, but no. If it's something you can't handle right now, I'll understand. [emphasis added]

Yeah, but what if it's just obviously stupid? What then, Rayford? Amazingly enough, evangelical doctrine is not so clearly correct that just being exposed to it is enough to blow our heathen minds. Really.

Page 376-377- Line 376: 11-30; 377: 1-2:
Rayford felt much like Bruce Barnes had sounded the day they met. He was full of passion and persuasion, and he felt his prayers for courage and coherence were answered as he spoke. He told Hattie of his history with God, having been raised in a churchgoing home and how he and Irene had attended various churches throughout their marriage. He even told her that Irene's preoccupation with end-time events had been one thing that made him consider looking elsewhere for companionship.

Rayford could tell by Hattie's look that she knew where he was going, that he had now come to agree with Irene and had bought the whole package. Hattie sat motionless as he told the story of knowing what he would find at home that morning after they had landed at O'Hare.

He told her of calling the church, meeting Bruce, Bruce's story, the videotape, their studies, the prophecies from the Bible, the preachers in Israel that clearly paralleled the two witnesses spoken of in Revelation.

Rayford told her how he had prayed the prayer with the pastor as the videotape rolled and how he now felt so responsible for Chloe and wanted her to find God, too.

What many evangelicals, or at least the authors, fail to grasp is that this isn't convincing for the reason that Buck touched on back on Page 355 (Line 2-3). Personal conviction does not equal evidence, it simply equals personal conviction. The crazy dude who wraps aluminum foil around his head to prevent the CIA from stealing his thoughts is equally convinced, but that doesn't make him right. Alas, this pointless little recitation is defined as "witnessing"- and witnessing is what the authors believe god wants Christians to do- so on we go and damn the issue of efficacy.

Page 377- Line 3-5:
He didn't ask her to pray with him. He simply told her he would no longer apologize for what he believed.

Yeah. He will "no longer apologize" for what he's believed for all of a score of days now. Quite the martyr there. Really, Rayford here is just channeling the authors' idiotic perception of evangelicals as a persecuted minority. I think that they quite honestly don't have the first f-ing clue what it would be like to really be persecuted and if they want to find out they should try asking gay men in Texas.

Page 377- Line 6-9:
"You can see, at least, how if a person truly accepts this, he must tell other people. He would be no friend if he didn't." Hattie wouldn't even give him the satisfation of a nod to concede the point. [emphasis added]

Ooooh! What a mean bitch! She won't even give Rayford the dignity of conceding a point after he systematically deceives her, condescends to her, and manipulates her into a "conversation" that is so lopsided as to be absurd. Indeed, how can she be so cruel. That said, I will actually concede the point to Rayford but, by that token, if you truly believe what he believes, where does it end? With preaching at people, or must you kill physicians who don't share your views? Because if your beliefs are enough to justify abandoning civilized behavior, what won't they justify? Anyway, Rayford continues in this vein for a half hour and then Hattie explains that she's at least heard him and, along the way, says something profound.

Page 377- Line 22-24:
"I [Hattie] will think about it. I sort of have to. Once you hear something like this, it's hard to put it out of your mind for a while. [emphasis original]

Yeah, it's just that crazy, isn't it? Regardless, Rayford tells Hattie that this is exactly what he plans to tell Buck at dinner that night. Oh, yeah, you know that all four of them are having dinner together tonight, right? Yes? No? Whatever, you know now.

Page 377- Line 27-30:
She chuckled. "Wonder if any of it will find its way into his magazine."

"Probably along with space aliens, germ gas, and death rays," Rayford said.

Aaaaaand three guesses which of those four items will seem more plausible. On an unrelated note: What the hell is "germ gas"? Does he mean a biological weapon, or are we talking about flatulent microorganisms? Well, I guess technically that might be a biological weapon too.

No matter! Whatever germ gas is, we've reached the end of the chapter and therefore a brief respite from Buck and Chloe's excruciating courtship. Come back next time when... well... we all go have dinner. It's like that first dinner you had with your girlfriend's father who didn't like you,** only somehow even more awkward. I know I'm looking forward to it!

On a more positive note, however, this brings us to the end of Chapter 20 and, therefore, we are 80% of the way through Left Behind. Yes, folks, that's right: just five chapters to go! And you can all- especially my Former Hypothetical Roommate- rest assured that I WILL finish this damned book.

Even if you ask me not to.

* I should note that my favorite cousin is an evangelical Christian who has read the entire Left Behind series. This always causes a degree of cognitive dissonance for me. Then again, she also has a novel on her shelf that describes how all academics are basically godless devil-worshippers, so maybe the feeling is mutual. Ah, well. Blood is apparently thicker than both water and the bonds of sanity.

** That sentence is just ambiguous enough that I could be referring to either your girlfriend who didn't like you, or the father who didn't like you. I don't know how you roll, but I did have the "pleasure" of dating a girl whom my friends and I agree basically hated me. Oddly, her parents were fine with me, but hated each other. So, yeah, not the best dinner I've ever attended for numerous reasons.



Blogger scripto said...

"He had decided not to sit talking to Hattie with the Bible open. He didn't want to embarrass or intimidate her, despite his newfound courage and determination."
And despite the fact that it would hide that boner he was still sporting.

"That's my [Rayford's] hope, but no. If it's something you can't handle right now, I'll understand."
Is he talking about anal sex or Jesus?

"Hattie wouldn't even give him the satisfation of a nod to concede the point."
Yeah, Hottie was all like, what-ev-er. Stupid girl.

Thursday, May 13, 2010 10:43:00 AM  
Blogger Ken Houghton said...

scripto: "And despite the fact that it would hide that boner he was still sporting."

I admire scripto's optimism, but I think we have to be realistic.

We know Rayford and his wife were about as active as a Formica countertop. And we know that Rayford thinks about Hattie (from Chapter 1).

So we can safely conclude that Rayford has been, uh, non-functional, and has been for years. In fact, we might even conclude that the youngest son is not, uh, Rayford's, since only non-sinners were transformed in the Rapture.

It's the simplest explanation, as it also tells us why Chloe believes her father--she's in college, so she took a biology class and realized that her "brother" is not her father's child. And that she and her father are children of Cain, destined to suffer for the next seven years in penance.

Thursday, May 13, 2010 8:43:00 PM  
Blogger scripto said...

"So we can safely conclude that Rayford has been, uh, non-functional, and has been for years."

That may very well be true, Ken, but my guess is that Rayford is well aware that Pfizer makes a pill that will help him be born again. Either that or he closes his eyes real tight and thinks of Kirk Cameron.

Friday, May 14, 2010 8:29:00 AM  

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