Total Drek

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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Left Behind: Chapter 22, Part 2

Welcome back one and all to our regular feature on Left Behind, the book that makes Chopper Chicks in Zombie Town look like it was complexly plotted. Last time Buck spent a sleepless night, snuck up on Chloe, and then became angry when Chloe didn't notice him sneaking up. What happens this week? Sheer, unadulterated stupid. Oh, and Chloe converts.

As always we have a comment of the week. This week that "honor" goes to Ken for discovering the book we all should read after this one:

Anyway, real reason for posting after, what, the third straight series of nothing-happens: I have found the REAL sequel to this book here.

"As a guardian angel, Mischa must protect the one man who may be able to bring about lasting peace to the Middle East. As a djinni, Rafe must fulfill the wishes of a terrorist leader. Their duties colliding, Mischa and Rafe become foes, but the heat between them is undeniable."

This should be Hattie and the Antichrist in the next book. If it's not, I'm more than ready to give up now.

From reading the rest of the description, Ken, I have to admit that it sounds infinitely more entertaining than Left Behind. It also makes me wonder if anyone has ever tried writing Left Behind slash fan-fiction. Oh look! Someone has! You're welcome.

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 an impertinent whim...

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 401- Line Groovy Scooby:

No quote, but when we rejoin Buck he's sitting next to Chloe in first class on Rayford's flight to Chicago. His biggest concern right now is that he might fall asleep before Chloe notices him, which is certainly not the sort of situation I would usually describe as tense or exciting. But the authors seem to think that Andy Griffith constitutes racy entertainment so, hey, there you go. Anyway, Chloe finally notices his shoes and then we're off.

Page 401- Line 3-8:
Chloe's eyes traveled up to his smiling, expectant face.

Her reaction was more than worth the wait. She folded her hands and drew them to her mouth, her eyes filling. Then she took his hand in both of hers. "Oh, Buck," she whispered. "Oh, Buck."

Oh, barf! This is like something out of a Harlequin romance, but with fewer engorged members and more swollen egos. If you weren't sure before that the authors know nothing of romance, this should rectify that problem. It also points out just how amazingly passive our "heroes" are- even when it comes to romance they don't so much woo as sit still and wait for the object of their affection to fall all over herself in adoration. Because that's totally the way it works in my experience. Right. Sure.

Page 401- Line 9-17:
"It's nice to see you, too," he [Buck] said.

Chloe let go of his hand as if catching herself. "I don't mean to act like a schoolgirl," she said, "but have you ever received a direct answer to prayer?"

Buck shot her a double take. "I thought your dad was the praying member of your family."

"He is," she said. "But I just tried out my first one in years, and God answered it."

"You prayed that I would sit next to you?"

Oh, no. Oh HELL no. We are NOT going to do this. We are not going to see the authors use this scene as some sort of an answered prayers bit. They simply cannot be serious. They cannot possibly want to introduce the sheer volume of theological and logical issues that this entails. This has the potential to be the theological equivalent of a naked singularity and it will crush whatever scant consistency this shit burger contains. Damnit, NO! There is whatthefuckery and then there is this shit and I am bloody tired. Hell.

Okay, Drek, pull it together.

Yeah, so, amazingly, there's still more hilarity in the above. First off, I love that Chloe appologizes for acting "like a schoolgirl" when Buck just connived to sit next to his crush and waited passively for her to notice him. It's like Chloe is the Fonz and he's the attractive blonde of the week. That shit might work for Steve, but it's pretty lame in a grown man. Second, "Buck shot her a double take"? Traditionally to do a double take one has to look away from someone. This implies that he sat down next to Chloe, grinned at her, and then promptly started looking away. Maybe he was looking for his f-ing coke (Page 400- Line 20-22)? Whatever. If I can't get consistency from the authors' theology, why should I expect continuity in one lousy scene? Anyway, Buck asks her to tell the story of how he became the answer to a prayer (I think I threw up a bit just writing that) and she says it'll be a long story. And by "long" she means "the rest of the damned chapter" even though almost the entirety of her recitation is pretty much irrelevant. But, hell, there you go.

Page 402- Line 1-7:
She [Chloe] took his [Buck] hand again. "Buck, this is too special. This is the nicest thing anyone's done for me in a long time."

"You said you were going to miss me, but I didn't do it only for you. I've got business in Chicago."

She giggled and let go again. "I wasn't talking about you, Buck, though this is sweet. I was talking about God doing the nice thing for me." [emphasis added]

Well, that makes sense I suppose. Doing nice things is rather out of character for god at the moment, what with all the rapturing and bowls, vials and trumpets full of judgment and shit.

Page 402- Line 10-15:
And she told him her story. "You might have noticed I was pretty upset last night. I was so moved by my dad's story. I mean, I had heard it before. But all of a sudden he seemed so loving, so interested in people. Could you tell how important it was to him and how serious he was about it?"

And once more earnestness is substituting for reason. This book is like a manual for converting the credulous. Low hanging fruit, people. But, hey, Chloe is a big, smart Stanford student- surely she's got a snappy response, right?

Page 402- Line 27-28:
"Buck," she said, "he was getting to me, too, and I don't mean my dad."

Right. OR she's just going to cave in after Rayford harangues her enough times. I give up. These people are all idiots. Seriously. Regardless, Buck tells her to get on to the part of the story that involves him and she continues, relating her deeply emotional trip to the ladies' room the night before and then returning in the midst of Rayford preaching.

Page 403- Line 15-18:
"It wasn't that I [Chloe] was hearing anything new. It was new to me when I heard it from Bruce Barnes and saw that videotape, but my dad showed such urgency and confidence. [emphasis added]

Okay, if you're playing at home, that's earnestness confused for evidence. Do a shot! Seriously, are you absorbing the import of this drivel? It is a conversion manual that is literally telling people, "If your approach isn't working, just do the same thing again, and again, and again, but strive to be even more earnest. If you can just be earnest enough people will believe!" Do even the authors seriously believe that's effective? Do they even care? Indeed, it is more and more obvious that this drive to preach is less about those who need saving and more about the savers proving how awesome they are. It's like fraternity hazing, except that after a while fraternity hazing stops, whereas this asinine humiliation continues for life.

Page 403- Line 26-28:
"But still I [Chloe] couldn't talk to my dad about it [her growing acceptance of his faith]. I didn't know what was in my way. I've always been so blasted independent.

Indeed, too true. Things are so much better when people- and particularly women girls like Chloe- just conform. Don't think, obey! I really don't think the authors could be any clearer here, though amazingly they keep trying just in case their readers are denser than a neutron star.* Anyway, Chloe keeps babbling on and admits that she spent a sleepless night as well.

Page 404- Line 23-26:
"I've been convinced," she said, "but I'm still fighting. I'm supposed to be an intellectual. I have critical friends to answer to. Who's going to believe this? Who's going to think I haven't lost my mind?" [emphasis added]

To the emphasized bit I can only respond, "If you say so," because Chloe has basically failed to display any signs of intellectualism whatsoever during the narrative. Kind of like how Buck has failed to display any particular proficiency with the English language. Beyond that, however, there are still a few weird things. Like, what the hell is a "critical friend"? Does she mean that she has friends who just criticize everything regardless of substance? If so, how could you ever satisfy them? And really, a week or two after the spontaneous disappearance of every child and "true Christian" in the world, I'd think that some options might seem more plausible than they did before, you know? Finally, I absolutely love the suggestion that the only thing that PREVENTS people from becoming Christian is peer pressure. Right. Sure. Why not? Anyway, she explains that she needed some closure and suddenly started wondering if god answers prayers before one becomes a true Christian.

Page 405- Line 10-15:
"Tell me this, Buck, with your cognitive-reasoning skills. If there is a God and if this is all true, wouldn't he want us to know? I mean, God wouldn't make it hard to learn and he wouldn't, or I should say he couldn't, ignore a desperate prayer, could he?" [emphasis original]

Yikes, where do we even start? Okay, so, "cognitive-reasoning skills"? Who the hell talks like that? Second, yes, I think we'd have to assume that god would want us to know that all of this craziness was true, which forces me to wonder why he attempts to get our attention via a shitload of vials and trumpets and wrath as opposed to, say, neatly printed paragraphs written with flame in Times New Roman floating over every city? But, hey, good communication skills apparently aren't a prerequisite for being a deity, so here we are. And last, but most certainly not least, the authors just asserted that there is something that god "couldn't" do. In other words, he's not omnipotent. I suppose they could be trying to say that he can't go against his own nature but even so, we're talking about a case where it isn't that god chooses not to but where he literally cannot do something. That's a bit of a theological issue, right there. And amazingly, this clusterfuck gets even worse.

Page 405- Line 17-19:
"Well, that's what I [Chloe] think. So I think it was a good test, a reasonable one, and that I wasn't out of line. I'm convinced God answered."

Yes, you read that right: Chloe just imposed a test on god. An f-ing test. She decided to try praying and see if god answered said prayers in order to plumb the nature of the divine. And this is a problem, because testing something is the antithesis of having faith in it, and my seemingly interminable hours in Sunday School taught me quite well that god doesn't want a damned thing to do with anything less than utter, complete, blind faith. And what's even more absurd is that the authors have been denigrating reason for chapters now but here, when it's convenient, suddenly they're suggesting that god is falsifiable. There are layers of heresy in here that I can't even begin to unravel. Anyway, Buck finally prompts her- again- to get to the part about him and Chloe- finally- actually does.

Page 405- Line 26-30:
"I [Chloe] just prayed really sincerely and said I would appreciate it if God could show me personally that he cared, that he knew what I was going through, and that he wanted me to know he was there."

And so he sent his passive-aggressive stalker stunt-double as a messenger? Okay, more seriously, there are a couple of big, big issues here. First, this little prayer of hers is an excellent example of a non-specific request that can be "answered" in a number of ways, depending on individual preference. What if she looked out the window and saw a rainbow with a flock of doves flying through it? How about if an old lady sat down next to her, they got to talking, and said crone told Chloe that her mother would be proud of her? The possibilities are endless when the prayer is so damn open ended that it can be fulfilled just by finding an extra prize in a box of cracker jacks.

Second, allow me to point something out here: a week or two ago a buttload of people disappeared into thin air, but what convinces Chloe of the existence of the supernatural is that Buck booked the seat next to hers on a flight to Chicago. What the hell? That's like getting in a terrible accident, looking down at your severed leg, and thinking to yourself, "Wow, I need to clip my toenails."

Third, and finally, this is a gigantic, unavoidable, agonizing theological disaster. What Chloe is saying is that her prayer** for a non-specific sign of god's love somehow caused god to... what? Reach back in time and make Buck buy that seat? Do we really want to grapple with reverse causation? It's not so much that an omnipotent being couldn't do that as allowing such behavior in a theology technically permits the retroactive modification of reality- in other words, if we pray really hard we can kill Hitler before he was born. Frankly, the issues in sorting out that theology make deciding how many angels can dance on the head of a pin (or whether I should be bottle or breast fed) look trivial. Okay, scratch that. Maybe god knew in advance that Chloe would pray and, so, made Buck buy the seat before she even prayed? That has some consistency with the doctrine of predestination, and fits with Calvinism, but if god knows how the story is going to turn out- down to the smallest detail- why bother with doing it the long way when you could just skip to the end? To be more pointed- why make every human being and every animal go through all this unnecessary suffering to provide an answer that god already has? No reason not to, I guess, unless god is good, in which case it does seem a tad uncalled for. Or, I suppose, unless god isn't omnipotent and can't do it any other way, which I guess agrees with the authors' earlier statement (Page 405- Line 10-15), but I'm pretty sure they didn't mean that the way it reads. And regardless of your preferred answer here, where is free will in this theology? Did Buck choose to sit next to Chloe or did god make him do that? Did Chloe see the truth of her own free will, or did god finally just move her to see it as per Rayford's hint (Page 346- Line 14-22)? Honestly, the authors make it sound like the one and only choice we have is whether or not to accept Jesus, and everything else is determined by god. In other words, life is like being strapped onto a roller coaster and just being able to choose whether or not you yell during the fast bits or cry instead. And in a theology that promises eternal punishment for the "disobedient," that's more than a little bizarre. Yell or cry: take your pick, but pick right because the turnstiles at the end are a real bitch. Anyway, Buck observes that god seems to have "called Chloe's bluff" and asks her what she intends to do.

Page 406- Line 20:
"I have no choice," she agreed.

Yeah, get used to that, honey. Choice is for men-folk like yon secret agent/journalist/creepy stalker. You should just get your ass back to the house and start making the country knick-knacks (Page 75- Line 4-7). Anyway, Chloe notices there are two seats vacant nearby and asks a flight attendant to get Rayford back there. Rayford turns the controls over to his copilot, since at some point in the previous few pages the damn plane took off without the authors ever mentioning it to us, and goes back to talk to Chloe, who basically tells him that she's decided to convert. And fortunately, we have raging dumbass astute reporter, Cameron "Buck" Williams, to relate the scene to us.

Page 408- Line 18-21:
He [Buck] peeked back at Steele with his daughter, engaged in intense conversation and then praying together. Buck wondered if there was any airline regulation against that.

He wondered if...? Are you f-ing kidding me? Let me ask you, dear readers: how would you react if in the middle of a flight the Captain came back, found a young woman who looked like his daughter, had an intense conversation with her, and suddenly started praying? Would you be, I don't know, maybe a little concerned about what was going on with the flight? Yes, Buck, I think the airlines probably DO have regulations about such things, or at the very least sternly-worded advisories. And as long as we're on the subject, wasn't there a plane crash recently at least partly because the captain started praying rather than flying the plane? Why yes, yes there was, and the gentleman in question has been sentenced to prison for it. Un-fricking-real.

But, real or not, it's also the end of the chapter. Come back next time when we have an exciting, action packed series of meetings. Okay, that's not really true: of the terms "exciting," "action packed," and "meetings," only one is accurate. Three guesses which, but if you need more than one you're stupid.

See you then.

* For any creationists in the audience, that's about as dense as something can get, short of quark matter, without disappearing from our space-time entirely

** You might argue that Chloe is not specific about when she prayed and, so, it's plausible that she prayed before Buck booked the seat. You could argue that, but you'd be wrong, since we know Buck booked the seat before dinner (Page 381- Line 1-10) but Chloe's narrative makes it clear she didn't say her prayer until after dinner. So, hey, there you go.



Blogger scripto said...

" Then she took his hand in both of hers. "Oh, Buck," she whispered. "Oh, Buck."

Transcription error - from the original text: "Oh, fuck," she whispered. "It's Buck."

Thursday, June 10, 2010 9:26:00 AM  
Blogger scripto said...

"That has some consistency with the doctrine of predestination, and fits with Calvinism, but if god knows how the story is going to turn out- down to the smallest detail- why bother with doing it the long way when you could just skip to the end? To be more pointed- why make every human being and every animal go through all this unnecessary suffering to provide an answer that god already has? No reason not to, I guess, unless god is good, in which case it does seem a tad uncalled for. Or, I suppose, unless god isn't omnipotent and can't do it any other way..."

You think too much. It is a mystery. God is inscrutable. Kind of like Joaquin Phoenix.

Thursday, June 10, 2010 12:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"...passive aggressive stunt stalker..."


Drek, let's get married.

Friday, June 11, 2010 5:26:00 AM  
Blogger Ken Houghton said...

God is kind of inscrutible like River Phoenix.

Please tell me you're making this section up. Or that Chloe is the most brilliant c.t. of all time:

"He is," she said. "But I just tried out my first one in years, and God answered it."

"You prayed that I would sit next to you?"

She [Chloe] took his [Buck] hand again. "Buck, this is too special. This is the nicest thing anyone's done for me in a long time....She giggled and let go again. "I wasn't talking about you, Buck, though this is sweet. I was talking about God doing the nice thing for me."

I think I saw that scene on Cinemax once.

More relevantly:

"You might have noticed I was pretty upset last night. I was so moved by my dad's story. I mean, I had heard it before. But all of a sudden he seemed so loving, so interested in people."

What I noticed is that she and Hattie went to powder their noses (or, in my version, explore the deeper mysteries of life) during the time that Rayford--I swear that was the name of the actor in the Cinemax film, too--was regaling Buck of his theories.

Even if I were ignoring (as the authors do) that the disappearance of all the righteous has had absolutely no effect on the rest of human activity, I'm starting to wonder about Chloe's secret parapsychological abilities, "as if some tiny screw inside [her] was being wound tighter and tighter and tighter."

Somehow, though, I fear that "Chloe and Buck have tried to tie the knot once before" means that this book--like all comedies, good, indifferent, bad, or beyond the pale--will end in a marriage.

Friday, June 11, 2010 6:36:00 AM  
Blogger Drek said...

Ah, Sass. Thanks for the offer, but I think my wife might object.

Friday, June 11, 2010 7:29:00 AM  
Anonymous Jay said...

Let's use this as a teachable moment for aspiring fiction writers:

*It's very difficult to write characters who are smarter than their authors. Don't introduce a character named Steven Hawking and let him talk physics unless you actually understand what Steven Hawking has to say about physics.

*A lot of these problems were caused by introducing these characters as a Stanford student and "the greatest investigative reporter of all time". If the characters had been introduced as a hack writer and a state college student majoring in Jell-O shots, then their constant screwups would be believable.

*Looking ahead: If you can't write a convincing Stanford undergrad, don't introduce God as a character.

Sunday, June 13, 2010 8:00:00 AM  

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