Total Drek

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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Left Behind: Chapter 23, Part 2

Welcome back one and all to our regular feature on Left Behind, the book that's more or less the theological equivalent of "Blood on the Highway," only without the useful moral. Last time we enjoyed a clutch of youtube videos demonstrating, albeit poorly, what the rapture might be like. And the time before that I called a vote over the future of my book report series, a vote that we will discuss at the end of this post. The time before that, however, Buck complained like crazy and Rayford and Chloe decided to join the spiritual special forces. What happens this week? Not much- just a lot of jaw-wagging between Bruce and Buck.

As always we have a comment of the week. This week that "honor" goes to Mister Troll for giving the authors their due:

What struck me most about this episode was that the authors used the word "effect" correctly. I don't know what that struck me, but it did.

The thing about that observation is that it really emphasizes how much of a failure this book really is. On one level, it's a failure because we're all surprised when they use a word properly. And on another level it's a failure because it's so damn dull that we're more interested in critiquing their grammar than in reading their story. It's a bit like the literary equivalent of Showgirls, a movie that's so terrible that heterosexual male viewers find themselves contemplating the set design even when there are topless women on screen. Nice work, Mister Troll, and hang in there everyone! We're coming down to the wire.

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 your mom...

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. Christian.

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 421- Line 12-15:
Two hours after the Steeles had left, Buck Williams parked his rental car in front of New Hope Village Church in Mount Prospect, Illinois. He had a sense of destiny tinged with fear.

I hate to say it, but that may be the single most competent setting of the scene in the entire book. I mean, we know where he is, how he feels, and where this event falls into the book's chronology. And yet, even with all those advantages, it still sucks. It makes Buck sound like a melodramatic loser, which, I suppose, is fitting since that's what he is.

Page 421- Line 15-17:
Who would this Bruce Barnes be? What would he look like? And would he be able to detect a non-Christian at a glance?

Okay, so, let's answer these in order: (1) Bruce Barnes, silly! (2) No idea, but if you find out, would you please tell the readers? (3) I'm betting, "no," since Buck is presently unhappy, thereby eliminating the main difference between Left Behind's Christians and the rest of us heathens.

Page 421- Line 18:
Buck sat in the car, his head in his hands.

Yeah, Left Behind will do that to you, although I usually find a facepalm to feel more natural. Anyway, Buck starts worrying about how he feels out of control and for the first time in years his life is effectively "unplanned".

Page 422- Line 1-3:
He had always liked the serendipity of life, but he processed it through a grid of logic, attacked it from a perspective of order.

Once more: "Thinking bad! Fire bad! Rarrrrr!" Seriously, I think I missed an opportunity when I didn't introduce a drinking game to go along with this book- every time the authors denigrate thinking or education you do a shot. By chapter 15 we would have been suffering from alcohol poisoning, guaranteed.

Page 422- Line 9-10:
But nothing had prepared him for the disappearances or for the violent deaths of his friends.

Wait... Buck has had friends? What the hell? When did that happen? Are the authors referring to Alan Tompkins and... uh... what's his name? Dick? Dirk? Yeah, Dirk. Do they mean Alan and Dirk, who Buck hasn't thought about in chapters and chapters, even though he's been obsessing over banging Chloe? Oh, whatever. Consistency went out the window a loooong time ago. Anyway, Buck finally gets the stones to get out of the car, which is kind of a triumph for him. The seat in a mode of conveyance is, like, his happy place, you know?

Page 422- Line 25-28:
It had been a long time since Buck had been in a church. This one seemed innocuous enough, fairly new and modern, neat and efficient. He and the young pastor met in a modest office.

As I said before a loooong time ago: To them we ascribe every virtue. The church is "modern, neat and efficient" and the office is "modest." Of course. What else would it be?

Page 422-423- Line 422: 29-30, 423: 1-6:
"Your friends, the Steeles, told me you might call," Barnes said.

Buck was struck by his honesty. In the world in which Buck moved, he might have kept that information to himself, that edge. But he realized that the pastor had no interest in an edge. There was nothing to hide here. In essence, Buck was looking for information and Bruce was interested in providing it.

Ho-kay. Apparently in the "world in which Buck moved" small talk and polite chit-chat are unheard of. Right. And is Buck, an f-ing reporter, really this unused to dealing with a source? Well, nobody ever said he was a good reporter. Except maybe the authors, but they hardly count.

Page 423- Line 7-15:
"I want to tell you right off," Bruce said, "that I am aware of your work and respect your talent. But to be frank, I no longer have time for the pleasantries and small talk that used to characterize my work. We live in perilous times. I have a message and an answer for people genuinely seeking. I tell everyone in advance that I have quit apologizing for what I'm going to say. If that's a ground rule you can live with, I have all the time you need."

Well, fuck you very much, too, Bruce! Basically, this just means that Bruce has been studying at the Rayford Steele school of gentle persuasion. Or vice versa. Either way, the authors are making it clear that they don't give a tinker's damn about all of our bellyaching. Awesome. I'm forced to wonder if by book four we'll get a rousing depiction of "Waterboarding for Christ".

Page 423- Line 25-28:
"Not that long ago I [Buck] would never have set foot in a place like this or dreamed anything intellectually worthwhile could come out of here.

Other than observing that Buck's interest in Bruce is far from intellectual, I think I'll limit myself to noting that so far nothing intellectual has come out of this book so, hey, prediction validated. Anyway, Bruce tells Buck his life story, emphasizing how much of a fuckup he was. Buck, of course, is hanging on every word because he's stupid. And, once again, we're reminded that the authors view this boring recitation as an effective strategy. Then again, god only commands them to preach, not to be good at it, so hell, mission accomplished.

Page 424-425- Line 424: 29-30- 425: 1-2:
"Nobody can force you or badger you into this, Mr. Williams, but I must also say again that we live in perilous times. We don't know how much pondering time we have."

"Woah! Woah! Hey now! I ain't makin' no threats, you understand. I'm just sayin' that you got a real nice soul here and, you know, it'd be a shame if sumthin was ta' HAPPEN to it, you know? That'd be a real shame. Now, if you was to pay me and my boys to, I dunno, keep an eye on it... well... I'm sure everythin would be fine." You have to love that he says, "Nobody can threaten you into this" and then he proceeds to try to threaten Buck into this. This is an important point because, as depicted in Left Behind, it's fairly clear that this brand of Christianity has nothing else going for it. There's no discussion of how much better anyone's life is after converting, nor a discussion of the actual teachings of Jesus, just constant monotonous threats about hellfire and damnation. One might as well sum up this type of faith by saying, "The beatings will continue until piety improves." And outside of Rayford, Buck, Chloe, and the like, that sounds like a pretty shitty deal.

Page 425- Line 3-4:
"You [Bruce] sound like Chloe Steele."

"And she sounds like her father," Bruce said, smiling.

Believe me when I tell you that my reaction to discovering that anyone sounds like Rayford Steele would not be to smile. Not even close. Anyway, Bruce and Buck talk about- I swear to god- whether or not they're going to keep talking, and then we get to the most unintentionally hilarious exchange of the chapter.

Page 425- Line 25-27:
"But I [Bruce] have enough energy to go to midnight if you do."

"I'm all yours." [Buck replied]

Yeah, yeah, tell it to Ted Haggard, you two.

Page 425- Line 28=29:
Bruce spent the next several hours giving Buck a crash course in prophecy and the end times.

Sadly, I'm pretty sure that's not a euphemism for anything. Although, to be frank, I think from here on in I might start referring to it that way. You know, as in, "Wow, I'm really tired this morning. I was up for hours last night giving the wife a crash course in prophecy and the end times, if you know what I mean."

Page 426- Line 2-6:
But when Bruce got to the parts about the great one-world religion that would spring up, the lying, so-called peacemaker who would bring bloodshed through war, the Antichrist who would divide the world into ten kingdoms, Buck's blood ran cold.

I can only assume this bit is for the particularly slow members of the audience who hadn't put all this together themselves. But, hey, a continuation of Left Behind's grand tradition of telling us shit we already know. Anyway, Buck acts amazed that all this is in the bible (it's not, actually), and then we discover something significant about Bruce.

Page 426-427- Line 426: 27-30- 427: 1-4:
Buck told him what had happened at the U.N. Bruce paled. "That's why we've been hearing all those clicking sounds on my answering machine," Bruce said. "I turned the ringer off on the phone, so the only way you can tell when a call comes in is by the clicking on the answering machine. People are calling to let me know. They do that a lot."

Okay, now just for a moment, let's forget the implication that biblical prophecy is fulfilled all the time.* Likewise, forget that we have literally just read a description of the mechanics of an f-ing answering machine. Instead, notice that Bruce Barnes- a man who believes he was left behind in part because he was shirking his duties as a visitation pastor- is not only screening calls from his congregation, he's actually turned his ringer off so he doesn't even have to be bothered by the sound of the phone. This man is a failure of almost Rayfordian proportions. Anyway, they talk about whether Carpathia is the antichrist and Buck then argues that he really believed in the guy. But Bruce has an answer for that...

Page 427- Line 9-11:
"Why not? Most of us did. Self-effacing, interested in the welfare of the people, humble, not looking for power or leadership."

My original comment here reads, "Sounds like Jesus to me," but upon reflection I think that's incorrect. Jesus claimed to be the son of god and rightful ruler of mankind so, really, the label "humble" is at least somewhat debatable. Anyway, Buck tells Bruce about the big meeting he's been invited to and Bruce urges him not to go because the antichrist has to solidify his authority with a show of strength. Buck claims that he already has, and then things get weird.

Page 427- Line 23-25:
"Yes, but it appears that all these long-range agreements he has been conceded will take months or years to effect. Now he has to show some potency."

"Show some potency"? Are we in a bloody cialis** commercial all of a sudden? And what about that months or years crap? Hmmm, let's see, he only has to craft a one-world religion, move the U.N. to Babylon, and take over all military force on the planet. Decades would be a short timescale for an operation like that. But the authors have never let facts stand in the way of a good truly awful story before, so why start worrying now? Regardless, Bruce now starts applying the hard sell.

Page 428- Line 8-9:
"But if Carpathia is the Antichrist, do you [Buck] want to face him without God?"

Act now and he'll throw in both oven mitts AND the Showtime Rotisserie Oven absolutely FREE!

Page 428- Line 16-19:
"Mr. Williams, you have to do what you have to do, but I'm pleading with you. If you go into that meeting without God in your life, you will be in mortal and spiritual danger."

With all due respect to Bruce, it's evident from his own theology that god is going to be indiscriminately killing the hell out of all mankind for the next seven years, so I don't think that casting a magic spell is going to protect Buck physically. I won't comment on that spiritual business since I don't believe in a soul but, hell, whatever.

Page 428- Line 20-23:
He told Buck about his conversation with the Steeles and how they had collectively come up with the idea of a Tribulation Force. "It's a band of serious-minded people who will boldly oppose the Antichrist."

Yeah, call me crazy, but I seriously doubt that anything that Rayford is involved in could fairly be described as "bold." And as long as we're on the subject, isn't opposing the antichrist- boldly or not- rather stupid since you can't actually succeed? It's like King Canute commanding the tides.

Page 428- Line 26-28:
The Tribulation Force stirred something deep within Buck. It took him back to his earliest days as a writer, when he believed he had the power to change the world.

And this demonstrates that Buck hasn't actually been listening to Bruce for the past several hours. The whole point of the authors' theology, which Bruce shares, is that nothing we do matters EVER. We can't change the ultimate fate of the world, we can't even change the sequence of events that leads up to that fate. All we can do is basically fuck around on the fringes while everything goes down according to a master plan that we don't control. As I said before, it's like we're on a roller coaster and our only choice is whether we laugh or cry at all the twists and turns. And if that sounds noble or majestic to you, we honestly have nothing in common. Anyway, Buck and Bruce chat a bit more and then Bruce gives Buck a bible and sends him on his way. Sadly, though, we have just a bit more left in this chapter.

Page 430- Line 1-5:
The next day the core group enthusiastically and emotionally welcomed its newest member, Chloe Steele. They spent much of the day studying the news and trying to determine the likelihood of Nicolae Carpathia's being the Antichrist. No one could argue otherwise.

I'm guessing that "no one could argue otherwise" because pretty much everyone in this book is godawful stupid. And it's good to see that the selection process for the "core group" is either entirely random or nepotistic given Chloe's sudden elevation.

Page 430- Line 6-9:
Bruce told the story of Buck Williams, without using his name or mentioning his connection with Rayford and Chloe. Chloe cried silently as the group prayed for his safety and for his soul.

If that's "boldly opposing the antichrist," I rather doubt the antichrist has much of anything to worry about. Seriously, that shit isn't even boldy opposing a PTA meeting.

But, effective or not, it is the end of the chapter. Come back next time when we have a couple of phone conversations and Buck basically makes an ass of himself. Oh, and be sure to bring coffee, because the next chapter is really lacking the sort of action and adventure that made the last two chapters so exciting. And I am absolutely, positively not kidding there. It really is an agony of boredom.

How could you not come, eh?

Before we end, however, we should discuss the outcome of the vote over the future of this feature. A total of seven people voted and, keeping in mind that some people phrased their votes in rather ambiguous ways, the tally is as follows:

More Left Behind: 3
New book: 4

Based on that system, a new book wins. That said, this treats all votes as equal, which doesn't seem completely fair since some folks have been contributing more to the series by leaving comments and whatnot, so we're going to weight the votes. This may seem unfair, but I like to think that we here at Total Drek put the "crazy" in "democrazy."*** The weights work as follows:

-Scripto and Mister Troll both get two votes based on their dedication to leaving comments on this crap.
-socygirl gets two votes because, let's face it, she's calling in a chit here.
-Jonas gets two votes because he actually volunteered to get me the next book.

So, recalculating the votes we get:

More Left Behind: 6
New book: 5

And so, depending on how we look at it, opinion is fairly evenly divided either with a slight lean towards more Left Behind or a slight lean away from more Left Behind. Of course, the most important vote- the one to be cast by my wife- hasn't yet been turned in, although she and I have been discussing the progress of the voting. Her last statement to me on the subject is that she was considering drafting a letter to all of y'all, which promises to be entertaining, and that she was considering possible compromise positions. So, basically, we may be able to work something out, but no promises as of yet.

So, stay tuned: more news as it comes available, I guess!

* In truth, I rather expect that it is, but more because it's so vague and subject to interpretation that apparently fitting events occur with great frequency.

** Just picture Bruce and Buck holding hands in side-by-side bathtubs on a mountain side, with a voiceover saying: "When the time is right, when you want to show some potency, Cialis will be ready."

*** Which is, I think, a more apt spelling.



Blogger Mister Troll said...

If you're going to stuff the ballot boxes, scripto deserves way more than two votes...

I look forward to the great debate between the Internets and Ms. Drek!

Thursday, July 15, 2010 12:59:00 PM  
Blogger scripto said...

Yeah, What Mr. Troll said. Who's been with you through thick and thin, even posting with a 104 degree fever?(did it show?) Who else would submit such timeless gems as:

"He had a sense of destiny tinged with fear."
Marinated in the bilious sauce of his tortured soul.


"We don't know how much pondering time we have."
Because it's pandering time.

Who? Nobody, that's who. I don't come here just because it's the only place on the net where I haven't been banned. I should get like 12 votes. Maybe 13.

Anxiously awaiting your reply,

Your friend scripto

(Although if the rest of the series is like this I think we get the picture - something by Beck, Palin or even Ayn Rand might be fun. As long as it was equally retarded in its own special way)

Thursday, July 15, 2010 3:29:00 PM  

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