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Friday, September 09, 2011

The Overton Window: Chapter 31

Welcome back one and all to our ongoing series on The Overton Window, the book that puts the liter in literary. Last time Noah learned that Molly has been playing him for a fool and we learned that he has a total hard-on for his mom. Yuck. What happens this week? Not a whole, lot, really- just an incoherent talk with Noah's dad.

As I mentioned I am once again selecting a comment of the week, and this week that "honor" goes to Jay for putting the pieces together:

My guess is that they continually track Noah, on court order, to make sure he stays at least 500 feet from schools and playgrounds. I hear he sets the "dating bar" medium-high (about the height of a 12-year-old).

My god. It all makes so much horrible, horrible sense now! I need to bleach my brain. Thanks for the awful revelations, Jay, and keep at it folks. Because, you know, somebody has to keep this shit entertaining.

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. My footnotes use the traditional star system (e.g. *, **, etc) while references included in the Afterword to the book are noted with numbered parenthetical tags (e.g. (1), (2), etc.). Va-va-voom!

Dramatis Personae: In an order determined by polling the audience.

Eli Churchill: Former janitor at a volcano lair. Fan of remote telephone booths. Shot in the head by parties unknown.

Beverly Emerson: Mysterious correspondent of Eli Churchill's. Molly's Mom.

Noah Gardener: 28 years old. Sets the dating bar "medium-high". Works Vice president at a PR firm. Went to NYU. Is "witty". Frequently forgets where he's going and why. Not good at talking to women. Not really inclined to help out cab drivers. Low tolerance for alcohol. Lost his mother when he was young. Fond of chicken and waffles. Rich as shit. Views himself as a sexual panther. Likes bacon. Considers himself to be good at word games.

Molly "Hottie McPretty" Ross: Dresses like a hippie, but not really. Looks like a free spirit. Perfectly captures the essence of womanhood. Auburn hair. Green eyes. Pale skin. Has a tattoo on her chest. Wears a silver cross around her neck. Lost her father when she was young. Impressed by fancy cars. Cocktease. Possibly suffering from bipolar disorder.

Arthur Gardner Noah's father. Owner of Doyle & Merchant. Megalomaniac. Surprisingly vigorous for a 74 year old man.

Khaled: Lebanese cab driver. Sold out by Noah Gardener.

Hollis: Friend of Molly Ross. Very polite. From the country. May be a Yeti.

Danny Bailey: Some kind of YouTube celebrity. Former lover of Molly Ross. Kind of a dickhead. Loves conspiracy theories and incoherent speeches. Sodomized by inmates following the rally. Once dressed up as Colonel Sanders to infiltrate the United Nations. May be afraid of cats.

Charlie Nelan: Gardner family lawyer. Silver hair. Impeccably dressed. Looks awesome. Has some sort of weird relationship with GQ. May have the ability to sense when Noah's in trouble using some sort of clairvoyance. Possible kleptomaniac.

Stuart Kearns: FBI agent. Works on homeland security matters. Kinda old and wrinkly. Not particularly trusting. Lives in a double-wide trailer. Sixty-three years old.

Mr. Puddles: AKA Gray Death. AKA Ninja Cat. Stuart's cat. Large. Dangerous looking. Possibly plotting his demise.

Tiffany: A stripper at the Pussycat Ranch. Thinks Danny is awesome.


Chapter 31: In which Arthur Gardner tries to have a super-villain moment and, in the end, turns into a discarded cast member from "Left Behind".

Recommended Mood Music:

Page 205, Line 1-2:
Arthur Gardner's office suite was rumored to be the quietest place on the island of Manhattan.

My margin note here reads, "Whoopdee-fucking-doo". This is fine, as far as it goes, but upon further reflection I'm suddenly forced to wonder: in this factional world, is the amount of noise in an office seriously such an interesting fact that there are actual rumors about it? What's it like at parties, I wonder? "Well, I know all of you are talking about Spitzer and his prostitute, but I heard that Arthur Gardner has- oh, I can hardly believe I'm going to say it- a really quiet office!" Dinner party of the damned. And you thought the book was boring. Anyway, Noah keeps musing about how damn quiet it is and then we get this.

Page 205, Line 11-14:
All that echo-dampened stillness made any interior sound seem exaggerated and unnaturally distinct- the scritch of the flint in his father's lighter, the hiss of the glowing tobacco in the bowl of his pipe, the steady metal workings of his ancient mantel clock on the corner shelf. [emphasis original]

What's weird about this to me is that it contradicts the preceding description. See, this office is supposed to be super quiet and have sound dampening ju-ju out the ying-yang. Yet, somehow, it doesn't come across as the excruciatingly disorienting sound-swallowing hole that it should be, but instead just seems to be a normal room that happens to be fairly quiet. I can only assume that the authors wanted to justify the characterization involved in the above passage, but wouldn't it have worked better if they had just used Noah's preternatural awareness of small sounds to say something about his emotional state, rather than about the room's architectural qualities? It's not even that it's bad writing, it's that they actually seem to avoid doing the interesting thing. It's like it's purposefully dull, and that's quite an accomplishment. In any case, Noah thinks about how his father loves to be alone- hence the preference for silence- and then tries to apologize to dear old daddy.

Page 206, Line 9-17:
"No need to, I said." His father set his pipe in its rest and leaned back in his chair. "It was more an insult than an injury, the idea that they managed to use you in an attempt to damage our company and our clients. We've known of these people, of course, and we'd thought we were adequately prepared, but they surprised all of us, didn't they? And I must say"- now there was a strange little smile on his face- "this avenue they chose, the seductive infiltration by this girl, it shows a great deal more ingenuity than I would have expected, given the source. It was inspired really. Ruthless though it was."

Yeah, well, nobody expects the TEA party inquisition:

"NOBODY expects the TEA Party Inquisition! Our chief weapon is surprise...surprise and crazy...crazy and surprise.... Our two weapons are crazy and surprise...and ruthless avoidance of reality.... Our *three* weapons are crazy, surprise, and ruthless avoidance of reality...and an almost fanatical devotion to ignorance.... Our *four* *Amongst* our weapons.... Amongst our weaponry...are such elements as crazy, surprise.... I'll come in again."

All kidding aside, however, did you catch that bit about how the whole thing was more insult than injury? So, for the record, Arthur is saying that crazy people who kidnap his son, drug him into incoherence for a weekend, steal confidential files, and escape free have basically not done anything. Maybe he has a more realistic view of Noah's worth than I've been giving him credit for? And as a final note- if Noah has suddenly realized that Molly looks just like his mom, what must Arthur be thinking? I mean, Noah's mom was Arthur's wife once upon a time.

Page 206, Line 24-27:
In a quick look back over the years Noah was certain he could have counted the number of actual, heart-to-heart conversations with his father on the digits of a single hand. Now it looked like another one was coming and, frankly, he wasn't in the mood.

Really? After such a trauma he doesn't want support from his usually distant father? Color me shocked. Still, I don't know what he's bitching about- I mean, seriously, who here isn't dreading the idea of more Arthur Gardner dialog?

Page 207, Line 1-5:
"Something is going to happen tomorrow morning, Noah. Something that will be the beginning of quite a change in the way things are. This weekend's developments, this theft and the accompanying threat of exposure, have served only to further convince the parties involved that now is the time for this- this course correction."

Ah. Right. So tomorrow, something will happen to someone because some other someone is concerned about something being revealed to some third someone? Makes perfect sense. Clear as freaking mud. Noah, being a semi-moron, asks what's going to happen and Arthur responds by asking whether Noah understands the difference between the world as Molly sees it and the world as it really is. Noah, honestly enough, admits he doesn't know.

Page 207, Line 13-21:
"If they spoke to you [Noah] at all then I'm sure you received the full picture from their warped point of view. Their proud ethos is generally the first thing to pop out of their mouths, or some variation on the theme." The following words were delivered in a deep tone of mocking reverence. "'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal- that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights- life, liberty,' and so on. That is the rallying cry of the modern day American armchair patriot, and it's a stirring turn of phrase, I must admit."

Yikes. So, Arthur Gardner is the patriot from Bizarro-world, then? Of course he is. We couldn't have a subtle villain with complex motivations, could we? *sigh*

Page 207, Line 22-26:
"But I came to understand at an early age that Thomas Jefferson himself couldn't really have believed what he'd written in his Declaration. No slave owner could. Nor could any man with his intelligence, and his great knowledge of history, believe himself to be the equal in any way to the ignorant masses of his time.

Yeah, see, this is a complex issue. On the one hand, by the standards of his day Jefferson was a fiery populist. And, among other things, he really, really did not think religion belonged anywhere near government. On the other hand, the vote in Jefferson's day was limited to landowning white males. So, Arthur is right, but if we go by what the founders intended then most of us shouldn't have the franchise anyway. Now, as it happens, I think Jefferson would have been generally favorable towards broadening the franchise, but that isn't the damned point. What is the point? Honestly, I don't know, except that neither the heroes nor the villains in the book seem to have a rudimentary knowledge of the constitution or the historical context of the founding of the U.S. I suppose I should also point out that the line Arthur is quoting comes from the Declaration of Independence, which is a neat bit of writing but has absolutely no legal standing in the U.S. as it constitutes nothing more or less than a communique with a foreign head of state. Anyway, Arthur rambles on a bit longer about how Jefferson didn't really believe our rights came from god (hard to say, but Jefferson was- at best- a deist), tosses off a quote or two (1), and then we slam head-first into a sort of non-sequitur.

Page 208, Line 22-26:
"Let me ask you, Noah. Put their complete incompetence in self-government aside for the moment. Do you believe that people, human beings, are basically good? That- as your loyal friend Molly would no doubt preach to us- all they must do is awaken and embrace liberty and the highest potentials of mankind will be realized?"

Now, the weird thing here is that I really don't think the founding fathers believed humans were "basically good". I think they viewed humans as basically selfish and prone to power trips. This is why our constitution divides powers in such a way as to make governance a clumsy, difficult process. As such, I fail to see why Arthur needs to set up such a strawman. Aside from the fact that he's dumb, anyway. On another level, though, I wonder how the authors mean for the audience to take this. On the one hand they're clearly supposed to sympathize with Molly et al. in hypothetically thinking people are basically good. On the other hand, we've already encountered the assertion that the U.S. is basically founded on Christianity (e.g. Page 167, Line 16-21) and Christianity is notorious for that whole "original sin" thing that explains why we're all by default worthy of eternal punishment. So, really, the very crowd that the authors are writing for should object most strenuously to the "basically good" characterization. So which is it, authors? Are we founded on Christianity or on the notion that people are basically good and decent? Because it can't be both! Regardless, Noah answers he thinks people are essentially good and by way of counter-argument Arthur gives him a newspaper.

Page 209, Line 15-23:
The headline of the story was TURKISH GIRL, 16, BURIED ALIVE FOR TALKING TO BOYS. (2)

The text below went on to explain that a young girl had been the victim of an honor killing, not an uncommon thing in many cultures, allegedly at the hands of her own father and grandfather. They'd buried her alive under a chicken pen in the backyard behind the house. And this was no crime of passion; it takes a long, thoughtful time to do such a thing. In fact, a family council meeting had determined what her punishment should be for the crime of hanging out with her friends. [emphasis original]

For those of you keeping score at home this marks the second time that brown people have appeared in this book. The first, of course, was good old Khaled, who is no doubt infiltrating the CIA as we speak. And no, I don't count all the throw away references to, "diverse groups of people" that we get whenever the authors sort of want to fight stereotyping but can't be bothered to really try. In any case, Noah says there are always extremists, to which his father basically says, "Yeah, maybe so, but most humans will do horrible shit like this if given the proper motivation." And the hell of it is, Arthur is totally right about this one. It isn't that people are inherently good or evil, but we are smart, aggressive and ruthless as hell. That's why the rule the planet, but it's also why we're our own worst enemy. Just one of those things. Sadly, however, Arthur has to fuck up his record of being right by suddenly deciding to be wrong.

Page 210, Line 1-3:
"The fact that one in a million of us may have evolved beyond those lower instincts is of no great comfort to me."

Yeah... evolution doesn't really work that way. First off, individuals don't evolve. The species as a whole evolves, but not individuals. Second, evolution is not an upward journey. By this I mean that the one and only criterion by which evolution judges a species is survival. From that standpoint, humans are abject failures since we are both less numerous, and have been around for less time, than cockroaches. Don't get me wrong, I think we're awesome, but to equate biological evolution with some sort of hypothetical ideal ethical state is sheer idiocy. Anyway, Arthur rambles on for a while about how the world's population is rising but most people are not geniuses and that, therefore, mankind is doomed. First off, I've read this story before, and it was done better the first time. Second, so far as we can tell this is just not true. And third, even if it were true, it completely ignores the effect of increasing per capita productivity. But, hey, who needs facts in faction? Not these authors! The endnotes of the book also go on about how this bit is modeled on "...many of the real life arguments in favor of eugenics..." and even quotes a few people. Trouble is, the people that are quoted are George Bernard Shaw, whose view of eugenics was offbeat to say the least, Theodore Roosevelt, who was pretty wacky in numerous respects, and Margaret Sanger, who supported eugenics, but opposed anyone who would make reproductive choices for prospective parents. In other words, her "eugenics" were not that different from modern notions of reproductive freedom. And in any case, all three of those folks are really figures from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Nice job, authors. But we may as well leave them alone because Arthur is swinging into his big finish.

Page 211, Line 17-19:
"The American experiment has failed, and now it's time for the next one to begin. One world, one government- not of the people this time, but of the right people: the competent, the wise, and the strong. [emphasis original]

Oh, man! It's like we're back in Left Behind with our good buddy Jonathan Stonagal again. Only Arthur is vastly less competent, which when you think about it, is saying something. Noah asks if Arthur means what he thinks he means, and Artie goes for the punchline.

Page 212, Line 5-6:
"The experiment that begins tomorrow will not fail."

Wow, he sounds like he really wants tenure! But, tenure or not, that brings us to the end of the chapter. It also, amazingly enough, brings us to the end of Part TWO, which means that next time we get to start Part THREE. Try to control your excitement.

But, excited or not, that's the way it is. Come back next time when Noah goes to the bathroom (yes, really) and then sets out on a path of revenge or... something. I'm sure he'll figure it out.




Blogger Ken Houghton said...

"And I must say"- now there was a strange little smile on his face- "this avenue they chose, the seductive infiltration by this girl, it shows a great deal more ingenuity than I would have expected, given the source."

This is the first (and probably only) time his father believes that Noah is heterosexual. The "ingenuity" in picking Hottie McPretty is that she could actually convince Noah to go for an adult female.

Dad is either really stupid or willing to forgive a lot to pretend that he's not B. C. Forbes.

Friday, September 09, 2011 9:17:00 AM  
Anonymous Jay said...

I love how this bit shows the beginning and the end of Gardner's new aristocracy all at once. The beginning, because Gardner is trying to seize power by virtue of his intellingence, drive, and ruthlessness (or so we're told). The end, because 74-year-old Gardner is trying to groom his incompetent, pampered son for leadership.

Friday, September 09, 2011 9:31:00 AM  
Blogger Ken Houghton said...

By the way, I think I mentioned him before, but I'm really missing Eli Churchill. And wondering why we've gone thirty (30) chapters without hearing anything about him.

I know better mediocre writers--Ben Bova comes immediately to mind--who write "introduce and kill off a character in the first chapter" books--but those books usually leave you understanding why that first chapter related to the rest of the work by now. Right now, I just suspect the authors want to appeal to rich, archconservative, illiterate English Jews. Might have sold another six copies, at most.

Friday, September 09, 2011 9:38:00 AM  
Anonymous Jonas Wisser said...

I'm so sorry for sending you this book.

Friday, September 09, 2011 10:07:00 AM  
Blogger Fanatic-Templar said...

By this I mean that the one and only criterion by which evolution judges a species is survival. From that standpoint, humans are abject failures since we are both less numerous, and have been around for less time, than cockroaches.

Isn't that contradictory? You said the only criterion is survival, and then say we're abject failures. That would imply that humanity is dying out rather than overpopulating the planet. Just because we're not the most successful species at survival doesn't make us failures. That term might be better applied to the numerous species that have gone or are going extinct.

Saturday, September 10, 2011 11:19:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

74-years old and taking on the complete overhaul of a new world order?! Who is this guy, Wilford fucking Brimley? Chuck Norris' grandpa?

Also, it cannot be emphasized enough that Molly dressed as NOAH'S MOTHER to attract him. For those keeping score at home, that makes Noah a foreal MOTHERFUCKER.


Sunday, September 11, 2011 8:03:00 AM  

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