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Friday, October 28, 2011

The Overton Window: Chapter 38

Welcome back one and all to our ongoing series on The Overton Window, the book that just won't end no matter how much we wish it would. Last time Noah and Molly managed to penetrate the tight security at La Guardia and boarded a flight for Las Vegas. What happens this week? Well... we go to a convenience store. And that's basically the most exciting thing that happens.

As I mentioned I am once again selecting a comment of the week, and this week that "honor" goes to Jay for offering some useful advice:

If you need to keep a low profile, and your first thought is "pretend to be a movie star", it's time to just give up. Trickery is not for you.

This is an excellent point, but I can't help but feel that there's an equivalent bit of advice in here that the authors should have been offered sooner. Something along the lines of, "If it takes three of you to ghost write a book that still sucks hard, just give up. Writing is not for you." Well done, Jay, and keep at it folks- we've got around 10 chapters left, so the "exciting" conclusion is right around the bend.

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.). Rock, paper, scissors, lizard, spock!

Dramatis Personae: In an order determined by one or more of the voices in my head.

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. Injected with weed killer by parties unknown blisteringly obvious to everyone.

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. Wants to bang his mom.

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. Looks just like Noah's mom. Also looks just like Natalie Portman.

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.

Ellen Davenport: Old friend of Noah's. Second-year neurology resident at Mt. Sinai. Doesn't appear to need sleep or have good taste in her associates.


Chapter 38: In which our "heroes" take a piss and we hear about the festering dumpster that is the authors' equivalent of logical reasoning.

Recommended Mood Music:

Page 242, Line 1-3:
Danny Bailey and Agent Kearns had been on the road in their bomb-laden van for nearly five hours straight, and they were past due for a fuel stop and a stretch.

Okay, first of all, it's a "fake-bomb-laden van". Or so the characters think. Second, this is just a horrendous way to start a chapter since none of that statement makes me at all eager to continue reading. And, third, aforementioned opening line really drives home everything that's wrong with this book. Two guys are driving to a meeting with terrorists carrying a fake nuclear weapon, and somehow the most exciting thing the authors can find to tell us about is their pitstop.

Page 242, Line 4-5:
After taking his turn in the gas station's cramped restroom Danny picked up a diet soda and a candy bar and brought them to the counter.

Wow! Feel the excitement! Anyway, take a moment to calm your pounding heart, so that you won't stroke out when you read that, as he waits for the clerk to check him out, Danny notices some headlines on a paper. Oooooh!

Page 242, Line 7-10:
Two headlines stood out, and he read them over again.

Nationwide Terror Alert Status Elevated Once More
DHS Chief: Intel Confirms 'Credible Threat' for Western U.S.
[emphasis original]

Wait! Danny and Stuart are in the Western U.S.!! What does that mean? Why, absolutely freaking NOTHING because the western U.S. is really, REALLY big. On the other hand, the above passage might mean that Danny has trouble reading.

Page 242, Line 11-14:
He looked up into the corner and saw a dusty security camera looking back down at him. Even out here, he thought, on the outskirts of civilization, some backward distant cousin of Big Brother is still watching.

I can't tell if that bit means that Danny is a moron or the authors are morons.* In the first place, Nevada is hardly the outskirts of civilization. Seriously, people, if you have cell service and electricity, you're not on the outskirts. In the second place, do the authors know what "Big Brother" refers to? Because I don't think that Orwell would have viewed a private business using video surveillance to deter robbery to be equivalent to a massive government effort to watch everyone all the time. And aren't these authors in favor of private industry? Seriously, who or what is actually considered to be on the side of righteousness in this book? Anyway, he buys the paper and they get back on the road.

Page 243, Line 8-12:
As the trip progressed southward the Nevada roads had gradually become more and more rustic and empty of traffic. From the first wide interstate, to four-lane turnpikes, down to the aging two-lane desert highway they'd now been on for a good while- in a sense it felt as though they were traveling further back in time with every passing mile

They are also, I should note, traveling further away from substantial quantities of federal transportation funds.** I leave it to you to consider what it means that such a relationship is so tightly linked with the "back in time" commentary of the authors. I sometimes wonder whether folks who claim the government never does anything right are even vaguely aware of all the many things the government does right each and every day- so right that we notice only the failure to achieve customary high levels of performance. And yes, I'm looking at you, U.S. Postal Service. You guys are awesome. Seriously. Anyway, Danny is reading the newspaper as they drive- his lips only moving when he gets to the really hard words like "the"- when he asks Stuart if he can "run something up the flagpole". No, that's not a sexual metaphor. I wish it had been. Stuart says yes, Danny mentions the news of the elevated terror alert, and Stuart asks Danny what he's getting at.

Page 243, Line 27-28:
"Put on your tinfoil hat for a minute and I'll tell you."

"Okay, okay, go."

Sadly, by "go" he doesn't mean "go fuck yourself" or "go jump out of my car". No, he means, "please, spin your crazy half-assed story for the readers". Because if there's anything this book needs it's more exposition. Well done, authors, well done!

Page 243-244, Line 243: 29-30, 244: 1-6:
"You remember the 7/7 bombings in 2005?"

"Of course."

"Do you know that a security company, with a former Scotland Yard guy in charge, was running a terrorism drill in London that very morning? And this drill involving a thousand people was planned out months in advance to simulate the same kind of bombing incidents, on the same targets, on the same day, and at the same times?"

Um... what? And by that I mean, "Even if true, what the hell does that have to do with anything?" I mean, no offense, but the idea of the U.K. running a drill wherein a hypothetical terrorist group bombs mass transit doesn't sound prescient so much as it does the sort of thing that a country that experienced extensive domestic terrorism should probably do on a regular basis. Ah, well, anyway...

Page 244, Line 7-10:
"No, I didn't know that."

"And then it really happened. While they were running the drill, the exact, actual thing they were practicing for actually fricking happened. What are the odds of that being a coincidence?" (1)*** (2) (3)

You mean, what are the odds of a government happening to practice to deal with the sort of attack that its enemies are trying to carry out against it? I wouldn't call that a coincidence at all. If we assume that this was the only terror drill ever, well, yes, that would be weird. But this is just one more drill among many falling on many different days. But, alas, like most creationists, our authors- who may or may not be creationists- seem to have a rather poor grasp of probability theory. Not to mention the definition of the term "coincidence".

Page 244, Line 13-19:
"Well, then," Danny went on, undaunted, "do you know that the guy your old friends in the U.S. government believe was the actual mastermind of those bombings- his name is Haroon Rashid Aswat- was also some sort of protected double agent who was on the payroll of some obscure faction of MI6? The CIA knew all about him but they weren't allowed to touch him; he even lived over here for a few years. Hell, he tried to organize an al-Qaeda training camp in Oregon-" (4)

...what? I mean, just, what? Did I wander into some other narrative by accident? Are we about to have a discussion about the free-masons or something?

Page 244, Line 21-32:
"One more thing. The guy that we haven't seen yet, his name is Elmer, right?"


"The guy in charge on September eleventh was Mohamed Atta. He had a lot of aliases, and that's the one he started using after 2000 when he got into the United States. He was born Mohamed Elamir awad al-Sayed Atta Karadogan. But the name on his work visa, the one he showed when he enrolled in flight school in Florida, was Mohamed Mohamed el-Amir." (5)****

"And el-Amir sounds like Elmer," Kearns said. "Do you take a nap during the day? Because you must stay up all night thinking about this crap." [emphasis original]

Horrific come-back aside, Kearns is reacting to this in an entirely appropriate manner. Is Danny saying that Elmer is secretly an undead Mohamed Atta? I mean, seriously, I am absolutely lost by this point and, let's face it, given my penchant for digging up wacky things on the internet it takes a LOT of crazy to lose me. On the other hand, a movie that featured an undead Mohammed Atta getting chain sawed by Bruce Campbell would make a lot of money. Sam Raimi, call me.

Page 245, Line 6-10:
"Mohamed Atta is dead." [Stuart said]

"Yeah? So is Osama bin Laden, but that doesn't stop him from putting out a tape every six months. And I'm not even saying it's a real live Islamo-fascist behind any of this, but making it look that way will make the story that much scarier when something happens."

....huh? I am just utterly and totally baffled at this point. What the hell is Danny saying? Is Danny saying anything? Is he actually wearing a tinfoil hat right now? Do the authors own an extensive collection of metallic headgear? What?

Page 245, Line 22-25:
As the ride went on in silence Danny looked across occasionally at the older man, hoping that he'd at least planted a seed of warning. In that small way it seemed he'd been successful. You can't see another man's thoughts, but you can sure see him thinking.

My guess is that right now Stuart is thinking, "How do I get this crazy bastard out of my van?" Other than that I honestly can't see a single coherent point in the entire chapter. But, coherent or not, that does bring us to the end of the chapter.

Come back next time when we rejoin Noah and Molly who heroically land in Las Vegas, claim their luggage, and visit the rental car counter. And no, that's not a joke, that's Chapter 39.

See you then!

* Answer: Both!

** I'm well aware that turnpikes in the U.S. were originally privately-built toll roads. The extent to which that is true now is variable by state and by road but, in almost all cases, are heavily government owned, financed, and/or operated.

*** I know, it's a dead link. But that's what the book says and searching for the article title gets me nowhere.

**** Weirdly, this one is referenced without a link in the book. I dunno why, but the link above takes you to the right place.



Blogger Ken Houghton said...

"Page 245, Line 6-10:
"Mohamed Atta is dead." [Stuart said]

"Yeah? So is Osama bin Laden, but that doesn't stop him from putting out a tape every six months. And I'm not even saying it's a real live Islamo-fascist behind any of this, but making it look that way will make the story that much scarier when something happens.""

Of course, at the point of the writing, OBL wasn't dead.

This book has aged badly, and that's just in the time you've been torturing yourself writing about it.

Friday, October 28, 2011 9:47:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, I BET you want to plant some seeds in your pal over there, Danny. I JUST BET.

Is "Elmer" supposed to be Eli, the much-beleaguered janitor at the volcano lair? Perhaps he's actually Ellen, Noah's wildly unrealistic doctor pal. OR MAYBE ELMER IS JUST WAITING FOR WABBIT-HUNTING SEASON?

This book. It's making me insane. Gas stations and rental car desks?It's as exciting as watching my grandma take a laxative. Well. Less so. Grandma loves her laxatives.

I miss the Zombie Russian Spy Cat. He was the best part of this whole thing.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011 10:49:00 AM  

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