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Friday, January 13, 2012

The Overton Window: Chapter 47

Welcome back one and all to our ongoing series on The Overton Window, the book that is finally, finally drawing to a close. Last time Noah sat through one of his father's bizarre, internally contradictory monologues. What happens this week? Noah gets lit up like the fourth of July by a dude with a car battery and jumper cables. While his dad watches, no less. Classy.

As I mentioned I am once again selecting a comment of the week, and this week that "honor" goes to Jay for noting why Arthur Gardner fails super-villainy 101:

Arthur seems really short on vision.

The great thing about nukes, from a conspirator's perspective, is that they don't leave much physical evidence. When you see a twenty-mile-wide radioactive glass crater, there's no point in breaking out the fingerprint kit and the Luminol.

So, if it didn't destroy anything much, *say that it did*. Pretend that it destroyed the fileservers that control, say, Social Security checks, or DoD payroll, or the water supply for LA, or all of that and some other stuff. Give the system three months of chaos.

Arthur should be able to get plenty of impact out of this.

But then, this is really the story of the entire book: the villains just aren't that smart or villainous, the heroes just aren't that smart or virtuous, and the story just isn't that smart of entertaining. It's like the barely-competent are struggling to conquer the land of bland mediocrity, and that just doesn't make a good foundation for any kind of story telling. But, alas, that's what we have, so we just have to make the most of it, which in this case probably means "kindling". Well done, Jay, and keep at it folks: the pain is nearly at an end.

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.). Bzzzzzt!.

Dramatis Personae: In an order determined by the authors, frankly.

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. Almost certainly dead from a nuclear blast.

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

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. Fast draw, terrible shot. Died pointlessly in a nuclear detonation.

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. Died pointlessly in a nuclear detonation.

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 47: In which Noah becomes a double agent or... something.

Recommended Mood Music:

Page 280, Line Plumb:

No quote, but when we pick back up the technicians are preparing Noah to have the shit shocked out of him. This mostly involves strapping him down so that he doesn't thrash and putting a rubber hose between his teeth. This is, of course, completely inadequate as electroconvulsive therapy can cause such powerful muscular contractions that you break your own bones, even when strapped down. For just this reason the use of such therapy is almost always accompanied by powerful muscle relaxants. So, basically, these dudes have no idea what they're doing and, as a result, may cause grievous injury or death to Noah. Just another example of how Noah's dad apparently doesn't know how to hire competent underlings.

Page 280, Line 6-11:
Even in a clinical setting, electroconvulsive therapy was far more an art than a science; the results were never fully known until the procedure was finished. The goals were different here, but their main purpose was plain: to destroy any remaining will to resist or evade, so the truth would be the only thing he'd be capable of speaking.

Yeah, but torture doesn't actually do that. It loosens the tongue, yes, but does not in and of itself guarantee that the truth is what comes out. No matter how many times you claim to the contrary- no matter how often the authors assert that torture=truth serum- it does not magically become true. I should point out, however, that (a) the only modern use of electroconvulsive therapy (i.e. ECT) is for relieving severe, intractable depression and (b) it's notorious for causing (sometimes severe) memory loss. So, really, if you want to interrogate a guy, it's about the last method you should adopt. This is particularly true if you're attaching the electrodes, as was described last time (Page 279, Line 3-6), to either temple so that the current runs laterally from one hemisphere to the other. To minimize memory loss, you need to run the current through only a single hemisphere at a time, usually from anterior to posterior. So, again, what the hell?

Page 280, Line 12-13:
For a long while his father sat silently next to the metal table as the technicians administered the voltage with a jeweler's precision.

Yeah. So, ECT? Not really a subtle methodology. That sentence makes about as much sense as "...applied the sledgehammer with a ballerina's grace". It makes a certain kind of sense, but only in a blindingly incongruous way.

Page 280, Line 16-17:
His [Noah's] mind, once his greatest, if least used, asset, was no longer under his control.

I can agree with the "least used" part, but "greatest"? Really? If that's his greatest asset.. yeah. Buddy, it's a good thing you're rich, because without pretty or smart, rich is really your only advantage. I don't even know what to do with that "no longer under his control" bit, given that throughout this book he's been thinking with his groin rather than his brain. Seems to me the brain has been under the control of a foreign power pretty much the entire time we've known him.

Page 281, Line 3-8:
All his defenses had left him hours before. In this state if he'd had any information to reveal he would have gladly offered it, but they were now probing for something much deeper than mere intelligence. Each time he thought there was nothing left, they found another fragile layer of his soul to peel away. In the end, when all he could see was darkness, whatever was left of him finally gave in and tried to surrender.

So, basically, they're shredding his episodic memory- which is probably not the most useful interrogation technique of all time but, hey, whatever. If nothing else, it's utterly revolting to watch the authors try to make torture appear grim (which it is) while simultaneously defending it as effective (which it is not). In any case, Arthur starts talking again and asserts that the results of this entire process have been "inconclusive", which is apparently a word he hates.

Page 281, Line 16-20:
"While you've given us nothing that implicates you in the treachery of the preceding days, you've also said nothing to exonerate yourself to my side of the conflict. A true believer or a traitor to the cause, either one of those I could at least respect. But you're weak, aren't you? And fatally so."

Okay, first off, yes, Noah is immensely weak when it comes to humans with bouncy protrusions on their chests. More importantly, however... is it just me or is Arthur basically asking Noah to prove a negative? While under torture, no less? Crap. And you thought your philosophy tests were tough. Anyway, Arthur has the guys start shocking the shit out of Noah some more.

Page 281, Line 29-32:
"Noah, I last told you this when you were only a boy, so I doubt you'll remember." His father had taken his position at the side of the table. "It's a rhyme I made up for you, in answer to some childish question you'd posed. I think it fitting in our present situation."

Seriously? He's watching his only child being tortured and he's going to quote poetry? What. The. Fuck?

Page 282, Line 3-9:
"'There are men who are weak and few who are strong / There are men who are right and more who are wrong / But of all the men huddled in all the world's hives / There's but one thing that's true: It's the fit who'll survive.' "

"Noah, the meek will not inherit the earth. A faint heart is as great a weakness as a feeble mind. It pains me to say it, but I'm afraid we've reached a parting of the ways."

Just, wow. The authors just can't resist trying to take a last shot at evolution, can they? Never mind that altruism has apparently evolved.

Page 282, Line 19-25:
The idea of dying wasn't nearly as frightening as he would have thought it would be. But somewhere he also knew that this wasn't how it was supposed to end. Molly had taught him the importance of living to fight another day. She hadn't been captured, she hadn't been killed. A spirit like that doesn't die so easily. He had no facts whatsoever to assure him of this, but he knew it. Maybe it was a bit of that faith that she'd spoken of.

No, it's stupidity and ignorance, because as we we all know Molly is currently a crispy critter. I don't care how much spirit she has- spirit don't stop nuclear blast damage. Anyway, Arthur backs away and tells the techs to kill Noah and then craft a story that reflects well on his family. Right, Arthur Gardner is going to trust his family name to the creativity of the mook running the jumper cables. That's totally freaking plausible. Regardless, Noah has a brainstorm and starts quoting that Kipling poem at Arthur- you know, the one from a bunch of chapters ago (Pages 132-133, Lines 132: 24-30, 133: 1-11)? This has an... interesting effect.

Page 283, Line 19-27:
Arthur Gardner's usually dispassionate face, so long accustomed to the denial of emotion, could not contain his surprise. He resumed his seat next to the table and motioned the others from the room.

The old man leaned close and squeezed his son's hand. Noah smiled as best he could and let his father believe what he surely thought he was seeing. "I knew it was in there somewhere," Arthur Gardner said. "We had to strip all of the other nonsense away, but there it is, from the root of your being; the essence of what I've taught you. I knew you couldn't forget, though I must admit that you had me concerned."

Um... huh? I mean, what?

Page 284, Line 1-2:
"The answer is a new vision, my [Arthur's] vision, and together we can make it a reality." [emphasis original]

Um... sure, but just what exactly is your vision, crazy old dude? I mean, we know it has something to do with a plutocracy but, beyond that, what the hell exactly is it that you want to happen? You've had more dialogue than almost anyone in this idiotic book, and yet we still don't know what's going on!

Page 284, Line 3-5:
Noah realized something else then, another thing that Molly had taught him: When you lie for a living, you sometimes can't see the truth even when it's staring you right in the face.

Doubtless the authors mean for us to interpret this in light of Noah's conversion to Molly's wack-tacular political philosophy. He lies for a living and could never see the truth until she showed it to him. Honestly, however, I think this makes more sense in light of Noah's persistent delusion that Molly is attracted to him, even loves him, despite her consistently horrid treatment of him. Seriously, folks, sometimes the truth goddamn hurts. Though probably not as bad as having jumper cables attached to your genitals.

Page 284, Line 7-9:
It was a matter of pride with Arthur Gardner that his heir should be involved in the transformation that was coming. His son, then, would do his best to prove the adage that pride comes before the fall.

Oh, bloody wonderful. Noah's going to turn himself into some sort of moronic double-agent for the TEA party? Are we seriously going to have to put up with this dipshit in a sequel? Please, unnamed technician: throw that sucker all the way up to "char-broil" and give him the juice before it's too late.

Page 284, Line 13-17:
Noah felt himself fading, and he spoke again, but scarcely at a whisper. These words were meant for different ears, and wherever Molly was, he knew for certain she would hear them.

"We have it in our power," Noah said, "to begin the world over again."

Oh, god, just barf! The delusional halfwit is ending with some idiotic defiant line? Just when you think this book can't suck any more, somehow it does.

But, sucky or not, that's actually the end of the last chapter. So does this mean we're done? Fuck no! Because now we have a frigging Epilogue to deal with, followed by an afterword. But then, THEN, ladies and gentlemen, this shitstorm will finally end.

So come back next time when we get to discover what happens to Noah after his electrifying time with his dad. Don't get too excited, though: it's about as exciting as you'd expect.

See you then.



Blogger Ken Houghton said...

"But, sucky or not, that's actually the end of the last chapter."

Maybe there is a G-d...

"So does this mean we're done? Fuck no! Because now we have a frigging Epilogue to deal with, followed by an afterword."

Then again...

In the Epilogue, Noah, Molly, and their three children (Eli, Beverly, and Khaled) are standing at a train station, when Noah looks up and feels (for the first time since Khaled was conceived) his dick getting hard. He grabs Molly, points down the platform, and says, "That's her! It's the legendary Dagny Taggart!!"

At which point Molly pushes him onto the tracks just as the train comes in.

Soundtrack: The final verse of Steve Goodman's "You Never Even Called Me By My Name."

Friday, January 13, 2012 9:26:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

His [Noah's] mind, once his greatest, if least used, asset, was no longer under his control.

Oh, authors. The word you want isn't "mind" -- it's "penis."

There. I fixed it for you.

Friday, January 13, 2012 10:53:00 AM  
Anonymous Jay said...

The authors seem to have confused electroconvulsive therapy with fMRI- based virtual lesioning, which actually can, as I understand it, make it impossible to lie by temporarily disrupting part of the brain.

This raises the possibility that the book employs a postmodern, unreliable narrator. We already knew about the unreliable protagonist. If only we had an unreliable publisher, we could have been spared this train wreck.

Friday, January 13, 2012 3:21:00 PM  

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