A Mountain To Climb Chapter 14: Not All In A Minute

After Pearl’s miraculous recovery, the author turns her attention to the other main plot–Arthur and Pearl’s budding romance. Not one to let a little deathly illness interfere with his love for Pearl, Arthur comes to visit often.

Pearl wondered how Arthur got around the principal’s “puppy-love” rule, but she didn’t ask.

Allow me to posit a few theories:

  1. Pearl’s recent brush with death has made the principal a little lax where rule enforcement is concerned. This is understandable.
  2. As everyone knows, rules like this only apply to certain people. The faculty’s enforcement of rules about romance are absolutely enforced selectively. The rules are unlikely to be enforced as strictly when the student in question is popular, well liked, active in student organizations, and known for being particularly devout. Pearl, even before her accident, was all of the above. It’s plain to see that Arthur and Pearl had a bit of a romance going on even before Pearl’s horrid working conditions caught up with her, so even before this incident it is likely that this rule was already being selectively enforced where they were concerned. The principal was already turning a blind eye to Pearl and Arthur, and he sees every reason at this point to close his eyes completely.
  3. A little of both.

 

Or maybe the author thinks we’re supposed to think the hand of God is in it or something. I don’t know and I kind of don’t care.

Rosalind, Pearl’s dorm room mate, gives Pearl a book. We are told that Pearl is reading a lot, as there’s nothing else to do in the hospital.

Pearl’s friends kept her aware of what happened on the campus. The boys told of pillow fights they had had when the dean wasn’t around… “One night, we were in the middle of a good pillow fight. Several of the fellows were in our room and we were really pelting each other. Victor had just thrown a fast one, when the door opened. Vic’s pillow hit the dean on the side of the head. He [the dean] was a good sport, though, and gave Victor a hard one in return. We all stood with our mouths open.”

“Yeah,” Victor said, “I caught the pillow and just stood there. Then the dean started to laugh. He told us he’d had quite a bit of practice at that game too. Then he said it was study period, and we’d better get back to work.”

“That’s what I like about him,” Arthur said. “He never comes in and bawls us out. But we always want to do what he says.”

“He’s a good dean,” Charles agreed.

I can’t believe I’m going to say this: I agree too. That does sound like a good dean. It was well known, in academy, that a good dean knew the difference between “something people are doing that is horribly wrong and I must stop it at once,” and “something people are doing that is technically against the rules and I have to stop it, but this thing is really quite harmless.”

It sounds like this particular dean might have that, so, yay for him.

Victor turned toward the girls. “All the exciting things seem to happen in the boys’ dorm. Don’t you girls ever do anything interesting?”

I feel like this is something the author asked Pearl as Pearl was telling her this story, and Pearl was like, “ummm” and had to really think of something.

“We have plenty of excitement all right,” Florence said. “The first time we had canned juice for Sabbath breakfast we saved the cans, and that night about a half an hour after lights-out, a group of us tiptoed down the end of the passageway, and at a signal, all of us rolled our cans down the hall. They really made a terrible clatter.”

I would like to take a moment to remind everybody that these are college students. This sounds more like something you’d hear about Academy students doing. (Except that Academy students don’t do this. We do strip poker instead.)

Also, I really don’t understand this prank. They rolled their cans down the hall and it was loud? Exciting? Fun?

For the record, nobody in our Academy dorm ever rolled cans down the hallway. I’m sure pillow fights were a thing, but I was never invited. I was also never invited to those strip poker parties either, but we’re getting off the subject.

One Sabbath afternoon before the regular visiting hour, Pearl was surprised to hear a knock at her door, and more surprised when Arthur entered…..After a few moments of small talk, Arthur took a deep breath and blurted out, “Pearl, I love you!”

He’s….never said this before? They’ve never talked about it? This is a big deal? Okay whatever.

Arthur explained that he had prayed for a long time for God to direct him to the right girl, the one he should marry.

All Adventist children are taught to pray like this from the minute they express interest in the opposite sex. I know people who prayed this prayer every day.  I never particularly prayed like this…instead I prayed things like “please let this horrid lecture on boys be over so I can go ride horses, Amen.”

“Thank you, Arthur, for your interest in me. But you know you can’t marry me. You’re going to be a worker for God, and you certainly can’t have an invalid wife on your hands.”

I get that this was probably the way they thought back then….but it doesn’t make it right. Who says one can’t work for God with “an invalid wife?”

“Pearl,” Arthur said earnestly, “I know you’ll get better. I’m sure you won’t be an invalid for life. You’ll walk again.”

I wonder if the author is aware of how this makes Arthur sound. He doesn’t say something like, “I don’t care if you’re disabled or not. I want you.” Instead he says, “I’m sure you’re not going to be chronically disabled your whole life.”

Ok, but, what if she is? Are you going to divorce her and say, “Sorry Pearl, I only married you because I thought God was going to heal you?”

“Bur Arthur, the doctor told me just this week that I’d never walk again without crutches. Can you imagine me walking down the aisle to the marriage altar on crutches?” Pearl said, giggling.

Your doctor also said your heart stopped beating despite the fact that you were still breathing. At this point, I would be extremely suspicious of anything those idiot “doctors” have to say to you.

“It makes no difference to me how you walk down the aisle. I want you to be my wife.”

YES. Thank you. THIS is the appropriate response. If the author had edited out Arthur’s earlier statement, this would come across as sweet. Instead it just comes across as damage control.

“I’ve been praying about this for a long time,” he said seriously. “I’m convinced that we are meant for each other.”

A pastor once preached, in a sermon, that sometimes God tells the man who he is supposed to marry before he tells the woman. He said that sometimes the man has to do a lot of convincing before the woman prays about it and realizes that yes, she and this guy who’s been stalking her are meant for each other. Praise the lord.

“Please, not so fast.” Pearl put up her hand. “I’ll have to do some praying about this too. Let’s not rush things. Besides, I have college to finish first.” She felt almost suffocated from the pressure of his words. She wanted some time to think, to pray about the situation.

You know what? Good for her. One of my readers noticed that Pearl has been pressured a lot in this book: her mother pressured her to leave a good job at Maracaibo, the Adventists who converted her pressured her to give up dancing, her pastor pressured her to leave another good job and go to College where she worked a shitty job in dangerous conditions, and now Arthur is pressuring her to get married. It’s about damn time Pearl dug in her heals and, while she hasn’t said no, she at least has said, “slow down.”

Good for you, honey.

“Well, I have one more year myself, but it certainly won’t hurt to plan.”

Dick. What about her college? Pearl is probably way behind in her schoolwork from being sick for so long.  Arthur here is also already assuming that Pearl has said yes. And she hasn’t. She hasn’t said “no,” but she has said, “slow down.” And Arthur takes this to mean, “ok, we’ll get married in a year.”

Pearl protests.

“I can’t make my mind up all in a minute. Besides, mother would never approve.”

Just then there’s a knock at the door, and Pearl is relieved to see Arthur go.

All through the afternoon Pearl only half listened to the students’ chatter, her thoughts being on Arthur’s declaration of love. Her heart wished it could be possible, but her mind knew it wasn’t…. she thought of her mother. “Poor dear,  she’s so afraid she’ll lose me to some young man. I know she’s lonely and needs me. But all these months I’ve been in the hospital she’s gotten along all right.”

Are we seriously hearing that the only reason Pearl is still single is because her mother is afraid she’ll lose her? Is this supposed to make us like Pearl’s mother?

Pearl argued back and forth in her mind, trying to deal with this new mountain Arthur had brought.

See? No need to pray for mountains. They will come naturally. Especially if you’re going to just randomly decide “this thing is a mountain.”

Will Pearl choose Arthur, or school? We’ll find out in the next 3 chapters. After this post, there are only 3 more chapters and an epilogue to go. The interesting part is over, but there’s still plenty of awful to get through.

 

 

The Shack Chapter 2

Chapter 2

The Gathering Dark

Sometime during the night an unexpected chinook blew through the valley, freeing the landscape fro the storm’s icy grip, except for those things that lay hidden in the deepest shadows.

Dear potential authors. When using slang, please be sensitive to the fact that some terms have more than one meaning. I was caught very off guard. According to the dictionary this term is correctly used, but still.

Nan and the kids come home, and Nan fusses over Mack’s injury, which pleases Mack greatly. Mack doesn’t tell Nan about the note.  On the one hand, if he still feels it’s a sick joke played by the neighbor kid, this makes sense. But we are supposed to get the impression that the note is from God (the mailman didn’t put it there, after all, and who else would have?). With that context, it makes no sense not to tell Nan about it.

Furthermore, this Great Sadness is Nan’s as well as Mack’s. So why is God only reaching out to Mack? Shoot, it sounds like he should reach out to Kate. Or smack Mack and Nan upside the head and tell them to see a therapist.

After some paragraphs about The Great Sadness, we are finally told exactly what The Great Sadness is. This reads like it is supposed to be a flashback, and props to the author for trying…. but it’s too long to just be a flashback. This is an infodump. It makes me wonder if there was a draft of this book where the explanation was 3 chapters and 5 paragraphs shorter.

The story of Missy’s disappearance is, unfortunately, not unlike others often told. It all happened during labor day weekend….Mack boldly decided to take the 3 younger children on a camping trip to Wallowa Lake in northeastern Oregon.

This reads like the start of a short explanation. It does not read like the start of a flashback wherein we are going to see things happening. So it’s jolting as a reader when the narrative switches courses a paragraph or two later.

At one point in the confusion, Mack decided he needed a break and settled himself in his daddy chair after shooing off Judas, the family cat. He was about to turn on the tube when Missy came running in, holding her little Plexiglas box.

“Can I take my insect collection camping with us?” Asked Missy.

“You want to take your bugs along?” Grunted Mack, not paying her much mind.

Nan comes in and tells Missy that her insect collection will be much safer if left at home. Mack intends to free the bugs, you see.

“Grrrrr” growled Missy, but knowing the battle was lost, she picked up her box and left.

Finally, after everything is packed and ready, we are told about Nan giving the kids a lecture on not getting lost, not petting skunks, and remembering to brush their teeth. This would be a good bit of character development for Nan–if she were shown saying it. We are merely told she said it.

After some travel exposition (never my favorite part of the story), we are told that Mack and the children stop off at Multnomah falls. Mack buys Missy a coloring book and crayons, and disposable cameras for the two older children. Ha. Ha. Disposable cameras. Are they still around?

While there, Missy begs her daddy to tell her the story of the Multnomah princess. I looked it up, and this appears to be a real legend.

Here’s a summary: lots of Indians get sick. An old medicine man tells them that, in order to stop the sickness, a pure and innocent daughter of the chief had to sacrifice herself. The elders eventually decide they can’t bring themselves to ask someone to do it, especially as they are not 100% sure that this will please the Great Spirit.

When the chief’s daughter’s fiance falls ill, the daughter goes to the cliff and throws herself off. This pleases the Great Spirit, who heals all the people.

Her grief stricken father cried out to the Great Spirit, asking that her sacrifice would always be remembered. At that moment, water began to fall from the place where she had leaped, turning into a fine mist that fell at their feet, slowly forming a beautiful pool.

This sounds like the type of story one would tell in answer to the question “why is there a waterfall here?”

We are told that Missy really likes this story, and Mack loves it as well, because there are obvious parallels to Jesus.

But on this occasion Missy didn’t say a word when the story was finished. Instead, she immediately turned and headed for the van as if to say, “Okay, I am done here. Let’s get going.”

Foreshadow, CLUNK!

Mack drives the kids to Wallowa Lake, and they camp, and eat dinner, and watch the sunset. When Mack tucks the kids into bed, Missy asks her father why the princess had to die. It takes Mack a moment to realize what she’s talking about, then says,

“Honey, she didn’t have to die. She chose to die to save her people. They were very sick and she wanted them to be healed.”

I disagree with this. The Multnomah Princess did have to die. If she hadn’t chosen to sacrifice herself, she would have gotten the disease and died anyway.

But set that aside. This sort of thing is known as a Hobson’s Choice.

From Miriam-Wbester online:

Definition of Hobson’s choice

  1. 1 :  an apparently free choice when there is no real alternative

  2. 2 :  the necessity of accepting one of two or more equally objectionable alternatives

In other words, a Hobson’s Choice is a situation where you do not have a choice. If I put a gun to someone’s head and tell them to do something, that person is said not to have a choice. Replace “gun” with “sickness” and you begin to see what I mean.

Kate, Missy’s big sister, overhears the conversation and asks the next obvious question: Is this a true story?

Mack says he doesn’t know, but he thinks that the story was created to teach a lesson. He says that sometimes legends spring from real stories.

Kate then asks, if the story of the Multnomah Princess might not be true, does that mean the Jesus story is also a myth? Actually I can’t tell if it’s Kate or Missy who asks this. It doesn’t matter.

Mack says that of course the Jesus story isn’t a myth. In fact, as he speaks, he decides that the “Indian Princess” story is also true. Which makes no sense. Just because the Jesus myth isn’t a myth (according to your beliefs) doesn’t mean the Indian Princess story also isn’t a myth. In fact, it does read like myth to me, in part because it is so similar to a lot of stories about self sacrifice.

Missy asks if “Great Spirit” is the same as God. When I was a Christian, I wondered about this myself. I thought that perhaps the Indians did know of God, but they called him “Great Spirit.”  I personally had no issue with the fact that God perhaps revealed himself to the Native Americans just as he revealed himself to the ancient Israelites. I thought white missionaries to the Native Americans were, quite frankly, wasting their time.

Mack agrees with Christian!Abby, that “Great Spirit” is just another name for God. Atheist Abby is pretty sure she disagrees with this. Atheist Abby is quite sure that the Indians, like the ancient Israelites and modern Americans, created their own gods in their own ways.

Then Missy asks the question that everyone asks themselves at one point: Why is God so mean?

“The Great Spirit makes the princess jump off the cliff and makes Jesus die on a cross. That seems pretty mean to me.”

I don’t actually disagree with this, with one glaring exception: Jesus died knowing he would be resurrected. The princess did not get resurrected. Huge difference, and I might not expect a 6 year old to notice this, but I would expect Mack to notice.

Mack was struck. He wasn’t sure how to answer. At 6 1/2 years old, Missy was asking questions that wise people had wrestled with for centuries.

Yes, and some of these wise men even started asking them when they were 6. I was not one of them, but I know of people who were. Some people start questioning these things quite young. Some don’t.

Mack tells his daughter that God didn’t make Jesus die, Jesus chose to, just like the princess did. I will admit that there was less of a gun to Jesus’ head, because of that whole resurrection thing. The 6 year old in our story doesn’t pick up on this difference, and I don’t know enough 6 year olds in real life to know if this is something they would pick up on.

Then we get yet another clunky bit of foreshadowing.

“Daddy?”

“Yes Honey?”

“Will I ever have to jump off a cliff?”

Clunky foreshadowing aside, this is actually pretty realistic.

To his credit, Mack is horrified at the thought that this has been on his daughter’s mind. He quickly reassures her that neither he nor God would ever ask her to jump off a cliff. Which makes the events of the next chapter all the more horrifying: did God ask her to, um, die? Because that’s fucked up.

Mack kisses Missy and Kate and goes to bed. Kate talks about what good questions Missy asks, and Mack goes to brew some coffee. At night, before he goes to bed. Am I the only one who thinks that’s weird?

Next week, we will still be in “info dump mode,” even though it’s chapter 3.

Despite the quality of the writing, so far this hasn’t been altogether that bad. Yes there’s some cultural appropriation going on, no real sense of pacing, the plot is moving slowly, and the main character tries to justify some of God’s more horrific actions. But other than that, this book isn’t actually too bad.

I mean, I’ve definitely read worse.

Wacky White Wednesday #15: Moderate Drinking The School of Satan

We’ll talk in a later post about the Adventist stance on drinking and how I have personally found it harmful. For now, here is a quote from Ellen White about how even moderate drinking makes you a drunk.

Please note that Ellen White considers alcohol a stimulant for some reason. I have no idea why, because everyone knows that alcohol is the opposite thereof. Maybe it was an 1800s thing?

Christian Temperance and Bible Hygiene p. 33 Paragraph 1

Moderate drinking is the school in which men are receiving an education for the drunkard’s career. So gradually does Satan lead away from the strongholds of temperance, so insidiously do wine and cider exert their influence upon the taste, that the highway to drunkenness is entered upon all unsuspectingly.

The taste for stimulants is cultivated; the nervous system is disordered; Satan keeps the mind in a fever of unrest; and the poor victim, imagining himself perfectly secure, goes on and on, until every barrier is broken down, every principle sacrificed. The strongest resolutions are undermined, and eternal interests are too weak to keep the debased appetite under the control of reason.

Some are never really drunk, but are always under the influence of mild intoxicants. They are feverish, unstable in mind, not really delirious, but as truly unbalanced; for the nobler powers of the mind are perverted.

Easter–Adventist Style

April 16, 2017

Easter Sunday

 

Easter wasn’t really a big deal in my family growing up. Part of this was because I grew up Adventist. Easter is always on a Sunday, and Adventists go to church only on Saturday.  So there was no big “Easter Service”  at church (though occasionally pastors would preach a sermon about the resurrection on the Saturday immediately before Easter Sunday.)

However, some years my mom would take me to a family gathering at my grandma’s house, where my cousins and I would have an Easter egg hunt and a big meal afterward. I got lots of candy, and even some money. (Sometimes the eggs we found had coins in them instead of candy.) The majority of my mom’s family isn’t Adventist, so this big family event was secular in nature, save for the prayer Grandma always had before meals.

It may sound strange to my readers, but I actually managed to make it to my early teens before I found out Easter had to do with anything religious. When I was a little child, Easter had more to do with bunnies and eggs than Jesus and the resurrection. In fact, I think I discovered the Christian meaning of Easter when I read some feel good story on the internet!

Why didn’t I know that Easter had to do with the resurrection? I’m not sure. Maybe I just never gave it much thought. Maybe I never made the connection that hey, we study the story of Jesus’ resurrection in Sabbath School right about the time we do that big family Easter egg hunt.

 

Like a lot of Adventists, my parents taught me that the Easter Bunny, like Santa Claus, wasn’t real. They told me that this was because they didn’t want to get in the habit of lying to me, but also, they realized that if they told me that Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny were real, I would find out the truth eventually anyway, and then what? Would I put Jesus in the same category as Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, deciding that if my parents had lied to me about the existence of one then they had also lied to me about the existence of the other? They shuddered in horror at the thought.

So they told that it was actually Daddy that went outside and hid the eggs, but that he was pretending to be the Easter Bunny. Playing pretend was fun, wasn’t it? (My dad never actually wore a rabbit suit, for the record.)

My family was ok with me playing pretend, as long as I knew it was pretend.

So yeah, I don’t really have a whole lot to say about Easter as an Adventist.

How about the rest of you?

A Mountain To Climb Chapter 13: Down the Other Side

We last left off with Arthur visiting Pearl, telling her what happened at the school during the pray-a-thon. The teachers from the college are sure at this point that God is going to heal Pearl, but nobody seems to be doing anything for her. We still have not gotten a satisfactory explanation for why they are taking the “wait around and see” approach when Pearl’s very life is in danger.

The chapter opens with Pearl telling the nurse she slept really well last night.

When the doctor stopped by later that morning, he was surprised at the change in his patient. Her pulse and respiration checked normal.

“You’re the strangest patient I’ve ever had,” he said. “I think you were scared yesterday.”

Well no shit. Of course she was scared. It turns out that fear could slow down Pearl’s heart rate if she’d been anxious before and then suddenly calmed down. This would not last long, and it would be consistent with a “nonexistant” weak pulse for ten minutes. Combined with the drugs that we are told made Pearl sleepy, it’s a semi-plausible explanation. It still doesn’t explain why the doctor suddenly didn’t want to operate the minute her pulse got detectable.

The doctor takes off the bandages on Pearl’s leg to have a look at it.

The pain shot through her leg and she screamed as she always did. but when the tar was finally off, he exclaimed in surprise.

“Not a sign of gangrene,” the doctor shook his head. “My girl, you’re a living miracle.

Ummm what?

First off, let’s address the terms he’s using. The doctor is using the term “gangrene” as though it is synonymous with “blood poisoning.” Are they the same thing? Would they have been considered synonyms in 1930s Trinidad? I’m not sure about that last one, but a cursory reading of the always reliable Wikipedia would suggest that they are a little different. Does Pearl have blood poisoning (referred to in medical terms as “sepsis”) or does she have gangrene?

I feel like this is an important distinction, because one is possibly treated quite differently than the other.

Can either sepsis or gangrene suddenly reverse course like that? It would appear that the odds of this happening are extremely low. However, we haven’t really gotten an actual diagnosis. The doctor keeps throwing out words like, “pneumonia,” “blood poisoning,” and “gangrene” like they are all interchangeable, and they’re really not.

So, what exactly is going on here? Did the doctor just not have a concrete diagnosis for Pearl? Did they surgeries she’s had to remove infected tissue all of a sudden start working? Did they finally try some new drug?

There are just so many details of this case that are unknown. If a doctor from the 21st century were to pour over the medical records, examine the technology being used at the time, and then tell me this is still a miracle, I’d take it with a grain of salt, but I’d be more inclined to believe it. For now, I don’t think we have sufficient evidence to say one way or another whether or not any of this is miraculous.

The doctor says that all they need to do now is “Fatten Pearl up and send her back to school.”

But it was not just fattening up that was necessary. Pearl’s whole system needed strengthening. he ordered a diet of eggs, grape juice, liver, milk, and bemax cereal (similar to wheat germ), in addition to fruits and vegetables.

In the Bible, nearly all of the people Jesus healed (with maybe one or 2 notable exceptions) were healed 100% fully as soon as Jesus spoke the words. People who hadn’t walked in years (or who were cripples for life) would suddenly get up, start walking and jumping around, etc. Now, I do not believe the events of the Bible actually happened, BUT if they had all happened in that way, why is Pearl singled out to be different? If God had truly healed her, why can’t she just get up and walk right now? Why is he taking so long?

Because the Bible and this book both fall into the “not really scientific” category, we’ll move on.

In this chapter we are introduced to Nurse Bitch, who first gets mad at Pearl for not eating all her food. Pearl says she’s too full to eat, and the nurse bitches her out for a bit because the doctor said Pearl has to eat all her food. Well then maybe the doctor shouldn’t have given her so much of it, because anyone who knows anything knows that people who haven’t eaten in a while can’t eat a lot of food.

In reality, I wonder if Nurse Bitch was actually less….well, bitchy. Maybe Pearl didn’t eat as much of her food as the doctor hoped, and they had a minor argument. Maybe this is made to look wore than it actually was because creative license.

At least, that is what I would think, if I hadn’t met some pretty bitchy nurses myself. Well ok, only one bitchy nurse…. who was a home caregiver…who I am silghtly related to…you know what, let’s just move on.

After a month Pearl was taken to the X-ray department. The pictures showed that the bones in her legs were beginning to heal.

Serious question: why wasn’t this checked out much sooner? Like, the minute the “gangrene” or “blood poisoning” or whatever it was showed signs of clearing up?

When the doctor goes to change the dressing later, the head nurse carries in a diaper.  Pearl doesn’t think anything of it until she starts screaming –the dressing is still very painful for her–and Nurse Bitch shoves the diaper into her mouth. (At this point, I’m guessing that this would be something very different from what *I* think of when I hear the word “diaper.”)

The doctor tells the nurse to take it out of her mouth, but Nurse Bitch refuses, because Pearl’s screams are disturbing the other patients.

Which…. I don’t like to admit it, but that is a fair point. People don’t heal well when they’re stressed, and hearing another patient screaming at the top of her lungs every few hours would probably be very stressful.

I’ve already talked about how the tar doesn’t seem to have any medicinal value, that it is only there to “reduce stench.” It is causing Pearl a lot of pain, and doesn’t seem to have any useful purpose for Pearl. If I were the doctor, I would’ve stopped using it quite some time ago. Otherwise, maybe the nurse could have a conversation with Pearl about how to handle the pain. Maybe ask if she wants a cloth in her mouth to bite on?

So, my main question is why isn’t this bitch fired? Well, apparently she’s been hired by the church to oversee the young nurses.

What church? The Catholic church? The lady at the desk was Catholic. Is the doctor? We aren’t told, and this seems like a glaring omission, especially in an Adventist book. Could you not send a letter to The Holy  Church of Whatever saying she’s not performing well? I mean, really.

“Don’t worry. She really is good on the inside.”

Small comfort to Pearl, I’m sure.

Afterward, Pearl lays in her bed and thinks.

“What could all this sickness and trouble mean, anyway? God really did send me a big mountain, much bigger than I ever dreamed possible. Life certainly has not been humdrum these last few months! And God has come  closer than ever before. I know this is going to pass away. It’s taking a long time, but I’ve passed the summit, and now I’m going down the other side. Dear God, thank You.”

Back when I was a Christian, I would have understood thinking like this. Now, however, I think this passage is disturbing in its implications.

First, it kinda blames Pearl for her own illness. She prayed for a mountain, and God gave it to her. It’s victim blaming, which alone makes me extremely uncomfortable. It also seems like it’s trying to excuse the real cause of Pearl’s issues: Lack of safety in the workplace.

Life has not been humdrum for Pearl in months, I will admit that that is true. However, what about after she gets better? Is life going to return to humdrum? Will she have to keep praying for another mountain, and then another? Pearl was happy with her life before, why can’t God just let her have a happy and enjoyable life?

It also makes God seem like kind of a douche. Like he wasn’t going to draw near to her unless she prayed for and got her mountain.

Can I explain what happened to Pearl? No. I am not a doctor, and I do not have access to all the details. The only people who did are probably dead by now. What little detail we do have is probably minimal, because this story happened in 1938 and got published in 1976. Between then, I imagine this story has been told multiple times. Human memory is extremely faulty. A lot of little details probably crept in that weren’t there before, and I don’t think that’s a result of anybody trying to lie to us. I honestly think that, at some point, Pearl and Arthur probably re-wrote their own memories of this event without even realizing that they were doing so. Read up about memory tampering, it’s quite fascinating.

What I do know is this: sometimes things don’t appear to have a scientific explanation. Does that mean that they do not, that the only option we can then turn to is something supernatural? I don’t believe so. I believe that, given enough time and barring a world wide catastrophe that destroys all scientific knowledge, science will eventually be able to explain everything.

Up next: Will Arthur be able to court Pearl? Will Pearl heal fully? I actually don’t care, the interesting part of this is over. The book could have ended here and not been any worse off. We also could have cut out the developing relationship with Arthur and Pearl, not because I’m against them having a romance, but because it’s kind of not central to the main plot, which is this mountain Pearl is climbing. But we need to pad out the length of the book, so screw any kind of central plot idea.

 

The Shack Chapter 1

Chapter 1

A Confluence of Paths

This chapter is slightly better than the introduction. The author is still rambly in places and goes on for longer than he needs to, but he’s not nearly as rambly as “Willie” was.

We start off with an ice storm. Mack, the protagonist, is working out of his home office because of this. The author goes on for a while (3 long paragraphs) about how great ice storms are:

There is something joyful about storms that interrupt routine. Snow or freezing rain suddenly releases you from appointments and schedules….There will be no apologies needed for not showing up to some commitment or other.

I have no doubt this is true for some people, but this reads to me like privilege talking. If I do not show up for work, I will be fired. I am not allowed to call in sick, and I am certainly not allowed to call in for weather. If I’m lucky I might get a boss who understands, but if not, I am expected to come into work or die trying.

There’s then another long paragraph about how, when the weather is rough, even simple chores can feel like huge accomplishments. This reads very real to me. What also reads very real to me is the fact that, even in an ice storm, the US postal service will still be delivering the mail. This is why our protagonist is ice skating his way down the driveway, which we are told is a hundred or so yards long. Like, dude, is there a reason you have to check the mail today? Maybe don’t go to the mailbox at all until you can salt your driveway? You just– Oh never mind.

It took almost a minute to knock off the ice that had already sealed shut the door of the mailbox.

If he has to break the ice to open the mailbox, I’d  guess that the mailman hasn’t come by yet.

The reward for his efforts was a single envelope with only his first name typewritten on the outside; no stamp, no postmark, and no return address.

So, some dumbass has forgotten that it’s a federal offense to go around sticking things in people’s mailboxes?

Curious, he tore off the envelope….turning his back to the breath-snatching wind, he finally coaxed the single small rectangle of unfolded paper out of its nest. The typewritten message simply said:

Mackenzie,

It’s been a while. I’ve missed you.

I’ll be at the shack next weekend if you want to get together.

-Papa

It’s here that, if I were the author, I would pause and go to my first flashback. We’d have several of these interspersed throughout the story, rather than getting an infodump in the next 3 chapters. This would actually deepen the mystery–what does a camping trip have to do with a Shack? Who exactly is “Papa?” Why is it all relevant?

Mack stiffened as a wave of nausea rolled over him and then just as quickly mutated into anger.

Credit where credit is due, this is good. This works.

He purposely thought about the shack as little as possible, and even when he did, his thoughts were neither kind or nor good. If this was someone’s idea of a bad joke, he had truly outdone himself. and to sign it “Papa” just made it all the more horrifying.

This is…. a little clunky. I would have said something like, “he shuddered at the very thought.” But it gets the message across without taking up 3 paragraphs, so we’ll let it slide.

Mack angrily stuffed the envelope and note into his coat pocket and turned to start the slide back in the general direction of the house.

Good. This is showing Mack’s reaction to the note.

Mack is angry at the mailman, thinking that he’s an idiot to deliver an envelope that wasn’t stamped. It never once occurs to Mack, until he calls the post office, that someone besides the mailman could have put it in there. Yes, doing so is a federal offense, but it happens.

Mack almost makes it back to the house, but then he slips on the ice, almost crashes into a tree, and slams the back of his head onto the icy gravel.

It takes two long paragraphs to describe this. This is the point in which I suspect that this chapter is mostly filler. Don’t get me wrong, the events in this chapter are important, but it could have been a much stronger novel if this was either a shorter chapter, or some of the stuff in the coming infodumps was placed here as a flashback.

Remember, as a Christian, I wanted to like this story. Even though I am no longer a Christian, I still want to like this story. The idea still speaks to me.

In any case, when Mack hits his head, he blacks out for a few seconds. This is, again, a realistic detail. Despite what movies lead you to think, when one sustains a head injury, one is not usually unconscious for more than a few seconds, maybe a minute. When Mack comes to, he realizes he should get up and get back to the house before he becomes a Mackenzie Popsicle.* He discovers that his head wound is bleeding and he can feel a lump starting to form.

Once inside the house, Mack bandages himself as best he can, then takes some painkillers that we are assured are “over the counter.” Can’t have the readers thinking Mack takes any narcotics, I guess.

Instead of calling the doctor and asking if he thinks he has a serious problem, Mack calls the post office. He’s still mad at the postman for delivering the note, and while I understand the anger, I kind of want to smack him for not realizing that the postman would not have put it there. Like Mack says, there’s no stamp. Postal workers don’t deliver your shit for free.

Mack talks with Annie, who knows him by name, because apparently this is a small town. I like this bit because this shows that it’s a small town rather than taking 4 long paragraphs to tell us about it.

Annie tells him that mailman, Tony, hasn’t even gotten to Mack’s house yet because of the weather, and that it’s likely he won’t be able to get there at all.

“Whaddya want me to tell him if he gets back alive?”

“Actually, you already answered my question.”

No, she didn’t. Your question was, “who the hell put this in my mailbox?” Because sticking things in people’s mailboxes is a federal offense, Mack has every right to tell the post office about this and ask them (or the police) to investigate. Though probably not before the ice storm ends.

There was a pause on the other end. “Actually, I don’t remember you askin’ a question. What’s wrong with you Mack? Still smoking too much dope or do you just do that on Sunday mornings to make it through the church service?

Sigh. This is not how real people talk. Well, it might be how a real person actually talked–if she knew for a fact that Mack either has or used to have an addiction.

Mack is quick to assure Annie–and the audience–that Mack has not only never smoked dope, he never wants to. So this bit of text feels clunky and unnecessary.

We are then given a paragraph about how Annie makes up stories and then spreads things around town. It could be a nice little bit of character development–if we ever see Annie again. As it is, it feels like this part of the conversation could be cut out and the novel would not be affected in any way.

Mack hangs up the phone, trying to ignore his pounding head. We are told that the painkillers haven’t kicked in yet, but have started to take the edge off of Mack’s anxiety. If that is the case, then he is not taking over the counter painkillers, because OTC painkillers don’t have any affect on one’s mental state.

Mack rests his head on the desk for bit and ends up taking a long nap. I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on tv: is this a bad sign? If someone goes to sleep so soon and suddenly after a head injury, is that a good, bad, or neutral thing?

Mack wakes up to the telephone ringing. It’s his wife, telling him it’s too icy to try and drive home, and that she and the kids are going to spend the night at her sister’s house.

Mack doesn’t tell Annie about the note he found in the mailbox, even though Annie asks him how on earth they had mail if the mailman wasn’t able to make it up to the house. Mack dodges the question, and asks how Kate is doing.

“Mack, I wish I knew,” [Nanette replied] “She is just like talking to a rock, and no matter what I do I can’t get through. When we’re around family she seems to come out of her shell some, but then she disappears again. I just don’t know what to do. I’ve been praying and praying that Papa would help us find a way to reach her but it feels like he’s not listening.”

I’m going to spoil this right now because I think it’s kind of obvious: Kate’s sister, Missy, died. That is the source of Mack’s, “The Great Sadness(tm),” and it seems to me to be causing Kate a great deal of worry, too. Have these parents tried taking her to a therapist? Kate probably has all kinds of feelings about her sister’s death, and she may not feel comfortable talking to her parents.

In case we didn’t pick up on the fact, we are outright told that “Papa” is how Nanette refers to God. Authors, trust your readers. We do not need everything spelled out for us.

Instead of suggesting some kind of therapy for Kate, Mack tells Nan that God knows what he is doing, and it will all work out. But it’s clear that not even Mack believes what he’s saying.

Nan tells Mack where the emergency candles are, and to be careful with that head injury.

Mack eats dinner, clutches a picture of Missy to his chest, and then falls asleep in front of the TV. We are told which TV show and why and what the TV show is about. It takes a good 2 paragraphs. If it only took 2 lines, I would think it a nice bit of character development. As it is, I find myself skimming.

 

Next chapter we begin to get into some of the backstory, and I have a lot to say about that.

 

*(He didn’t say “Mackenzie Popsicle,” I added that.)

 

 

Wacky White Wednesday #14 Spicy Food

I do not believe this is the only quotation I will have about this topic, but it is one of the first. I do encourage you to look up the context and see that she is, indeed, talking about spicy food.

 

Christian Temperance and Bible Hygiene P. 46

Spices at first irritate the tender coating of the stomach, but finally destroy the natural sensitiveness of this delicate membrane. The blood becomes fevered, the animal propensities are aroused, while the moral and intellectual powers are weakened, and become servants to the baser passions. The mother should study to set a simple yet nutritious diet before her family.

For what it’s worth, my parents didn’t really follow this. The reason I can’t tolerate spicy food is because it fills my mouth with nothing but pain. I can not even taste spicy food, because it just hurts so bad. I do not know why this is the case. My body’s just weird I guess.