One of the ways I think this book really suffers is that it breaks rule #5 of Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 tips on writing.
Start as close to the end as possible.
I know that not everyone agrees on what is good writing, and not everyone will agree with these 8 writing tips. However, I think this one stands, and I think that is especially true with this particular book. This particular book does not start as close to the end as possible. This book goes all the way back to the beginning. A lot of SDA stories begin this way. For wahtever reason, it is often deemed necessary to include the part of the story where the person came to Jesus and was converted to Adventism. Adventist books (and bad book in general) often think that the best place to include backstory is in the beginning of the novel, most often in an infodump.
There is no reason why this particular book could not have started in chapter 3 when Pearl goes to school. The backstory could be worked in somehow in a way that doesn’t detract from the overall story and plot. Pearl could have been shown making friends with one of the girls, and say, “before I converted, a doctor had me drinking blood!” At which point the girls hearing this story could shudder in unison.
And frankly, the conversion did not need to be worked in at all. Pearl is going to an Adventist college, nervous about being back in school after so long and nervous about fitting into the SDA community. We don’t need an entire chapter explaining why.
This chapter could be summarized into like, a paragraph in chapter 3, and chapter 3 could become chapter 1. Chapter 1 is also not needed.
That is the number 1 reason this chapter does not work.
We’ll get to other reasons.
The chapter starts out with Pearl and her mother still on the boat, talking.
“You know, Mother, I haven’t had any blood since the day we decided to leave Maracaibo,” Pearl said, “and I don’t feel much worse off.”
Well, yeah. No surprises there. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if drinking blood was actually making Pearl more sick.
By the way, that anemia that was talked about so much in the last chapter? The cliffhanger we ended with last week about whether or not Pearl will be healed? Never again mentioned. So, is she healed, or not? We are told she feels better now that she’s no longer drinking blood, and that the fresh air on the voyage did her good…. but we never see this particular bit of healing. I think it gets mentioned in an offhand way in the next chapter, but for a thing that was such a big deal in the first chapter, the fact that it is not mentioned in this one is disappointing.
Pearl and her mother talk a bit about Barbados. Pearl was only 13 when she left, and she wonders if any of her old friends were still around. Pearl’s mother reassures her, and they continue watching the sunset.
This conversation feels very natural to me. It works.
Finally, the boat lands at Barbados, and we are told that Pearl and her mother soon move into their old house.
Pearl found the first few weeks on Barbados rather exciting, but she soon realized that she had nothing in common with her old friends. The interests they had shared in their early teens were quite different from those they had now, and she and her friends soon drifted apart. Life grew dull.
This, mind you, is pre-conversion. I would expect this to happen post conversion. It is interesting that that is not the case.
I mean, I can kinda see it. Even without the religious aspect, there were very few people from high school I care to talk to ever again. You drift apart, it happens.
What I find questionable is that Pearl and her mother don’t also find new friends. I mean, how big is Barbados? Surely if Pearl doesn’t fit in with her old crew, she can find a new one?
Pearl and her mother have just moved to… not exactly a new country for them, but new enough. They’ve moved to a new place where they don’t really have the network they once did. They’re lonely, they’re bored, and they’re emotionally vulnerable.
Naturally, this is when they get involved with the Adventist church.
Mrs. Lindsay shows Pearl a brochure for a series of meetings. They decide to go, because it would get them out of the house and give them something to do.
Anyone familiar with Adventism knows exactly what kind of meetings these are. These are what are known as “Revelation seminars” or “evangelistic series.”
Revelation seminars/evangelistic series/whatever they’re calling them nowadays are a series of meetings that can last… a long time. It might be one night a week for many weeks, or it might be one meeting a night for 2 or 3 weeks. Each night, there is a sermon on one of the fundamental beliefs. Adventists will start out with basic Christian stuff that everyone largely agrees on: authority of scripture, the gospel message, the fact that Jesus is coming again. And then they will gradually move on to the more crazier topics. They eventually end up talking about how Ellen White was a prophet, and that the pope is the anti-Christ, and then they’ll eventually move on to End Times bullshit.
These seminars usually end in baptisms, which is the goal. Of course, for quite some time now Revelation seminars haven’t been able to gradually introduce the crazy. Thanks to the internet, people can google Seventh Day Adventists, find out all sorts of things, and then decide they never want to come back.
But back in Barbados in the 1930s, there was no internet.
And of course, you can clearly tell that whoever wrote this has a serious bias toward Seventh Day Adventists, because everything about Pearl and her mother’s experience is absolutely perfect.
They were greeted at the door by a pleasant young lady. Settling themselves in seats about halfway to the front, they waited….from the moment the young song leader began directing the service until the benediction Pearl sat entranced. She had never heard anything like it…. “Something about the whole service said that those people really know the Lord.” [Said Pearl.]
I’d complain about how much telling vs showing there is in this chapter, but at some point, you can’t show everything. Of course, this is why you could have cut this chapter entirely and had the conversion summed up in chapter one by saying, “Pearl and her mother had been converted by meetings after they moved back to Barbados.”
Pearl and her mother discuss whether or not they’ll come back, and they decide it couldn’t hurt. We are told that they came back “night after night, week after week.” So, these meetings are one night a week for many weeks, I guess?
We are told that Pearl and her mother were “devout protestants” for a long time, and they were very fascinated by the “truths” the preacher talked about.
We aren’t told exactly which truths, but the target audience doesn’t exactly need it spelled out for us. An Adventist audience would already have a general idea, so the author probably felt no need to spell it out.
And that’s a valid point of view. At some point, your story will get bogged down by all the theology if you try and explain it all. So we get vagueness like:
The minister took his message directly from the Bible, and it was different from what they’d always believed.
That’s the thing, though. I will admit that yes, some Adventist doctrines are Biblical. Or at the very least, there are things that the Bible is not clear on that could be interpreted either way. A good example of this is the doctrine of soul sleep. The bible is actually very unclear on what happens after you die: Do you go straight to heaven/hell or do you sleep in the grave till Jesus comes? Different denominations interpret the Bible differently, and no one is going to agree on everything. I can see where Adventists are coming from as to how they interpret the Bible. That’s fine.
But a lot of things the Adventists preach at those seminars? Totally unbiblical. No scriptural justification for it at all… unless you jump around from passage to passage, verse to verse, ripping things out of context and insisting that one lone verse in Ezekiel applies to the entire book of Revelation. And numerology. You have to do math to understand the Bible.
We’re not shown everything, but because the Sabbath is a corner stone of the Adventist faith, we are shown the Lindsays’ reactions to the sermon on the Sabbath commandment.
“How come man could change God’s day of rest?” Pearl wanted to know.
“I don’t know how man could tamper with God’s law, but it sounded like the preacher gave sufficient proof.” [Said Pearl’s mother. I think.]
“You mean, Mother, that you really think Sunday isn’t the Sabbath?”
“I don’t know. I’ll have to do some studying about it.”
It is true that there isn’t a place in the Bible where the day was changed from Saturday to Sunday.
However, there is a passage where Paul holds a religious meeting on the first day of the week. And there is a passage saying that you shouldn’t judge how people observe the Sabbath. We won’t get into that here, as that’s really a topic for another post. What you need to know, for the purpose of the story, is that God himself never specifically said the day was changed. That is why Adventists go to church on Saturday rather than Sunday. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this approach. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with going to church on Sunday, either.
Even as a Christian I thought this way. But that’s really another topic for another post.
Pearl asks her mother how the whole world can worship on Sunday when God wants us to worship on Saturday.
“Nothing but the workings of the devil. I can see that plain as day.”
Sigh. Mrs. Lindsay is already thinking like an Adventist.
Mrs. Lindsay tells Pearl that she will be keeping “the proper Sabbath” from now on, and asks if Pearl will join her. She and Pearl respond to an altar call when the minister asks who will keep the Saturday Sabbath.
We are told that the minister holding the meetings is Pastor Oss. I can’t find anything about this guy on google, which probably means nothing.
We are told that Pearl left the meeting that night feeling a little conflicted about the decision. Because apparently keeping the Sabbath also means she has to join the SDA church. I’m not sure about Barbados specifically, but at this present time there are non SDA Christians who keep the Sabbath. Seventh Day Baptists being the most notable.
No more dancing? Going to church on Saturday? Giving up so much? Could it possibly be worth the struggle?
“Do you really think it’s worth it all?” She finally blurted out.
Pearl’s question is a good one. Dancing is something Pearl really enjoys, and going to church on Saturday is probably vastly different from what they’re used to.
“Girl,” the mother spoke softly, “anything God asks us to do is worth everything.”
That’s…. not an answer to the question.
During the next few days they made many changes in their home, changes in diet, in worship and Bibles study, changes in dress-but Pearl and her mother were happy.
Adventists are particularly fond of the notion that following the rules will make you happy. Giving up dancing and meat eating and jewelry and drinking may be hard, but ultimately, you will be happier for doing so.
And I do acknowledge that Pearl and her mother probably are happier than they were. Before, they were basically strangers in a country they were no longer used to living in, they had very few friends, and no real community. Seventh Day Adventism would have absolutely given them a community to be a part of, people would have befriended them, and they would have things to do in the evenings.
Sure Pearl had to give up dancing, but she also no longer had friends to dance with.
Of course Pearl and her mother are happy. Humans are social creatures, and they have found their pack.
Then we come to the paragraph that’s really important, because this is basically the backstory for the next 17 or so chapters.
The preacher at Pearl’s church talks to her about going to school. We are told he brings it up constantly, week after week, but Pearl keeps dismissing the idea. One evening, however, the pastor comes to the Lindsay home to try and sell Pearl on the idea of going to college.
And he is absolutely selling. I guarantee you, this pastor was receiving some kind of compensation for recruiting students to Adventist schools. It may not necessarily be anything financial, but there is absolutely a reason the pastor is doing this.
That’s not to say he doesn’t care about Pearl as an individual and think school would be good for her, mind you. I think it could possibly be a little bit of both.
Anyway, Pearl protests and says that, at 23, she’s too old to go back to school.
Wasn’t she 21 a chapter ago? This chapter covers a 2 year period?
The pastor says that people much older than her have gone back to school and succeeded. Which is true, I mean, even back then 23 wasn’t that old.
“I’m not sure God wants me in school. Mother and I are happy here just as we are.”
We haven’t been told the Lindsay’s financial situation. If Pearl is able to make a decent living without going to college, why is the pastor pushing this so hard? This is never explained. I’m not saying that that’s a reason she shouldn’t go, because education is rarely ever a complete waste of money. But college is expensive. Adventist colleges especially are expensive. Yes an education would do Pearl good, but why shill out tons of money for an education she doesn’t really need?
The minister tells Pearl that she has many talents that God wants her to cultivate, and that she could be such a blessing if she went to school to prepare herself. This is extremely vague. We are not told what these talents are, exactly. All I see is the minister twisting Pearl’s arm to go to a school for a degree she doesn’t seem to need.
Just as Pearl wonders where she would go to get this education, the pastor pulls out a brochure and an application for Caribbean Training College in Trinidad (now Caribbean Union College.)
A quick google search shows that as of 2006, it is called “University of the Southern Caribbean.”
This pastor is totally a recruiter. He does not present her with different options, he presents her with one option and tells her to think it over.
After the Pastor’s visit, Mrs. Lindsay and Pearl decide that Pearl should absolutely go to school, and they fill out the application.
“I’ll write a letter of recommendation to the principal,” the pastor promised as he put the application blank in his pocket. “I’ll carry this with me so you can’t change your mind.”
Your mileage may vary, this strikes me as very manipulative.
The chapter ends with Pearl gazing anxiously out the window, wondering what exactly all of this could mean.