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