The Stand Chapter 3

What I really like about The Stand compared Left Behind is that in this book, we actually get to know the characters who die. Part of this is just Stephen King’s writing style, but I think it’s better this way because we really get to know the people who disappear. It makes us care about them more. Makes us see them as actual people rather than just offscreen characters who never get mentioned.

In this chapter, we are introduced to a variety of people who we will never see again. Whether or not we like them, we do end up feeling a bit sorry for them.

Like Norm Bruett. He wakes up the next morning to find his kids fighting, and yells at them to shut up.

As always, when he saw his kids, Norm felt dragged two ways at once. His heart ached to see them wearing hand-me-downs and Salvation Army giveouts like the ones you saw the nigger children in east Arnette wearing; and at the same time a horrible, shaking anger would sweep through him, making him want to stride out there and beat the living shit out of them….

Norm looked at the pile of clothes he had worn yesterday. They were lying at the foot of the sagging double bed where he had dropped them.

That Slutty bitch, the thought. She didn’t even hang up my duds.

Norm Bruette is thoroughly unlikable. And yet, when you realize that he’s sick, that he’s going to die, you can’t help but feel horrified.

Norm looks around for his wife, and thinks about asking the kids where she’s gone, but decides not to. He’s got a headache and some nausea. We are told that it feels like a hangover and I am almost sympathetic.

Norm thinks back on yesterday’s accident, and we are told that by the time Hap got back to town, the police had come and gone, as well as the “undertaker’s hack,” the wrecker, and the county coroner.

I’m not 100% sure how the disease spreads. Can the virus live outside the body for long enough periods of time to infect someone else? That would seem to be the case here, especially as the author is taking the time to show just how many people have come to the gas station since.

All that the men are told is that the disease Campion had is not cholera, and that they can read about the autopsy in the paper.

Hap dresses and stumbles into the kitchen, where the radio is playing “Baby can you dig your man.” Norm finds a note his wife left him, saying that she’s gone to babysit the neighbor kids. She’s getting paid a whole dollar to do this. Even in 1980 when this was first written, that wasn’t that much. According to Norm, that won’t even buy a gallon of gas.

Norm opens the fridge, looks at the sausages, and decides he’s not hungry. His headache and nausea are worse.

I know that it is not the main point of the book, but I still would have found it interesting if King had focused on the disease more. But, like Left Behind wasn’t about the rapture, The Stand really isn’t about the Superflu.

Norm sneezes.

Coming down with a cold, he thought. Isn’t that nice on top of everything else?

But it never occurred to him to think of the phlegm that had been running out of that fellow Campion’s pump the night before.

In other words, Norm is already dead, and he doesn’t know it.

There’s a section break, and we cut away to Poor Hap. Last week, we discussed how Hap rode with Campion to the hospital. So he was definitely infected. Is this virus spread through coughing/sneezing? Because that seems to be the case here.

Hap is back in his gas station/car garage, fixing someone’s car. We are told that Vic is also there, drinking a doctor pepper. Along comes Joe Bob, Haps’ cousin, who works with the state patrol. As Hap comes out to greet Joe, he sneezes.

Joe Bob asks if he can talk to Hap and Vic in private, and they go into Hap’s office. Joe Bob asks the two to keep their mouth shut about him being there, and they quickly agree.

Joe Bob tells Vic and Hap that the Health Department is very interested in what happened with Campion.

Vic said, “Oh Jesus, it was cholera. I knowed it was.”

Except that it looked nothing like cholera.

Hap asks Joe Bob to tell him more.

“I don’t know nothing,” Joe bob said…. “Finnegan there, the coroner…well, he got Dr. James to look at this Campion, and the 2 of them called in another doctor that I don’t know. Then they got on the phone to Houston. And around 3 this morning they come into that little airport outside of Braintree. Pathologists, 3 of them….then they got on the phone to the Plague Center in Atlanta, and those guys are going to be here this afternoon. But they said that in the meantime that the State Health Department was to send some fellas out there and see all the guys that were in the station last night, and the guys that drove the rescue unit to Braintree. I dunno, but it sounds to me like they want you quarantined.”

Vic and Hap are horrified at this news. Vic begins to wonder if Campion had something more serious than cholera. Why send the CDC in after some men with cholera? I completely agree with Vic. the fact that the CDC is coming means some serious shit is going down. And Cholera is actually fairly easy to treat in places where sanitation is good, so frankly, I can’t even see the state Health Department being interested in that.

Hap says he appreciates Joe Bob warning him. I don’t see why Joe Bob Bothered? I mean, the men were going to end up quarantined anyway, and now Joe Bob is also gonna die.

Now, Joe Bob probably would’ve died anyway, but it’s sad to think that he’s speeding up the process by warning them. But maybe it’s better this way. Maybe it’s better to die quickly, before you know the magnitude of the problem, than to sit there for months and know it’s coming.

Joe Bob says the doctors looked scared, scareder than he’s ever seen doctors look before in his life. Hap gets a kleenex and blows his nose.

Hap asks what they’ve learned about Campion, to which Joe Bob replies, “not much.”

“His driver’s license says he was from San Diego, but a lot of the stuff in his wallet was 2 or 3 years out of date. His Driver’s license was expired. He had a Bank Card issued in ’86, and that was expired, too. He had an army card so we’re checking with them. The captain has a hunch that Campion hadn’t lived in San Diego for maybe 4 years.”

All of this was extremely interesting to me as I read the edited edition. In the edited edition, we didn’t have the prologue showing us where Campion had worked and what had happened to him. This was the first we found out anything about him, and it lent an air of mystery: who was this guy, how did he get sick? Why is everything in his wallet expired?

Even with the prologue, I still have these questions. How exactly did the disease spread from the workers to Campion? Why is everything in his wallet expired? Why does his army card say he was only in the army until 1997 when he has been shown to be currently in the army? I know that 4 years did not pass since the events in the prologue, so, what gives?

I think I changed my mind. I think the novel was stronger without the prologue. King was right to give it the ax.

Vic asks if Campion was AWOL, and Joe Bob says he doesn’t know.

“His army card said he was in until 1997, and he was in civvies, and he was with his fambly, and he was a fuck of a long way from California, and listen to my mouth run.”

Hap tells Joe Bob he’ll tell the other guys who were there about this, and Joe Bob reiterates that he doesn’t want his name mentioned. Hap figures that his friends don’t need to know who tipped him off, and Vic agrees to keep his mouth shut as well.

Hap gives Joe Bob a receipt for the gas, saying that the State is paying for it. As Hap fills it out, he sneezes.

Wait, seriously? Joe Bob wants to keep his visit here quiet, yet he’s still turning in this gas receipt to his supervisor for compensation? Does he think that nobody is going to go, “Jee Joe Bob, I notice Hap is your cousin. Did you by any chance tell him we were coming?”

“You want to watch that,” Joe Bob said. “Nothin any worse than a summer cold.”

“Don’t I know it.”

Alas, poor Joe Bob, we hardly knew you.

Suddenly, from behind, them, Vic said: “Maybe it ain’t a cold.”

Vic informs Hap and Joe Bob that he, too, has been coughing and sneezing all morning. He also had a headache, which Tylenol has helped a little bit. In any case, Vic wonders if they could possibly have what Campion had. Hap opens his mouth to argue, but starts sneezing. Joe Bob tells him it might be a good idea to close the station for a day or two, just in case.

At this point, Joe has to realize that he, too, stands a good chance of catching what Campion had. For him to go out into the world and expose the rest of the people was just irresponsible, though the disease probably would have spread anyway.

There’s a section break, and we cut to Lila Bruett babysitting Sally Hodge’s kids. Lila, Norm’s wife, also woke up sick this morning, and now is passing on the deadly virus to the poor Hodge children. Not that she knows it, but it’s still horrifying.

Lila looks around the room at all the paintings. Sally Hodge’s hobby is doing paint by number pictures of Jesus.

Lila especially liked the big one of the Last Supper mounted in back of the TV; it had come with 60 different oil colors, Sally had told her, and it took almost 3 months to finish. It was a real work of art.

We never actually get to meet Sally, but I feel like I know her. Contrast this with Rayford’s wife in Left Behind. The only things we ever really learn about her are that she collected frilly nick nacks and was an evangelical Christian who enjoyed proselytizing. But Sally Hodges is no cardboard cutout, and I like that.

Baby Cheryl started to cry, a whooping, ugly yell broken by bursts of coughing. Lila hurried to the bedroom. Eva, the 4 year old, was still fast asleep, but Cheryl was lying on her back in her crib, and her face was going an alarming purple color. Her cries began to sound strangled.

Those poor children are already dead.

Lila…picked Cheryl up by the heels and swatted her firmly on the back. She had no idea if Dr. Spock recommended this sort of treatment or not, because she had never read him.

I’m not a medical professional, nor do I play one on TV. But I did take a CPR class once, and I do recall us having to do something similar on baby dolls that were supposed to be choking. Except we definitely did not pick these babies up by the heels. But of course, that was in 2007. The prevailing wisdom was probably different when this book was originally written, and it’s clear Lila’s not up to date on current recommendations. She’s doing the best she can with what she knows, and it’s not ideal, but I don’t think it’s outright abusive, either.

In any case, Baby Cheryl’s airway is clear afterward, which is the important thing. Lila thinks about how she’s never seen a baby cough up so much snot before, then goes back to watching TV.

She lit another cigarette, sneezed over the first puff, and then began to cough herself.

 

One of the reasons I think it is easier for King to show us the dying people’s backstories is because, unlike the rapture, the plague doesn’t kill everyone right away. Left Behind starts just after the rapture as hit, and as such, we don’t get to really meet the disappeared. But in this book, it varies widely as to how long it takes the virus to kill its victim, so it’s a bit easier for King to show us what these people were like than it was for Jenkins.

And so I can cut Jenkins a little bit of slack here–but not much.

The Shack Chapter 6: A Piece Of [Pie Symbol]

 

Chapter 6

A Piece of [Pie Symbol]

 

I have no idea why this chapter is called that. At no point do he and God actually talk about 3.14. There is actually pie, but you don’t spell it with the pie symbol.

We last left off with Mack being transported to a parallel universe* where he is actually meeting with the 3 members of the Godhead in Person: God the Father, God the Son (Jesus), and God the Holy Spirit. Credit where credit is due, the ending of the last chapter was well timed.

“Well, Mackenzie, don’t just stand there gawkin’ with your mouth open like your pants are full,” said the big black woman as she turned and headed across the deck, talking the whole time. “Come and talk to me while I get supper on. Or if you don’t want to do that, you can do whatever you want.”

Someone will have to tell me if the portrayal of the black lady in this book is at all racist. I’m sorry to admit I know jack shit about the subject.

God tells Mack he can use the boat out back to go fishing, as long as he cleans whatever he catches.

Then she disappeared into the cabin, armed with Mack’s winter coat and still carrying the gun by 2 fingers, a full arm’s length away from her.

So, God doesn’t like guns. Interesting. A lot of fundy Christians I know of are kind of obsessed.

On the one hand, I don’t mind Mack taking a gun with him, because duh, what if the note was from Missy’s killer? Is it so wrong for Mack to try and protect himself? Taking his gun away is not going to make him feel more secure. However, I can’t help but kinda agree that God needs to take Mack’s gun away, as in the last chapter we saw that Mack was more of a danger to himself with it than he was to anyone else.

Mack was standing there with his mouth indeed open and an expression of bewilderment plastered to his face.

Number of times Mack has had a normal human reaction: 2.

He hardly noticed when Jesus walked over and put an arm around his shoulder.

“Isn’t she great?” Exclaimed Jesus, grinning at Mack.

Um, Jesus? Mack is kinda pissed at you and your dad for letting his child be raped and murdered, so I kinda think putting an arm around his shoulder and talking about how great God is is not going to be the most reassuring thing in the world for Mack right now.

But Mack’s normal human reaction in the last chapter–raging at God over Missy’s death–seems to have been completely and entirely forgotten.

Which is a real shame. I like how Mack was shown screaming at God just as God finally showed up. It’s like Mack was finally saying, “God, I’m ready to communicate with you. Here’s how I feel.” Mack was talking (well, shouting, screaming, still communicating) to God, and what do we call that? Praying.

And God says answers Mack’s prayer. God says, “Ok. Let’s talk.”

Except that when God shows up, God just…. seems kind of insensitive to the fact that Mack might not be too pleased with him at the moment.

I like where the author started from, and I wish he had handled it better.

Mack asks Jesus if he’s going crazy. How can God be “a big black woman with a questionable sense of humor?”

This would be a good time to inform Mack that he should stop limiting God. This is where the talk about God’s gender should have gone. Instead, strangely, the idea of God having a questionable sense of humor is the thing Mack said that Jesus objects to, saying that God has a perfect sense of timing and is absolutely hilarious.

Um, writer? If you can’t show your character being hilarious, if you have to resort to having another character tell us that, this is bad writing. In fact, it also makes Jesus look like the unreliable narrator. God has indeed been shown to have a questionable sense of humor, and having Jesus insist that no, no, she has a great sense of humor, makes it look like Jesus is…. well, if you are a conservative Christian, you do not want to end up in a situation where Jesus is anything but reliable.

Let me tell you something about fundy Christians. They not only believe that God would never tell a lie, they believe he can’t. Because it says somewhere in the Bible that God is truth.

So, for example, if God is at your house having dinner with you, and God answers the phone, and the caller asks, “hey, is Madame Snowman there?” God has to say yes. Because if he says, “no,” Madame Snowman will simply cease to be there. Whatever God says, happens. Remember when he created the world and he said, “let there be light?” Well, that happens every time God talks. So if God says, “there is a 3 headed monster named Fluffy in Madame Snowman’s living room, there will be a 3 headed monster named Fluffy in my living room. But hey, on the plus side, that means I’d have a living room.

Mack isn’t sure he believes Jesus that God has an awesome sense of humor, and then he confides that he doesn’t quite know what to do now. Jesus offers a few suggestions: fishing, canoeing, talking to Sarayu, talking to Papa, or he could hang out with Jesus in the wood shed behind the shack.

“Well, I sort of feel obligated to go in and talk to him, uh, her.”

“Oh,”–now Jesus was serious–“Don’t go because you feel obligated. That won’t get you any points around here. Go because it’s what you want to do.”

I’m not sure how to feel about this. On the one hand, I love that God is like this. On the other, I remember waaaaaaay too many sleepless nights where I knew I should talk to God, but I didn’t really want to, and I knew God could read my mind so if I talked to him when I didn’t want to he’d know and it wouldn’t count. But if I didn’t talk to him, I’d go to hell….

In any case, Mack thinks for a moment, then decides that yes, he really does want to go in and talk to God. Will Mack finally give God a piece of his mind? Will God be even remotely likeable?

The answers may just surprise you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Or time traveled back to a time when the shack was in better condition and it was summer…or something. This is never explained and we’re not supposed to look into it too closely but these are the details I want dammit.

Guest Post: A Mountain To Climb, by S.

The person who gave the book, “S,” (not her real initial), has written about how A Mountain To Climb affected her personally. I have agreed to post it in its entirety with minimal editing. I think it’s important to hear from other people about just how damaging these books can be. How often do we hear that “it’s just a book?”

See, that’s the thing about books. They can inspire, but they can also cause damage. Here is one way in which an Adventist book affected someone.

/Intro

I did not write this post.

I was 14. Internet didn’t exist. I needed something new to read so off to the library I went—a dusty Adventist church attic, dimly lit with one bare bulb, stacked floor-to-ceiling with shelves of old books from a long-closed Adventist school. I blindly grabbed a book. Surprisingly, it was one I hadn’t read.

That night I curled up with A Mountain to Climb and escaped into Pearl’s world. The book reinforced my core belief—instilled by Adventism, proven by parents—that I was not good enough.

I identified with Pearl. She was isolated to an island, her mom, and one remote Adventist college. I was isolated to one library, one family, and one rural Adventist church.

Like Pearl, I was easily pressured into unwanted things. Pearl’s mom talked her into quitting a nice job and moving far away. Adventism made Pearl give up dancing. Pearl’s pastor pressured her into attending an Adventist college where she worked a low-paying job she was overqualified for. Pearl felt she had no choice. Her pastor said he took away her choice. I was talked into wearing only modest baggy dresses. I not allowed makeup, jewelry, movies, popular music, a public education, and a choice in future careers. I was not good enough to deserve a choice.

Like Pearl, I believed anxiety was from a lack of faith. She was worried about grades, job performance, fitting in with her peers. I worried about my salvation. Unlike Pearl, I did not fit in anywhere. Everyone from cousins to Adventist kids bullied me. Pearl could pray away her anxiety, but I could not pray away my stomach aches and shaking. Maybe I wasn’t trusting Jesus enough? Or maybe being bullied meant something was wrong with me, something only others could see? Either way, I wasn’t good enough.

Like Pearl, I had many responsibilities. She had full time college, a new job, a new religion, a changed lifestyle, and her first relationship. I weeded a huge garden, cooked three meals a day for my large family, did all the laundry, parented my younger siblings, homeschooled younger siblings, and homeschooled myself—usually alone, always unbidden. People reassured Pearl she was doing ok. No one reassured me. Instead, neighbors told me thinking I did a good job was a sin. Every night, before my giggling siblings, Mom yelled my mistakes at me.

Like Pearl, my skills were not valued. She was an experienced bilingual secretary put to work dyeing broom corn. I scored 99th percentile in state standardized testing in all but math. Other siblings scored 99th in math. They were praised. I was not.

Like Pearl, I studied the Bible and Ellen White’s writings. Both were clear. I was not good enough. I had pepper once, and liked it.

Pearl was easily influenced by religious speakers. Me too. A college speaker told her to pray for a mountain. A church speaker told me to stop eating my favorite foods—chocolate and cheese—because dairy, Jesus, and hell.

Pearl, after much guilt and anxiety, prayed for a mountain to climb. Her life became hell. I, after a week of no chocolate and cheese, went back to eating them. It took about six years until I could eat them without guilt (because dairy, Jesus, and hell).

No one taught me critical thinking. Innocently I applied all lessons from Adventist books to my life, desperate for the no-guilt anxiety-free life they promised. I was sometimes happy. That was not ok, said this book [A Mountain To Climb], so I should pray for bad things to happen. I visualized catastrophic “mountains to climb”. I imagined people brought to Jesus because of my suffering, like Pearl’s fellow students. I balked. My gut said “hell, no!”

I never prayed that damn prayer.

Notes:

Young me kicked ass. Seriously. I was given too much responsibility, not enough supervision, too much criticism, not enough praise, denied a childhood, not allowed to be a teen. Yet I excelled.

For the curious, adult me is doing pretty damn well, even without considering all the shit I’ve been through.

The book has lost much of its power over me since I’ve read it with adult eyes, experience, and critical thinking.  I’m frustrated by the lack of details (Who prescribed the glass of fresh blood? What was the dye made of? What medications was she given when in hospital? How, exactly, did the doctors search for her pulse? Why tell us her diet in hospital? SO MANY QUESTIONS!!) Many thanks to thecity4square for reviewing it and destroying its final power.

 

 

The Stand Chapter 2

We last left off with Charles Campion crashing into the gas pumps and infecting the men who were gathered there. Now we are going over to meet another main protagonist, Frannie Goldsmith.

I admit, I had a hard time with this chapter, because I do not understand romantic relationships.

We first see Frannie as she goes to meet her boyfriend at the pier at the Atlantic ocean in a small town in Maine. A lot of Stephen King’s books are either set in Maine or have characters that visit Maine or are from Maine. It’s like Stephen King really likes Maine or something.

Gus, a balding, paunchy town fixture, was coming out to meet her. The fee for visitors was a dollar a car, but he knew Frannie lived in town without bothering to look at the RESIDENT sticker on the corner of her Volvo’s windshield. Fran came here a lot.

Poor Gus. He’s probably gonna die.

Sure I do, Fran thought. In fact, I got pregnant right down there on the beach, just about 12 feet above the high tide line.

Poor Fran. She thinks she’s just an ordinary college student dealing with an unplanned pregnancy. She has no idea what novel she’s really in.

We are then told that the date is June 17. I haven’t really been keeping track of when things happen, and I probably should be.

Frannie…was a tall girl with chestnut hair that fell halfway down the back of the buff colored shift she was wearing. Good figure. Long legs that got appreciative glances. Prime stuff was the correct frat house term, she believed. Looky-looky-looky-here-comes-nooky. Miss College Girl, 1990.

Obviously that date is different in the edited edition, but set that aside. This is character development: Frannie is sexy and she knows it. It’s possibly supposed to come across as conceited on her part, but eh, more power to her if she feels empowered by “appreciative glances.” I personally would feel a bit creeped out, but to each her own.

Jess Rider, age 20, one year younger than our Heroine, Little Fran. He was a practicing college student undergraduate poet. You could tell by his immaculate blue chambray workshirt.

Image result for blue chambray workshirt
The uniform of poets, apparently

Frannie begins making her way along the pier, out to where Jesse is skipping stones.

She walked slowly, trying her best to cope with the thought that she might have fallen out of love with him in the space of the 11 days that she had known she was “a little bit preggers,” in the words of Amy Lauder. Well, he had gotten her into that condition, hadn’t he?

Yes….and no… spoiler alert, Fran wasn’t raped. She and Jesse got her into this condition.

But not alone, that was for sure.

Yes. Both of you are equally responsible for this.

And she had been on the pill. That was the simplest thing in the world. She’d gone to the campus infirmary, told the doctor she was having painful menstruation and all sorts of embarrassing eructations on her skin, and the doctor had written her a prescription.

Yeah, it really is that simple. I was kind of surprised I was able to get it so easily. Of course in my case I really was having painful cramps, but set that aside.

It occurred to her that the infirmary doctors probably heard about painful menstruation and too many pimples often…. she could just as easily have gone to him and said: “Gimme the pill. I’m gonna fuck.” She was of age, why be coy? She looked at Jesse’s back and sighed. Because coyness gets to be a way of life. She began to walk again.

All of which is true. Even in 2017, there’s still a lot of  stigma about women who want to have sex with their boyfriends. King originally wrote this in the 1970s, so I imagine this was more pronounced back then. So yeah, I understand that Frannie wouldn’t want to discuss it (though she probably should disclose to her doctor that she has an active sex life so she can get regular STD screening, but set that aside.)

Fran thinks she’s pregnant because

  1. Someone at quality control in the birth control factory fucked up
  2. Fran forgot a pill and then forgot that she forgot

Nowhere does anyone mention that the efficacy of the pill is still only in the high 90s range. Even when taken as prescribed, birth control isn’t 100% effective, and there are some people for whom it just doesn’t work as a contraceptive. That’s why the little instruction booklet that comes with each pack of pills tells you to always use a backup method, just in case. No method of birth control is 100% reliable. Even abstinence failed once in 6,000 years.

Fran sneaks up behind Jesse, startling him into almost falling off the pier. This makes Fran laugh hilariously. Jesse doesn’t think it’s so funny.

“We almost fell in the water,” he said, taking a resentful step toward her. She took a step backward to compensate, tripped over a rock, and sat down hard. Her jaws clicked together hard with her tongue between them–exquisite pain!–and….her tongue was bleeding and tears of pain were streaming from her eyes.

Jesse asks Fran if she’s ok, and Fran thinks about how she really is still in love with him. She says that only her pride is hurt, and sticks out her tongue to show him.

“Jesus, Fran, you’re really bleeding.”

Fran begins to spit out lots and lots of blood, then asks if they can go for ice cream.

They were walking back along the pier now, hand in hand. She paused every now and then to spit over the side. Bright red.

I like this, because it’s almost like a bait and switch. At this point, we have no idea what the symptoms of the disease look like. So for all we know, one of the onset symptoms could be “excessive bleeding from minor wounds.” When I first read this, I wondered if Fran and her baby were both about to die horrific deaths.

“Are there any arteries in a person’s tongue?” [Fran asked]

“Nope.”

Actually there kinda is…. though from looking at this picture I doubt it’s in the place where Fran is likely to have bitten it.

“Good.” She squeezed his hand and smiled at him reassuringly. “I’m pregnant.”

“Really? That’s good. Do you know who I saw in Port–“

I’m not exactly sure how you’re supposed to tell your boyfriend you’re pregnant, but I’m pretty sure this isn’t it.

After a section break, we cut to a scene of them sitting in the dairy queen parking lot. Jesse has a coke, and Fran has a banana split. Fran starts talking about the quality of Dairy Queen ice cream, then bursts into tears.

Jesse gets up to throw away their trash, and Fran thinks about how Jesse’s walking funny, like she’s just kicked him in the balls.

But, if you wanted to look at it another way, well, that was just about the way she had walked after he had taken her virginity on the beach. She had felt like she had a bad case of diaper rash. Only diaper rash didn’t make you preggers.

Diaper rash? Why…. maybe it’s because I’m a naive little virgin, but I don’t think this make sense? I know a woman’s first time can hurt, but I feel like “diaper rash” would be a sign of something else.

Jesse asks how this could have happened if Fran was on the pill, and Fran repeats, word for word, exactly what I have listed above. One explanation is enough, and the other could be cut. There’s no need to have the explanation in both places.

All that aside, it is a reasonable question. When something like this happens, it’s natural to ask “how?” Fran has had 11 days to cope with this already. Jesse hasn’t.

“What are you mad about, Fran? I just asked.”

I didn’t notice Fran getting mad, but ok? Maybe it’s a case where tone isn’t coming through very well or it is and I’m just not picking up on it.

“Well, to answer your question in a different way, on a warm night in April….you put your penis into my vagina and had an orgasm, thus ejaculating sperm by the millions–“

Jesse tells her to stop, and I probably would too. Because no shit lady, he knows how sex works. You were on birth control, and he wants to know why that didn’t work. Not an unreasonable reaction.

Jesse tells Fran he’s not going to run out on her, then turns to the next bit of business, asking Fran what she plans to do about the little problem. Fran turns the question around, asking Jesse what he wants to do. Jesse smokes a cigarette and says, “oh hell.”

Fran then outlines what she thinks their choices are:

  1. Fran and Jesse can get married and keep the baby
  2. Fran and Jesse can get married and give the baby up
  3. Fran can keep the baby, and she and Jesse can not get married
  4. Fran doesn’t marry Jesse and she doesn’t keep the baby
  5. Fran gets an abortion

Jesse interrupts, asking if they can just talk about this, to which Fran and I  both respond with, “we are talking!”

Well, Fran is talking, at any rate. Jesse isn’t really listening. I almost can’t blame him for needing more time to think and process, but at the same time, she asked Jesse what he wanted to do, and he didn’t come up with anything. Even if he’d said something like, “I need some time to process this,” that would come across better than “oh hell.”

Fran does admit that she’s had more time to think about it than Jesse has, and Jesse offers her a cigarette. Fran declines, because they’re bad for the baby.

“Frannie, Goddammit!”

“Why are you shouting?” She asked softly.

“Because you seem determined to aggravate me as much as you can,” Jesse said hotly.

By…. refusing to smoke? I mean, I have seen zero evidence of this. All I’ve seen is her outlining your options while you interrupt her.

He controlled himself. “I’m sorry, I just can’t think of this as my fault.”

Well, it’s both your faults. Fran points this out, and Jesse says he thought Fran was on the pill, which she was. Fran points out that how it happened is kind of beside the point, because here the pregnancy is, and now they have to deal with it.

“So what do we do?”

“You keep asking me, Jesse. I just outlined the choices as I see them. I thought you might have some ideas…..so pick the choice you like and we’ll talk about it.”

Alright, sounds reasonable.

“Let’s get married,” he said in a sudden strong voice. He had the air of a man who has decided that the best way to solve the Godian knot* problem would be to hack right down through the middle of it.

Fran tells Jesse she doesn’t want to marry him. She’s not sure yet what her reasons are, so she’s not going to discuss them. Ok, but if she doesn’t want to marry him, why did she list it as one of the options? Why not just…. not list it?

I think one of her reasons for not wanting to marry Jesse is that she can’t figure out whether or not she’s still in love with him. First she wasn’t, then she was, and now she’s…… not again? Fran isn’t really sure what she wants, and that’s one of the reasons why this conversation is so frustrating for both of them.  It’s not just Jesse that needs to take some time to think about things.

There’s more arguing, and Jesse slaps Fran. Well, there’s the reason she doesn’t want to marry him, I guess. I wouldn’t want to marry someone who hit me either.

Fran drives Jesse back to his bike, and there’s a section break. Afterward, Jesse apologizes to Fran, who accepts the apology. Jesse tells Fran he’ll come up with the money for an abortion if that’s what she wants, and then they kiss. Jesse tells Fran that he loves her.

I don’t believe you do, she thought suddenly. I don’t believe it at all…

I’m not sure I believe either of these two really love each other, to be honest. Well, Jesse doesn’t, at any rate. Fran can’t make up her damn mind.

The chapter ends with Fran driving away, crying. She spits out what she thinks is more blood, but it turns out it’s just regular saliva. So, Fran isn’t dying, at least, not yet.

 

 

 

*The Gordian Knot is a legend of Phrygian Gordium associated with Alexander the Great. It is often used as a metaphor for an intractable problem (disentangling an “impossible” knot) solved easily by cheating or “thinking outside the box” (“cutting the Gordian knot“).

 

The Shack Chapter 5 (Part 2)

Trigger Warning: Discussion of Suicide

 

Last week, if you recall, Willie had just given Mack his jeep and his gun. Willie is sending his mentally ill friend alone, in his car, with his gun, to a shack in the middle of nowhere. What could go wrong?

Mack starts driving Friday morning at dawn.

Flashes of visual memory and stabbing instants of blistering fury now came in waves, attended by the taste of bile and blood in his mouth.

This would be a good place to drop some flashbacks. Don’t tell us about the flashes of memory, show them. Then take out chapter 4 entirely and boom, you have the backstory woven throughout the main story.

We are told that Mack has to drive around for a bit before he finds the beginning of the trail. He decides to leave everything in the car, in case he has to just turn around and leave. He does take two things: the small tin box with the picture of Missy and the note from God, and Willie’s gun.

The trail was treacherous, the rocks icy and slippery….it was eerily quiet. The only sounds he could hear were the crunch of his steps on the snow and the heaviness of his breathing. Mack started feeling as if he was being watched.

Could be Missy’s killer….

Suddenly something moved close by. Startled, he froze, silent and alert…. He slowly reached behind his  back, siding the pistol from his belt. Snapping off the safety, he peered intensely into the dark underbrush….

The mountains, at this time, are really cold and snowy. And yet, Willie talked about the possibility of Mack running into a hiker. So I think we can assume that, despite the weather, people are still out hiking. Knowing this, why the hell is Mack’s first reaction to reach for the gun? Why doesn’t he call out, “who’s there?” If nobody answers, then he can reach for the gun.

But no, Mack never calls out. He never gives a potential human a chance to identify themselves. After a few paragraphs of wondering if the noise was God, Missy’s Killer, or an active imagination, it turns out to be a badger.

And it’s not bad. This whole “I think I’m in danger and I start at every noise” does work well…. if you can ignore the fact that Mack could’ve shot some poor hiker in the face. Don’t give a jumpy man a gun, ok?

Mack puts the safety back on the gun and puts it away, thinking someone could get hurt.

Gee, ya think?

Determined that he was done being afraid, he continued down the path, trying to look more confident than he felt. He hoped he hadn’t come all this way for nothing. If God was really meeting him here, he was more than ready to get a few things off his chest, respectfully, of course.

We…. have to assure our Christian readers that Mack isn’t going to be anything less than respectful to God? I mean, this doesn’t really make sense. Mack has lost a child. It makes sense for a human being to rant, rave, rage, and cry at God. Does Mack plan on going up to God and saying, “excuse me sir, but could you pretty please tell me why my daughter had to come to an unfortunate end?”

This makes Mack look even less human. An emotionless robot.

Mack finally reaches the shack.

The shack itself looked dead and empty, but as he stared it seemed for a moment to transform into an evil face, twisted in some demonic grimace, looking straight back at him and daring him to approach.

I like this. Sometimes, when we are panicky and afraid, we see things as more ominous than they really are. I don’t think the author actually means that the shack is infested with demons.

As Mack enters the shack, he does start calling out.

Mack couldn’t help himself as his eyes were drawn to the one place he could not bear to look. Even after a few years, the faded bloodstain was clearly visible in the wood near the fireplace where they had found Missy’s dress.

Why is the bloodstain still there? Why is this shack still here?

And finally his heart exploded like a flash flood, releasing his pent up anger and letting it rush down the rocky canyons of his emotions. Turning his eyes heavenward, he began screaming his anguished questions. “Why? Why did you let this happen? Why did you bring me here? Of all the places to meet you–why here? Wasn’t it enough to kill my baby? Do you have to toy with me too?”

Finally, a normal human reaction! We can debate all day long if it’s the “right” reaction to have, but this the first sign of a normal human reaction from Mack that we’ve seen. He seems like less of a sociopath.

In a blind rage, Mack grabbed the nearest chair and flung it at the window. It smashed into pieces. He picked up one of the legs and began destroying everything he could. Groans and moans of despair and fury burst through his lips as he beat his wrath into the terrible place. “I hate you!” In a frenzy he  pounded out his rage until he was exhausted and spent.

Weren’t we just told in the last chapter that Mack hated violence? But you know, I’m not going to harp on this too much. Mack has lost a child, and honestly, taking out his anger on inanimate objects is probably best case scenario.

Mack screams at God some more, and honestly, it’s good that he’s finally letting it all out. And if God exists, I think God would agree. These things Mack is saying? They’re prayers. Mack is communicating with God, and isn’t that what prayer is, really?

God hears Mack’s prayer. The angels hear Mack’s prayer.

Mack could feel the gun in the small of his back…he pulled it out, not sure what he was going to do. Oh, to stop caring, to stop feeling the pain, to never feel anything again. Suicide? At the moment that option was almost attractive. It would be so easy, the thought. No more tears, no more pain… he could almost see a black chasm opening up in the floor behind the gun he was staring at, a darkness sucking away the last vestiges of hope from his heart. Killing himself would be one way to strike back at God, if God existed.

Honestly, Willie should have forseen this. Mack has been sad and depressed over the death of his daughter for quite some time, and then Mack tells Willie he’s making a trip to the place where his daughter died, so he can meet God. Christian and non-Christian people alike often refer to dying as “meeting their maker.” How does Willie NOT wonder if Mack is going up there to commit suicide?

I am not opposed to guns. I am not opposed to using guns to protect yourself. What I am opposed to is pure stupidity, which this is.

Not sure how realistic it is for someone to want to kill themselves, in part, because it would be a great way to get back at God. That just seems like cutting off your nose to spite your face. I’ve certainly never felt that way when I’ve been suicidal (in the distant past) and I’d be interested in knowing if anyone has actually thought this.

Mack starts thinking about his other non dead family members, and realizes that his suicide would hurt them very much, so he doesn’t do it. Then Mack falls asleep.

It was probably only minutes later that Mack woke with a jerk.

It was at this point in the story that I expected God to be there. I thought Mack would fall asleep, and then wake up to God standing next to him. But I’m wrong.

“This is ridiculous! I’m such an idiot! To think that I hoped God might actually care enough to send me a note!”

I don’t disagree, but I can identify with the sentiment. When I was a Christian, I too wanted to believe God cared.

“I’m done, God,” Mack whispered. “I can’t do this anymore. I’m tired of trying to find you in all of this.” And with that he walked out the door. Mack determined that this was the last time he would go looking for God. If God wanted him, God would have to come find him.

Good for you, Mack.

As Mack walks out the door, he tears up the letter he found in the mailbox.

He had barely walked 50 feet up the trail when he felt a sudden rush of warm air overtake him from behind. The chirping of a songbird broke the icy silence. The path in front of him rapidly lost its veneer of snow and ice, as if someone were blow drying it. Mack stopped and watched as all around him the white covering dissolved and was replaced by emerging and radiant growth. 3 weeks of spring unfurled before him in 30 seconds. … Even the light snow that had begun to fall had changed to tiny blossoms lazily drifting to the ground.

So, God came and magically made it spring. Hey God, if you exist and you’re reading this, could you do that here? Because, uh, it is supposed to be spring…. what’s with all the snow?

The text goes on about the scene change for a while before shifting to Mack’s thoughts. Naturally, Macks is a little bit terrified.

He was stunned. Little, if anything, was the same. The dilapidated shack had been replaced by a sturdy and beautifully constructed log cabin now standing directly between him and the lake, which he could see just above the rooftop. It was built out of hand peeled full length logs, every one scribed for a perfect fit.

We’re probably not supposed to look into this too closely, but I can’t help but wonder what is happening here. Has God taken Mack back in time, to when the shack was a cabin? Has he created an alternate reality? Why the weather change? Parallel universe?

In any case, Mack understandably thinks he is losing his tiny little mind. Honestly, Mack thinks God sent him a letter, he’s already lost his mind.

Mack smells the flowers and grips the railing on the cabin walkway, deciding that they feel real enough not to be hallucinations. Then he wonders whether or not he should knock. And how should he address God, anyway? “Father?” “Almighty One?” “Mr. God?”

Ok, those last two were kind of funny.

And would it be best if he fell down and worshiped? Not that he was really in the mood.

Ok, that was kinda funny too.

Mack’s not the only one to wonder how he’d react to meeting God. There’s actually a song about this, called “I can only imagine.” I now have that song stuck in my head.

Just as Mack decides to bang loudly on the door and see what happens, God comes out.

And now we come to the thing, I think, that bothers conservative Christians who dislike this book/movie the most.

Just as he raised his fist to [bang on the door], the door flew open, and he was looking directly into the face of a large, beaming African American woman.

I’m sure by now everyone already knows this from watching the trailers, so it’s probably not much of a surprise. But in case you’ve missed it, God in this book is portrayed as a fat African American woman.

Oh yeah, conservatives are definitely freaking out.

Let’s talk about Christian!Abby’s reaction to this. Christian!Abby was actually ok with it. She figured that if “God created man in his own image; male and female he created them,” that meant that, well, God was both male and female. And if God created humans in his/her own image, that meant that black people were just as much a reflection of God as white people. Christian!Abby had no issue with this portrayal, and Atheist!Abby doesn’t either.

God’s first reaction to seeing Mack is to give him a great big hug. Which, ummm I don’t think Mack wants from you right now. You’re God, you should know this.

“Mack, look at you!”she fairly exploded. “Here you are, and so grown up. I have really been looking forward to seeing you face to face. It is so wonderful to have you here with us. My, my, my, how I do love you!” And with that she wrapped herself around him again.

Despite the fact that Mack was pissed off at God 5 minutes ago, he doesn’t mind that God is now giving him a hug and claiming to love him. Sooo God has magic powers that make you not want to punch him in the face?

Mack starts to cry, and God tells him to let it all out. But Mack Shakes his head. God says that if Mack isn’t ready, that’s ok. It can wait. She reaches into his belt and takes the gun.

“You don’t really need that, do you? We wouldn’t want anyone to get hurt, would we?”

That is unnerving. Mack hasn’t figured out if he’s safe with you yet. But God’s right, someone should’ve taken the gun away from him long ag– actually, no one should’ve given it to him in the first place Willie.

God takes Mack’s coat and gun and a “small, distinctively Asian woman” comes to take Mack’s tears.  Yeah, you read that right: his tears.

Everyone, meet the Holy Spirit, an Asian woman. The next paragraph makes it clear why she is described this way.

As she stepped back, Mack found himself involuntarily squinting in her direction, as if doing so would allow his eyes to see her better. But strangely, he had a difficult time focusing on her; she seemed almost to shimmer in the light and her hair blew in all directions even though there was hardly a breeze. It was almost easier to see her out of the corner of his eye than it was to look at her directly.

Because she’s The Holy Spirit, get it? I suppose it would be hard to figure out whether she looks Chinese or not if you can’t actually see her, so we’ll let it pass for now.

And then we are introduced to Jesus. Now, points to the author, he got this right. Unlike Nathan Green paintings, Jesus is not a white man, and it’s nice to see that acknowledged.

He appeared Middle Eastern and was dressed like a laborer, complete with tool belt and gloves…wearing jeans covered in wood dust and a plaid shirt with sleeves rolled just above the elbows, revealing well muscled forearms. His features were pleasant enough, but he was not particularly handsome.

Could we get more of a description than “middle eastern” though? All Middle Eastern people do not look alike. What is his eye color? What is his hair color? How long is his hair? Does he wear it in a pony tail? Jesus has muscles guys! And I get that the Bible describes him as “not handsome but not ugly either,” but beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so there’s wiggle room for him to be absolutely stunning.

Mack asks if there are more of them, and God says no.

Mack takes a closer look at the Holy Spirit. He guesses her to be Northern Chinese, Nepalese, or Mongolian. He has a hard time figuring it out, though, since she keeps flickering. Which, ok fair enough. If I had to try and look at a person who wasn’t there I’d probably also go with “Asian” as a description. But what’s your excuse for Jesus?

Jesus kisses Mack on both cheeks and hugs him. Mack decides he likes Jesus immediately, which…. this is lazy writing. He should be hanging back a bit trying to find out if this is a man he can like and be friends with. Especially since Mack just got done screaming at God/Jesus.

Mack asks God what her name is. I guess he hasn’t figured out she’s god yet. God tells him she likes the name, “Elousia,” which I have no idea how to pronounce.

When I google the name “Elousia,” all I get are results for this book. Take that as you will.

She crossed her arms and put her hand under her chin as if thinking especially hard — “you could call me what Nan does.”

I don’t know, I might have a hard time referring to a woman as “Papa.”

And finally Mack figures out that, duh, these people are God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Jesus says Mack could call him “Jesus” if he wants, though his mother called him “Yeshua.” Jesus tells Mack he also goes by “Joshua” or “Jesse.”

“Joshua” makes sense, because that’s the Hebrew name for Jesus. But why Jesse? Sure Jesus is reported to be a descendant of Jesse, but why would you call him that? Nobody calls me by my great great great grandma’s name…whatever that was.

The Holy Spirit wishes to be called “Sarayu.”

Let’s see, there’s a Sarayu river….ah, here we are. The name Sarayu is actually not all that uncommon in India, and it is mainly used by Hindi. It means “Wind,” or “River.”

I’m guessing the author just needed a name that meant “wind,” googled, and came up with “Sarayu.”

“Then,” Mack struggled to ask, “which one of you is God?”

“I am,” said all 3 in unison. Mack looked from one to the next, and even though he couldn’t begin to grasp what he was seeing and hearing, he  somehow believed them.

 

The Case For Christ P.45-48

The author, Lee Strobel, is still interviewing Dr. B about the gospels. He’s going over a series of tests to see whether or not the gospels are reliable. I’ve been trying to cover 2 tests per post, but we’re probably going to spend this entire post on test #4, because test #4 is:

4. THE CONSISTENCY TEST

That’s the actual sub section heading. So, let’s dive in.

Here’s a test that skeptics often charge the gospels with failing. After all, aren’t they hopelessly contradictory with each other? Aren’t there irreconcilable discrepancies among the various gospel accounts? And if there are, how can anyone trust anything they say?

Finally, an actual question I had when I was still a Christian going through my “doubting” phase! Longtime readers will recall that I started my journey on the road to atheism because of discrepancies I found in the gospels. (That’s not the only reason, mind you. It is not even the only trigger event.)

Also, the first Biblical contradiction I ever noticed in my entire life was in the gospels. So I am interested to read this section.

Dr. B points out, quite fairly, that there are big contradictions and little ones, but still refers to them as “apparent contradictions.” Notice the phrasing. Dr. B clearly does not believe that the gospels contain contradictions, even though he’s going to admit, in a moment, that they do.

“My own conviction [says Dr. B] is that once you allow for the elements I’ve talked about earlier–of paraphrase, of abridgment, of explanatory additions, of selection, of omission–the gospels are extremely consistent with each other by ancient standards, which are the only standards by which it’s fair to judge them.”

I could be convinced to agree with this, except for one thing. Often, Christians don’t judge the bible by ancient standards, insisting that the Bible, all parts of the Bible, aren’t just written for first century Christians, but today’s Christians. Yes, even the parts that say that women have to submit to their husbands. Those are applicable today, of course, despite the fact that we as a society know better now. We can’t discuss judging the Bible by ancient standards then.

But now that it’s time to discuss contradictions in the gospels? Now we have to apply ancient standards.

Dr. B points out that, if the texts had been too identical, it would have made the gospels look less reliable because then the writers could be accused of conspiracy. Which is sort of fair, but you don’t have to be identical in order to be consistent.

Set that aside. In the last chapter, we discussed how Matthew and Luke clearly copied from Mark, because the passages in question were too similar. So the gospel writers already being accused of copying.

Other than that, I agree. The accounts can’t be too similar, but they also can’t be wildly contradictory, which in some places they really are.

If the gospels were too consistent, that in itself would invalidate them as independent witnesses.

I think Dr. B is confusing “too similar” with “too consistent.” If my best friend and I tell the same story, in our own words, the stories are going to differ a little bit. We might be confused on, say, whether or not the person was wearing a purple shirt or a red one. But in order to be taken seriously, our stories do need to be very consistent.  If I tell a story about a co worker stealing money from the register, and my friend tells a story about a co worker robbing the safe, we are not telling the same story. That’s the kind of inconsistency police would pounce on. No one cares if we can’t remember what color shirt the thief was wearing at the time the crime was committed.

Strobel slips in some quotes from experts about how the gospels have just enough discrepancy to be reliable, but not so much as to be unreliable.

Strobel tells us that he is going to ask Dr. B about some contradictions that “skeptics repeatedly seize upon.”

I began with a well-known story of a healing. “In Matthew it saws a centurion himself came to ask Jesus to heal his servant,” I pointed out. “However, Luke says the centurion sent the elders to do this. Now, that’s an obvious contradiction, isn’t it?

This….is a soft ball contradiction. But sure, we’ll roll with it.

Dr. B says that this is only a contradiction to our 21st century minds. To the mind of the ancient Romans, however, it wasn’t. The their minds, “the centurion” and “the centurion’s messengers” are the same thing.

Then Dr. B continues to say that we do the same thing today.

“In our world, we may hear a news report that says, “the president today announced that…” when in fact the speech was written by a speechwriter and delivered by the press secretary–and with a little luck, the president might have glanced at it somewhere in between. Yet nobody accuses that broadcast of being in error.”

I would hope that, if the president is going to have something attached to his name like that, that he would at least be the one reading and editing that speech.

Set that aside.

If the president’s press secretary is the one to announce it, then yes I would consider that broadcast to be at least a little bit in error. It wouldn’t be something that would invalidate the entire article, but it would be enough to show me that perhaps this article is lacking in a few details.

Set that aside. I’m not sure how valid all this is, when God, who supposedly wrote the Bible, told his followers what to write, he would have known that thousands of years later people were going to look at that and go, “huh?”

Remember, Christians believe that God dictated the words of the Bible to holy men, who wrote it all down. Wouldn’t you think that an all powerful being who could see into the future would say something like, “jee Luke, future readers are gonna be kinda picky. You think you could go ahead and edit this for me?”

No one expects a news broadcast to be word perfect. That is not true of the Bible.

Strobel thinks Dr.  B’s explanation is plausible and sure, why not. It is a minor contradiction, after all. Let’s move on to a bigger one.

“What about Mark and Luke saying that Jesus sent the demons into the swine at Gerasa, while Matthew says it was in Gadara…..Gerasa, the town, wasn’t anywhere near the Sea of Galilee, yet that’s where the demons, after going into the swine, supposedly took the herd over the cliff to their deaths.”

Dr. B tells us all that there’ve been ruins of a town matching the Biblical description called “Khersa.” Dr. B says that if this was transliterated into Greek, it would come out sounding something like, “Gerasa.” And Gerasa was a town in the province of Gadara.

A quick google search reveals that this is a plausible explanation. I could believe that the author would need more time to look this up before shooting back any follow up questions, so I will move on to Strobel’s next point which is the genealogy of Jesus. Apparently Matthew and Luke have minor differences.

Dr. B pulls out the old “One genealogy is Joseph’s, the other is Mary’s” explanation. Since Joseph and Mary are kinda sorta related, at some point the blood lines merge. I’d like to believe this. I mean, when you think about it, Mary’s genealogy matters way more than Joseph’s does.

The thing is, there’s no in text support for this. In fact, Luke’s genealogy does not even mention Mary. And unless Mary and Joseph have the exact same father, it’s unlikely they’d be that similar.

In case we are not satisfied by that explanation (I’m not), Dr. B goes on to say that any discrepancies could be a result of Joseph’s legal lineage verses his actual human lineage. Sometimes there was no male heir, so an heir had to be created using various methods.

Apparently some names were even omitted, with we are told was normal for the time period. Well yeah, if you’re going to try to trace someone’s heritage all the way back to freakin’ god (which Luke’s does) you’re going to have to leave out a few names, for obvious reasons.

Dr. B then points out that some names were translated from other languages, and could therefore look like different names.

So, let me tell you what I like. I like that Dr. B is presenting different options.  I like that he’s not picking one and sticking with it regardless of argument against it.

I also like this because I can make an educated guess that someone just got something wrong somewhere and it doesn’t really matter, but a conservative Christian doesn’t have that option. And so I shall respect Dr. B’s statements for what they are –educated guesses.

But what about all the other gospel contradictions?

Not wanting our conversation to degenerate into a stump-the-scholar game, I decided to move on. In the meantime Dr. B and I agreed that the best overall approach would be to study each issue individually to see whether there’s a rational way to resolve the apparent conflict among the gospels.

?

??

???

You said you were going to ask the hard questions! The touch questions. The questions atheists really ask! And then you throw out incredibly softball contradictions and expect me to be ok with being told to go and read the Bible yourself and try to resolve the “apparent” contradictions?

Do you know what a headache that is? It’s also pointless. It’s far better if you just accept that the gospel writers were flawed humans who got things wrong sometimes. It’s a far more plausible explanation and it’ll save you a lot of headache.

Christians, does it really matter if some of the minor details are wrong? What matters is that you still believe in the major details.  Like the fact that Jesus came, he died, he rose again, and he did it all to save you. If you focus on that instead of chasing yourself in circles over the little details that don’t truly matter, you’ll have a more fulfilling walk with God. You’ll also avoid falling into the trap of thinking that if some of it isn’t true, all of it must be true. Because that’s not necessarily the case.

Once you create that house of cards, it gets exhausting not to knock it down.

 

 

 

 

A Mountain To Climb Chapter 17: Without Any Help. Also, the Epilogue.

Last week Mrs. Lindsay had just given Arthur the green light to marry Pear. Why was she so opposed to the marriage? Why did everyone feel that Pearl had to choose between Arthur and a college degree? Now that Pearl has already made her choice, this is chapter where we finally get to find out. We also get to find out how Pearl is recovering.

This is the last chapter, and I have included the epilogue in this post, as it is not long enough to merit its own.

By the time Mrs. Lindsay had given her approval, Pearl’s recovery was nearly complete. She had mastered walking with crutches so well that she could go almost anywhere. Every once in a while she even tried bearing her weight on her left foot.

Was physical therapy a thing in 1930s Trinidad?

She asked for work to help with the rising expenses. She landed a job in the kitchen, where she could work sitting down.

Why can’t she work sitting down in the broom shop? Well nevermind, that’s a terrible idea. What rising expenses is Pearl referring to? Doctor Bills?

At noon on Friday a sack lunch was given each student for Friday supper and Sabbath breakfast. Pearl’s job was to fill the sacks.

This was a thing at the Academy I went to, except that we got our Sabbath breakfast at supper on Friday, the idea being to give the cafeteria staff a break for Sabbath. Which is a nice idea in theory, except that the sack breakfasts weren’t very filling. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and I was expected to get through the long church services on cereal and milk, with a side of fruit. Yeah, right. I always hated this particular tradition….

In any case, we are told that Pearl stuffs special things into Arthur’s sabbath lunches, like an extra cookie. Which sounds sweet on the surface but to me it just reads like Arthur gets special treatment because he has a friend who works in the cafeteria.

I also wonder if this means that Pearl only works one day a week? If she is a bilingual secretary, don’t they have a nice office job they could put her in? Pearl is popular and well liked. These are the type of students that get office jobs. So it baffles me that Pearl doesn’t have one already.

One Friday a young Indian man, one of the students, stood near the counter watching her. Pearl had been conscious of his presence quite often in recent weeks, but she paid little attention to him.

I’m guessing Indian means “from India” in this context.

Finally, the Indian gentleman speaks to her.

“Like Ward, eh?” he finally said as Pearl closed Arthur’s sack. The young man inched his way around the counter. Pearl said nothing, but watched him closely.

When he was next to her, he said, “You marry me. I give you money. Ward no have money. I give you prettier children.”

This man is behaving in ways that are setting off all kinds of alarm bells. Pearl has every right to be upset, and even a little creeped out.

Pearl looked at him. “You get out of here,” she said, “or I’ll report you to the matron.”

Good for you, Pearl!

We never hear about this man again, so I assume that this is the last time he bothers her. Which would indicate that he accepts her “no” answer. Does that excuse his creepiness? No, but perhaps he did not mean to be creepy. Intentions, however, are not magical excuses, and at the very least he needs someone to tell him that this is not acceptable behavior.

Toward the close of the school year Pearl  needed a book Rosalind had. She had never tried to climb the long steep wooden stairs that led up to the front door of the women’s dorm. But she was sure she could make the climb. Just as she reached the top step, one of the students came out on the porch.

The student is amazed that Pearl made it up the steps, and tells her that Rosalind is right behind her. So Pearl turns around to go back down the stairs.

But on the 3rd step one of her crutches slipped, and she fell.

“God help me!” Rosalind yelled as she dropped her books and ran toward Pearl.

This is the kind of exclamation you use when the term “oh shit” would land you in detention.

Rosalind manages to catch Pearl before she falls.

“What are you trying to do, break your neck?” She asked.

Yes, because it would go so well with the broken foot.

Rosalind helps her up and takes her home.

It took several days of rest before Pearl was completely over the shock and was able to be about again.

Setbacks happen when you try to go too fast in recovery. I get it.

Time goes by, and then it’s time for Arthur to graduate.

Three boys made up the class of 1938, young men who felt very close to each other: Victor, Aaron, and Arthur Ward. Victor was the class president.

Dang! And I thought our academy class sizes were tiny! We actually do get last names for the other 2 boys, but I have omitted them.

After graduation, we are told that the boys go their separate ways over the break. Arthur is going to stay on campus for a while, probably because of Pearl. We are told that Pearl has been trying to keep their engagement a secret, because she wanted to announce it at a small party.

With a school this size, secrecy isn’t really possible. I guarantee you every single student already knows that Arthur and Pearl are engaged, or pre-engaged at the very least.

When Pearl goes to Mrs. Hamilton for advice, Mrs. Hamilton begs Pearl to let her plan the engagement party. Pearl means a lot to the faculty and students, and it would be her pleasure, really.

So Mrs.  Hamilton plans a party, and it all goes well. The announcements were baked into the cookies, and everyone congratulates Pearl.

When the party was over, Pearl felt at last that she and Arthur were officially engaged.

Yay.

Arthur goes to work in Barbados for 6 months, during which Pearl is staying behind at the school because….. I don’t know.

Pearl had appointed herself a task and was determined to accomplish it before Arthur returned in September for the wedding.

Oooooh wonder what this task would be?

She did not register for classes that year….the college would not permit her to be married during the school year if she were a student.

I spent the entire book wondering why Pearl had to choose. This is mentioned as an aside, a throw away line that we are not supposed to pay attention to. We are not supposed to notice that Arthur literally forced Pearl to choose between a real degree and a MRS degree.

Barf.

We are told that the weeks pass by slowly, as Pearl fills her hope chest.

As her wedding day crept ever closer, Pearl grew excited. She wished time would go by faster. But she still had her special task to complete before Arthur’s return.

“Practice, that’s what I need,” she told her mother.

“I think you’re doing very well.” Mrs. Lindsay [said]. “I’m sure you’ll succeed.”

“Thanks, Mother. You’re an encouragement.”

Who talks like this?

What is this special task that Pearl is practicing? I’m pretty sure we all know it, and I can’t honestly think why the author hasn’t just stated it. Trying to insert some dramatic suspense where there isn’t any, I guess.

Ms. Maxson really is trying, as a writer. And that’s what makes it all the more tragic.

The morning of September 26, 1939, the day of Pearl’s wedding, was one of those never to be forgotten mornings.

Does anyone forget their wedding day?

When the time came, Mrs. Smith played the wedding march. While Arthur waited at the front of the chapel for his bride, Pearl-her victory complete, walked down the aisle without any crutches.

The chapter, and the book, ends here. How inspiring. Yawn.

I am glad that Pearl was able to walk down the aisle without crutches, since it meant a lot to her to do so. But it is important to note that there isn’t anything wrong with having to use crutches–or even a wheelchair–to go down the aisle.

Epilogue

After the wedding, Pearl and Arthur head for Barbados. We are told that they served in “the ministry” for 11 years, some of which were during the war.

Oftentimes they had very little food, sometimes sharing one egg between them.

I know married women in that time and place weren’t supposed to work, but seriously, if you’re that desperate, was there anything wrong with Pearl taking at least a part time job? This doesn’t sound romantic to me, that sounds desperately poor.

Arthur and Pearl Ward had children: Roselyn, Cynthia, Reuel and Angela. We are told that the oldest child was born in the same hospital Pearl was in when her leg was dying.That must have prompted some residual trauma.

Arthur was eventually called to serve as treasurer for the South Caribbean Conference, headquartered in Trinidad. Eventually he became president of said conference.

While in Trinidad, Pearl worked 12 years for the Voice of Prophecy, part of the time as supervisor.

I have tried to google Arthur and Pearl Ward. I didn’t find much, until I found an article about their daughter, Roselyn. I’ll include it at the end of this blog post.

In 1966 Panama called, and Arthur responded. He became pastor of the English churches in the Panama conference, working on the Pacific coast. Here I met Pearl and Arthur and spent a delightful Sabbath in their home.

And heard the story of Pearl’s miraculous recovery, no doubt. I wonder if this is when the idea for this book was first born? Did she get all the details in one visit, or did Ms. Maxson and Pearl write a lot of letters?

Right after being told about the Sabbath she spent with Arthur and Pearl Ward, Maxson writes

In January 1970, Pearl made her last move–to the English district of Colon on the Atlantic Coast, where Arthur assumed pastoral responsibilities of the churches. Two weeks after the move Pearl became ill with a terminal disease that finally took her life on October 9.

Wait a second, hold on. What was the publication date on this, again?

Originally published in 1976

Pearl died 6 years before this book was published?

This brings up some really important questions: Did Pearl even know Ms. Maxson was writing this book? How much exactly was her contribution to it? It’s possible the book took more than 6 years to write, and that Maxson and Mrs. Ward sent a lot of letters back and forth to each other. And Arthur no doubt contributed quite a bit of material. But the fact that this goes unmentioned makes me wonder exactly how much of this book is what Pearl actually thought and felt, and how much is the author’s creative license. And if I have to ask that, then is it also fair to assume the medical details of Pearl’s trauma would a little bit off?

I also wonder just how long Pearl’s life was. If she was in her early 20s in the late 1930s… let’s put her at 25 in 1938, give or take a year. That would put her birth year at approximately 1913, maybe a little earlier. That would put Pearl at roughly 57 at the time of her death, give or take a few years. This woman did not live a very long life, even by the standards of the 1930s.

We are then told that Pearl Ward worked for The Voice of Prophecy  for a long time, during which she created better ways to manage things. But that’s not as important as the fact that all her children are “workers for God.”

Roselyn, with a master’s degree in music, heads the music department at Centro Adventista De Estudios Superiores in Costa Rica.

I’m sure that was true at the time of this writing. Here’s some more current information on Roselyn, who appears to still be alive.

Cynthia is a secretary at Caribbean Union College in Trinidad. Reuel is an accountant at Centro Educacional Adventista in Honduras. Angela, the youngest, is a student in the academy section of Caribbean Union College.

I have been unable to find anything about the other children, with the possible exception of Reuel. I can not watch videos with my shitty internet, but I might have found a video about him on Youtube.

The book ends with a quote from Arthur talking about how much Pearl meant to him and the family. It’s very sweet and heartfelt.

And that’s it. That’s the end of the book. So, my personal closing thoughts.

Ms. Maxon shows a mustard seed sized grain of talent in her writing. She seems to have a sense of pacing, and a good sense of when to switch from Arthur’s perspective to Pearl’s. The dialogue in the book wasn’t terrible either, for the most part. It could have been better, but I have absolutely read worse.

I have been listening, of course, to the Seventh-Day Atheist  podcast. One of the things the two women who run it talk about is how limiting Adventism is. Adventism encourages one to develop their talents–but not too much, and only in a way that is acceptable to them. One of the women is a writer, and she talks specifically about how she felt her writing was limited severely by her Adventist upbringing. Her words made my eyes tear up, because I can relate to everything. My writing was absolutely not encouraged, and in some cases actually discouraged, unless I wrote something that glorified God.

The women of the podcast compare this to bonsai plants. A bonsai tree is like a miniature version of a real tree. It’s allowed to grow, but only in the confines of this teeny little pot. People limited by Adventism are what they call “bonsai humans.” Stunted versions of what we could have been.

I absolutely agree that I am, in some ways, a bonsai human.  I can absolutely say the same for Ms. Maxwell. She could have been a really talented really good writer who wrote some books that maybe weren’t bestsellers, but decent writing, nonetheless.

Instead she was a stunted little bonsai writer who wrote shitty ass books glorifying a monster god, portrayed some shitty ass incompetent doctors without calling them out on it, and used what little talent she had to damage the people who read her books.

Because yes, her book did cause damage. How did it do that? Well, that’s what next week’s post is about. Next week S has asked to do a guest post, wherein she will talk about exactly how this book affected her. Even if you have not been following this series of posts, I encourage you to read her review of this. Because it’s important to see how people were impacted personally by books such as these.

 

 

The Stand Chapter 1

This is where the original, edited version of the book begins. Since I read the edited version first, this, for me, is where the book truly starts. I like this edited version a little better,  because this way, we don’t know what’s going on before the characters  do. When we first see the dead bodies, we are just as confused as Stu Redman is. But I am getting ahead of myself.

Norman Bruett, Tommy Wannamaker, Henry Charmicael and Stu Redman are sitting around at Bill Hapscomb’s Texaco gas station, talking about how bad the economy is.

“Now what I say is this,” Hap told them, putting his hands on his knees and leaning forward. “They just gotta say screw this inflation shit. Screw this national debt shit. We got the presses and we got the paper. We’re gonna run off 50 million thousand dollar bills and hump them right the Christ into circulation.”

When someone points out the obvious flaws in this plan, Hap gets annoyed. Apparently he owes a lot of people a lot of money.

We are then told that Stu Redman grew up poor. After he graduated high school Stu was about to go to college on a football scholarship in an attempt to get out of poverty when his mother died, and he had to raise his brother. So he turned down the scholarship. His brother, on the other hand, grew up, went to college, got a degree in something to do with computers, and never looked back. We are then told that Stu Redman had  a wife, but that she died of cancer.

It’s always interesting, in these sorts of books, to try and pick out who will survive the coming disaster vs who won’t. The fact that we get a lot of background information about Stu was a tip off to the fact that he’s one of the survivors.

As the men argue, Stu looks out the window and sees a car coming.

A Chevy, no lights on, doing no more than 15 miles per hour, weaving all over the road. No one had seen it yet but him….the way it was going Stu didn’t think it was going to make it much farther. It crossed the white line and its lefthand tires spumed up dust from the left shoulder. Now it lurched back, held its own lane briefly, then nearly pitched off into the ditch.

All of a sudden, the car starts heading straight for the gas station. One wonders if Charlie Campion, knowing that he and his wife are dying, knowing that he has made a terrible mistake, is trying to fix that mistake by…. crashing into the gas station pumps and burning themselves in an explosion? Would that have even worked? Can the superflu be controlled by burning the corpses? This never gets answered, and that’s kind of disappointing.

“So I say with more money in circulation you’d be–”

“Better turn off your pumps, Hap,” Stu said mildly.

“The pumps, what?”

Stu leans over and flips all the switches to the pumps. I’m not sure what that does… prevents an explosion, I guess? Anyway, the car hits the gas pumps, destroying them.

Norm remarks that the guy driving it must be drunk. Probably not an unfair assumption, at this point. The men rush out to the car and open the door.

It wasn’t the man who had fallen out, but the smell that was issuing from the car, a sick stench compounded of blood, fecal matter, vomit, and human decay. It was a ghastly rich sick-dead smell.

How long have Campion’s wife and son been dead? Doesn’t it take a while to start stinking? Oh nevermind.

At this point, I started trying to figure out what exactly it was these people had. would these symptoms be consistent with a deadly strain of flue? The disease will later be called “the superflu,” but it’s unknown if King actually intended it to be like the flu as we know it in our world. I’m willing to bet King did do some research, but honestly, I don’t think we’re supposed to look into it too much. The disease isn’t the main point of the story. It’s just a method by which King kills off a large portion of the world’s population. The novel isn’t really about the disease and its progression, it’s about how people react to a majority of the population disappearing.

Now do you see why this book gets compared to Left Behind? No? Ok we’ll get there.

A moment later Hap turned away, dragging the driver by the armpits. Tommy hastily grabbed the dragging feet and he and Hap carried him into the office.

Why are they moving him at all? Even if we assume the disease is nothing deadly, that man has just been in a car crash. Isn’t it common wisdom to not move the passengers until the ambulance gets there? Was that the prevailing advice when King first wrote this?

Hank looks at the other 2 passengers, and goes to vomit. Sally and LaVon are obviously dead.

Their [Sally and LaVon’s] necks had swelled up like inner tubes and the flesh there was a purple black color, like a bruise. The flesh was puffed up under their eyes, too. They looked, Vic later said, like those baseball players who put lampblack under their eyes to cut the glare. Their eyes bulged sightlessly. Thick mucus had run from their noses and was now clotted there. Flies buzzed around them, lighting in the mucus, crawling in and out of their open mouths.

How are flies on them already? They’re in a closed environment (a car) so unless the flies just came in when the car crashed, I’m not sure where they’re coming from. But what I really want to know is if all this is consistent with the flu. It almost looks like King just came up with the most gruesome scenario possible and went with it, regardless of how realistic it was.

And really, we’re not supposed to look into the disease too much. It’s just a plot device. So it wouldn’t really do to dwell on it too much.

In any case, Hap finally uses the pay phone to call an ambulance. Pay phones. Remember them? You put money in to make a call. Except for 911 calls. 911 calls were free. Was 911 a thing when King originally wrote this, or did Hap have to find the number?

You know what, nevermind. That is a textbook case of me being nitpicky. Let’s just move on.

Charlie starts to try and speak.

Whatever had been wrong with the woman and child in the car was also wrong with this man. His nose was running freely, and his respiration had a peculiar undersea sound, a churning from somewhere in his chest. The flesh beneath his eyes was puffing, not black yet, but a bruised purple. His neck looked too thick, and the flesh had pushed up in a column to give him two extra chins. He was running a high fever; being close to him was like squatting on the edge of an open Barbecue pit where good coals have been laid.

Some of this almost sounds like pneumonia. What is this, the symptoms of nearly all diseases ever all thrown into one? How did something like this form? Was it formed by humans? I don’t recall if this ever gets explained.

And how did it take out LaVon and Sally before Charlie, since Charlie is patient zero? Well, I guess it makes sense the baby would die first, but why Sally?

“The dog,” he muttered. “Did you pull him out?”

“Mister,” Hap said, shaking him gently. ” I called the ambulance. You’re going to be alright.”

“Clock went red,” the man on the floor grunted, and then began to cough, racking chainlike explosions that sent heavy mucus spraying from his mouth in long and ropy splatters. Hap leaned backward, grimacing desperately.

So, Hap is infected.

Charlie asks where he is, and asks about his wife and child. Hap lies, saying that they’re fine.

“Seems like I’m awful sick,” the man said…..”they were sick, too. Since we got up 2 days ago. Salt Lake City…Sick. Guess we didn’t move quick enough after all… I felt pretty good until last night. Coughing, but all right. Woke up with it in the night. Didn’t get away quick enough. Is Baby LaVon okay?”

Just then, everyone hears an ambulance siren. Hap lies again, telling Charlie his wife and child are all right. Normally I don’t like it when people lie about things like this, but Charlie is clearly dying anyway. Might as well let him hope he didn’t basically kill his wife and child by diving under the door before he could be contained.

The men speculate on what disease Charlie could have. Someone suggests food poisoning, or so they hope.

“because otherwise it might be something catching.” Vic looked at them with troubled eyes. ” I seen cholera back in 1958, down near Nogales, and it looked something like this.”

Here is a link that talks about the symptoms of cholera. Except for vomiting, this looks literally nothing like what King describes here. I’m not sure if Vic is supposed to be wrong here, or if we’re supposed to take him at his word.

In any case, if it actually is cholera, there’s not much reason to worry. Turns out cholera is mainly spread through feces getting into the groundwater, so it’s not really a problem in countries like the US where we have good sanitation and hospitals that are able to deal with this sort of thing.

The ambulance comes, and the people there don’t actually know what to do with the dead bodies. I’ve worked on an ambulance before, and we took dead bodies to the hospital when we had to, so this confusion doesn’t read as realistic to me.

Charlie dies before ever making it to the hospital. You know, I wonder about this, actually. Charlie, at some point, knew that he and his family were sick, for at least the last 2 days.  Why were they not trying to make it to the hospital already? Did Charlie not want to expose more people? Then why drive around randomly? I mean, yeah, his mind was wandering toward the end, but before that, 2 days ago, he had enough presence of mind to know that he and his family were sick. So why avoid the hospital?

In any case, Hap, who for some reason is allowed to ride in the ambulance, opens Charlie’s wallet and finds out that the dead man’s name is Charles D Campion. When I first read this, I thought we were told this because the virus was going to be called Campion’s Disease.  In the edited version it sorta made sense to include this because otherwise we wouldn’t know the man’s name, as the prologue was not included. Here, it could have mostly been cut.

Hap stuffed the wallet back into the dead man’s pocket and told Carlos to turn off the siren. It was ten after 9.

That’s the end of the chapter. Next week we’ll meet another main protagonist of the story.

The Shack Chapter 5 (Part 1)

Chapter 5

Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner?

 

This is the chapter where the main plot actually begins. This is the part of the book where Mack makes an incredibly stupid decision and his best friend just lets him.

Intrigued? Let’s get started.

There are times when you choose to believe something that would normally be considered absolutely irrational. It doesn’t mean that it is actually irrational, but it surely is not rational.

Yes, actually, it does. That’s the definition of irrationality: something that is not rational. Words mean things.

Perhaps there is a suprarationality: reason beyond the normal definitions of fact or data-based logic; something that makes sense only if you can see a bigger picture of reality. Maybe that is where faith fits in.

No, faith doesn’t give you a bigger picture of reality, it gives you a different picture. And possibly an inaccurate one, if you put your faith in the wrong things.

Mack has come to 3 possible conclusions about the mysterious note he received:

  1. It is from God
  2. Cruel Joke
  3. From Missy’s killer.

If he honestly believes it could be from Missy’s killer, why hasn’t he told the police about it? Perhaps the killer has sent identical letters to the fathers of all the children he’s murdered. And it is entirely likely that it is a cruel joke. Last chapter we got told that Nan speaks at conferences about her relationship with God, and how she calls him “Papa.” Mack told the people he was talking to that night about “Papa” being her term for God. Since both he and Nan talk about it with practically every person they meet, It wouldn’t necessarily have to be someone close to the family to be able to sign it “Papa.”

Really, the only reason for Mack to believe the note is from God is because Mack has a direct line to the author. Or perhaps he really does want it to be true so badly that he’s willing to believe it. Humans do irrational things like that. But I would need the text to acknowledge that that is what is happening. The text here is trying to tell us that what Mack is doing makes absolute sense, because “faith.”

And I’m not buying it.

Mack doesn’t tell his wife what he is doing, because he is convinced he will be locked in a mental institution. He also rationalizes that he is keeping this a secret for her sake as well as his. We never do get a reason for this rationalization that makes sense, as we skip straight to:

Besides, acknowledging the note would mean admitting that he had kept secrets from her, secrets he still justified in his own mind. Sometimes honesty can be incredibly messy.

I’ve been out of the Christian community for quite some time. Is it now a thing that you can’t have any secrets from your spouse? And what secrets is Mack keeping from Nan? More importantly, why does Mack think these secrets are even something he should tell Nan? Unless his secret is that he’s dating another woman or that he enjoys murdering people in his spare time, why isn’t he allowed to have his secrets?

Oh. I bet that one of the secrets is that Mack killed his father. Or at least, that he tried to. This book has forgotten that, but I haven’t.

Because Mack is keeping all of this a secret, he looks for ways to get away from his family for the weekend without them knowing about it. But then the author realized that this makes Mack look like a jerk, so the author had Nan come up with something:

She had been toying with the idea of visiting her sister and her family up in the San Juan Islands…her brother in law was a child psychologist, and Nan thought that getting his insights on Kate’s increasingly antisocial behavior might be very helpful.

One minor nitpick: that word antisocial doesn’t mean what you think it means. The word you want is avoidant, or maybe asocial. Kate is avoiding people. In psychology, antisocial behavior refers to people who want to be around other people so they can behave in ways that are against the norms of society.

Also…. NO SHIT Kate should see a psychologist! Why is it taking you years to figure this out? Though Nan probably shouldn’t take Kate to anyone she’s related to. Kate may not feel comfortable opening up to someone she knows is going to rat her out to her mother. Kate needs to see someone who isn’t a family member in a professional setting so that she can have the confidentiality she deserves. And this should have happened 3 years ago.

So it’s settled that Josh, Kate, and Nan are going to Nan’s sister’s house for a week, thereby freeing Mack to spend a weekend with God.

Next, Mack calls Willie. Remember him, the rambly guy from the introduction who told us all about Mack and his family?

Mack wants to borrow Willie’s car, because it’s better for the snowy mountain driving Mack needs to do. Willie somehow knows that Mack is driving to the shack–because he has special knowledge from the author, I guess. There’s nothing in the conversation to indicate why Willie would figure that out. Mack hasn’t told him about the note.

After his family leave, Mack packs. He tells us that if God didn’t send the note, he wants to be prepared. Which…. sure. It’s hardly the thing in this book that has made the least amount of sense.

Anyway, almost as soon as Nan leaves, Willie arrives.

Their conversation must have been sufficiently perplexing to warrant an early visit. Mack was just relieved Nan had left already.

Well, yeah, no shit. You didn’t even tell Willie why you wanted to go to the Shack. To Willie’s credit, he tells Mack that he won’t give him the keys to the jeep without an explanation.

“I don’t know if my old Jeep’ll even keep us on the roads up there. But just in case, I put some chains in the back if we need them.”

We? Willie’s going too? You know what, good for Willie. He has no idea why Mack wants to go to the shack (and how he’s figured it out is a mystery), but he’s not going to let him go alone.

In this moment, I like Willie.

Mack shows Willie the note, and Willie reacts kinda sorta like I would.

“Wait, you aren’t thinking this is really from God, are you?…Have you thought about the possibility that this may be from Missy’s killer? What if he’s luring you back for some reason?”

Willie is bringing up very real concerns. He’s probably thinking, “oh shit, I knew my friend was behaving foolishly, but I didn’t know he was batshit insane.”

Mack replies that part of him is hoping that it is Missy’s killer, because Mack “has a score to settle with him.” But Mack also thinks that no one who’s not close to his family would know to sign the note “Papa.”

I feel like I’m a broken record, but Nan speaks at conferences about her relationship with God. You told the people you were camping with. Sometimes Serial killers stalk their families for a while. For all you know, the Little LadyKiller could be someone you sat around the campfire and talked with the night before Missy died. Really, you’d only have to have a passing familiarity with Mack to know who “Papa” is to him.

Willie argues that God wouldn’t send notes like that, and I can’t help but agree.

I mean, didn’t Jesus say, in the Bible, that the next time he came to earth it would be so obvious that every single person on the planet would see him? Yes, yes he did say that, and honestly that’s probably the second thing about this book that would bother a conservative Christian. Christian!Abby wasn’t bothered by this because Christian!Abby could put it aside for the sake of a good story. But yes, technically, this story does kinda go against the Bible. Since this book is marketed at Christians, it’s probably best for the author not to bring that up. It’s a minor nitpick, anyway.

Then we get this….

“I’m not sure, Willie. I guess part of me would like to believe that God would care enough about me to send a note. I’m so confused, even after all this time. I just don’t know what to think and it isn’t getting better. I feel like we’re losing Kate, and that’s killing me. Maybe what happened to Missy is God’s judgement for what I did to my own dad. I just don’t know….all I know is, I need to go back.”

The first part of this reads as the open and honest statement of a man who feels broken and hopeless….. and then the book suddenly remembers that oh yeah, Mack is a murderer.

Actually, let’s talk about this. See, humans aren’t usually killers. Many of us will even go our whole lives without even trying to kill someone. I may joke about murdering certain co workers who I wish would be hit by a bus, but if they actually got hit by a bus, I would feel guilty. I would be consumed by terrible feelings of sadness and guilt, feeling that somehow, by wishing the rude homophobic prick would get hit by a bus, I caused the rude homophobic prick to be hit by a bus.

Mack has actually killed someone. He didn’t accidentally kill his dad as his dad was abusing him. When Mack killed his dad, Mack wasn’t trying to protect himself. This isn’t even a case where Mack believed that killing his dad was the only way the abuse would stop.

If you recall from the introduction, after his dad beat Mack to within an inch of his life, killed his dad the minute he recovered, then ran away. But Mack was already planning to run away when he killed his father. He was already away from his abusive father when he went back and killed him. It was premeditated and not done in the heat of the moment.

Mack straight up murdered his father, and this is the first time he’s ever shown feeling anything about it. Mack should feel something about it. It should consume him. The last chapter should have shown him agonizing over whether or not God was taking his child as punishment for Mack’s having killed his father.

You know what we call people who kill people and don’t feel immensely guilty about it afterward? Sociopaths.

Look, there are things you can bring a character back from, and things you can’t. If Mack had killed his abusive father because he was trying to protect himself from his father’s violence, that would be a bit more of a gray area. If he had murdered him when, in a fit of anger, Mack decided to hit back and meant to incapacitate but not kill, that would be a bit of a gray area. But Mack was away from his father’s house, and he went back to kill him. That kind of cold, pre-meditated murder? Not a gray area.

Maybe you could still make Mack a sympathetic character after that, but only if you show him having extreme remorse. And we haven’t seen that from Mack at all. Actually, I haven’t seen any sign at all that Mack regrets killing his father.

I’m tentatively putting Mack in the sociopath category.

Also, Mack told Willie about murdering his father, but not Nan? And Willie….didn’t go to the police? You know what, nevermind. I don’t think the author really thought this through when he wrote it.

In any case, Mack and Willie are still talking. Willie has given up on trying to talk him out of it.

There was silence before Willie spoke again. “So, when do we leave?”

I don’t like Willie, for the most part. But here, I like him. Even after hearing about Mack’s insanity, he’s not letting him go alone. I’m glad you’re such a good friend, Willie.

“Thanks buddy, but I need to do this alone.”

“I thought you’d say that,” Willie responded has he walked out of the room. He returned with a pistol and a box of shells in his hands.

At first I thought Willie was actually going to shoot him if he insisted on going alone.

“I figured I wouldn’t be able to talk you out of going, so I thought you might need this. I believe you know how to use it.”

Wait, what? That’s it? Gah. This is why Willie is so frustrating as a character. He just lets Mack go alone after this. No, there’s probably nothing Willie could do to stop him, and physically restraining Mack might not be a possibility (though I would consider it a good idea if he did) but you know what Willie could do? Not hand over the keys to the jeep. Willie could say something like, “Sorry Mack, but either I’m coming with you, or you’re not going.”

He could, you know, not be an enabler.

Or he could call the police and tell them everything. They have the legal right and means to stop Mack. They would also be interested in potentially catching the killer.

Mack is reluctant to take Willie’s gun, because using violence to solve problems never worked for him before.

Wait, what? You just straight up murdered your dad, which you somehow got away with, and you don’t seem to feel guilty about (he only feels guilty in that God is punishing him for this by killing Missy. That’s not the same as feeling guilty for murdering his father. Again, sociopath.) Why the fuck do you not think violence solves your problems?

You know what? Set that aside. Mack just got done telling us that, even if it is Missy’s killer who sent the note, he doesn’t care because h’es “got a score to settle with him.” That sure sounds like violence to me.

If this had been consistent with the characterization of Mack so far,* I might be ok with this. But it’s not. Mack doesn’t seem to have an issue with violence and he doesn’t seem to have a thing about guns specifically, either. Which makes the gun reluctance very out of place.

Willie brings Mack to his sense, telling him he needs to go armed in case it’s Missy’s killer. Which…. I agree with…. but…. well, more on that in a minute.

Mack finally accepts the gun and the keys to the jeep.

As he’s about to leave, Willie asks what Nan thinks about all this. Understandably, he gets upset when he realizes Mack didn’t tell her.

Willie was obviously surprised. “What? You never keep secrets from her. I can’t believe you lied to her!”

Why is there an exclamation point? Why is Willie yelling? This isn’t something to– I mean, keeping secrets and lying to your wife isn’t something you would yell about. Of all the moments in this conversation to start yelling, this would be the wrong one. By now, Willie should be yelling his fool head off. The fact that he hasn’t been makes me think that he is in general a calm person who never really gets angry. So why is he angry here?

“I didn’t lie to her,” Mack objected.

“Well excuse me for splitting hairs,” Willie snapped back. “Okay, you didn’t lie to her because you didn’t tell her the whole truth. Oh yeah, she’s going to understand that, all right.” he rolled his eyes.

I agree with what Willie is saying here. Again, what makes no sense to me is his tone. Willie has been calm while Mack was telling him that God sent Mack a note asking him to meet Him at the place where his child got murdered. But when Willie finds out Mack lied to his wife about it, he suddenly gets upset?

No dawg. Willie should be beyond upset. Honestly, the only reason to point out Mack’s deceit is that it’s a red flag. It’s a red flag that Mack knows that what he is doing is wrong. Mack is doing some stupid shit, and he knows it. If Willie was going to get upset about this, that should be the reason.

Mack ignores Willie, and goes to get his car keys. By the time he returns, Willie has calmed down enough to ask him what he thinks God will look like.

“I can just see you scaring the living daylights out of some hiker–asking if he’s God and then demanding answers an’ all.”

You…. just gave this guy a gun. You gave Mack a gun and then makes jokes like this. If it hadn’t been for the gun, I’d think this was hilarious.

But what if Mack pulls out the gun, thinking the hiker is God? What if he starts threatening “god?” Yes, we all know you can’t kill god with a gun. That wouldn’t stop some people from trying.

Willie, seriously. You just sent your friend, who is clearly mentally ill,** alone to the woods with a gun. Even if you don’t believe that Mack is mentally ill because he thinks God is talking to him, you know that Mack has been very depressed for a long time. At the very least, aren’t you worried he might be going there to kill himself? And that you just made his job easier?

Why couldn’t the author have just left out the gun altogether? If he really felt the need to arm Mack, have Mack take his own damn gun. It still doesn’t solve the problem of why he has it, but it does make Willie look like less of an enabler.

Willie tells Mack that if God does show up, try not to piss him off. Good advice.

The chapter isn’t over, but we’re stopping here for now. I had a lot to say in this post, and I have a lot to say about the next part of this chapter, and I wish to be able to do it justice.

We’ll pick this up again next week.

 

*Actually, aside from what Willie tells us in the introduction, Mack doesn’t really have any characterization. And Christian!Abby just sort of pretended the introduction didn’t exist while she was reading this book (Christian!Abby wanted to like this book) so as far as Christian!Abby was concerned, Mack was a cardboard cutout with no feelings or characterization whatsoever.

 

**Yes, thinking that God is sending you letters is a sign of mental illness. Mack’s been under a lot of stress, I would not at all blame him if he snapped.

Wacky White Wednesday #18 No True Christian is Fat

Christian Temperance and Bible Hygiene p. 80

Every true Christian will have control of his appetites and passions. Unless he is free from the bondage of appetite, he cannot be a true, obedient servant of Christ. The indulgence of appetite and passion blunts the effect of truth upon the heart. It is impossible for the spirit and power of the truth to sanctify a man, soul, body, and spirit, when he is controlled by sensual desires.