On page 292, Buck sits down with the late pastor Bruce’s countless pages of notes about the End-Times. There are so many pages that Loretta spent hours printing them from Bruce’s computer files after his death.
Buck “drank in Bruce’s Bible studies and commentary, finding his sermon notes for that very Sunday.” We are told that these Bible commentaries “read like a novel”–unlike this novel, which reads like a Bible commentary.
On page 304, Rayford wants to take over leadership of the little “band of freedom fighters” because he is the “senior member.” Amanda shyly raises her hand and says she is “the senior member, if you’re talking age.” Rayford means he’s been a believer a week longer than anyone else.
But that’s beside the point–Not only is a woman calling herself “old,” but the authors have already called her “handsome.” Why do the authors keep trying to make Amanda seem like a wrinkled elderly grandmother when she hasn’t even reached 50 yet?
Hattie, of course, gets to be “drop-dead gorgeous” even though we have no clue about her actual looks (until we see the movie and discover that she looks like Chelsea Noble). What is this bias against middle-aged women?
This reminds me of one of the tips from Jenkins’ book Writing for the Soul, as (amazingly) excerpted in Writer’s Digest Magazine in August 2006:
I eschew too much description. I loved it when great potboiler writer John D. MacDonald described a character simply as ‘knuckly.’ A purist might have demanded hair length and color; eye size, shape and color; height; weight; build; gait.
Not me. ‘Knuckly’ gave me all I needed to picture the man. And if I saw him thinner, taller, older than you did, so much the better. MacDonald offered a suggestion that allowed his readers to populate their own scenes.”
Jenkins goes on to tell how an editor wanted him to go into more descriptive detail about an “oily geek” character in one of his Left Behind novels. Apparently this was not an important character, and Jenkins argued that the editor visualized a guy
in his 20s, plump, pale, with longish, greasy hair and thick glasses. What could I say? ‘Eureka! You just proved my point! All I wrote was that he was an oily geek, and look what you brought to the table.’
Every reader has his own personal vision of a computer techie, so why not let each mental creation have its 15 seconds of fame on the theater screen of the mind?
Trouble is, not only is this “oily geek” a stereotype, but he was not an important character, one reason why Jenkins argued to his editor that he did not need more description.
So why do the important characters get the same treatment as the unimportant oily geek? In the Left Behind books, we get such descriptions as “drop-dead gorgeous” (Hattie) and “young Robert Redford” (Nicolae).
Not only are the descriptions minimal, but they’re clichéd. When I first started reading Left Behind, I went on imdb.com to get photos of each character from the movie, because I had no idea what anybody looked like.
Jenkins thinks the reader should bring his own “personal visions” to each character. I think that’s just lazy writing. It’s not necessary to describe every single detail about a person, which could get tedious for both the writer and the reader.
But well-chosen and distinctive features not only make a character more vivid, they can be connected to personality traits or explain what a character has to go through each morning just to get ready for the day.
For example, Claire in the Outlander series (by Diana Gabaldon) has a mop of curly hair. In her own time, she can use creams to keep it under control. But when she travels to the 18th century, she must constantly deal with hair that has a mind of its own.
It frizzes, and first thing in the morning, it can be quite a mess. Add a mob cap and you have quite the amusing picture. But her 18th-century husband loves it. Also remember the furor when Felicity Porter chopped off her curly hair.
How Jenkins made it into Writer’s Digest or Writer’s Digest Books, I don’t know, especially when I find so many reader reviews on the Web describing these novels (and other Jenkins novels) as “terrible writing,” “bad writing,” etc. He claims to keep out unnecessary details, for example, yet gluts his books with unneeded phone conversations and logistical meetings.
On p. 310, we read that Bruce’s body “was merely the earthly house of his dear friend. Bruce was gone. The likeness that lay here was just a reflection of the man he once was.”
But what about the Resurrection? Even as a Protestant, I knew our bodies are destined to be raised again, whole and incorrupt, transformed and everlasting, whether we are good or evil. But this book seems to assume that Bruce’s body was meant only to decompose and turn to dust and only his spirit would still exist.
Buck and his co-worker Verna Zee have had a rocky relationship–or, more properly, a war between them. Even though Buck is our star, his guilt in this is obvious.
But it seems we are supposed to see Verna as the aggressor, and Buck’s snark as holy snark. For a time in this book, we think they will lay down their verbal weapons and be at peace, but Verna is blamed for breaking that peace, and the war starts up again.
(For example, on page 343 Verna says, “If that wasn’t [Tsion Ben-Judah at the New Hope church service], I’m no journalist.” Buck says, “No comment.”)
On page 348, we finally discover why she is so unpleasant: She’s a lesbian! Buck, of course, uses this information as potential blackmail, so that she won’t tell Nicolae Carpathia that Buck is a Christian.
But it’s not explained why Verna would even worry about being “outed” to her employer in the Age of Aquarius, when New Age religions and liberalism are the order of the day, and conservative Christian beliefs are considered outmoded, even dangerous.
On page 350, we discover that neither Buck nor Chloe knew Verna was a lesbian; it just sneaked out of Buck’s mouth while Buck was arguing with her. So they decide it was a revelation from God.
So you can show an unchristian lack of love for your fellow humans and humiliate them and use their sexual orientation against them?
Not to mention the way Chloe spent the last several pages ridiculing Verna for putting two and two together and getting the right answer about Buck’s verboten faith and the presence of the fugitive Tsion Ben-Judah at Bruce’s funeral.
Also, Loretta the church secretary is rude to her on the phone, saying Tsion is Loretta’s “secret lover” whom she keeps “under the bed.” This after Verna has only just stayed at Loretta’s house.
On Verna’s side, we see treachery because she is a lesbian and not a believer. But the believers act no better toward her. Is it any wonder that Verna does not want to become a believer herself?
On page 359, we see that the former Pope and Christian clergy who have since apostasized and become part of the One World Faith, all believe that Revelations is meant to be taken symbolically, figuratively and metaphorically.
Meanwhile, “fellow believers,” which would be “tribulation-saint pastors and a few converted Jews,” believe in the “literal and imminent” “wrath of the Lamb.” Because, after all, a metaphorical view of Revelations is Evil (TM).
On pages 326-8 and 358-9, we find so much attention given to the “wrath of the Lamb” that God’s love and the gospel of Christ seem to have been forgotten.
On page 328, Buck even muses that “wrath of the Lamb” is a great catchphrase for the “current world citizen” to grab onto! These must be fans of Jonathan Edwards (“Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God“).
What fun as Buck interviews the former Pope, the Pontifex Maximus Peter Mathews, who regurgitates every liberal doctrine you can think of. Can we really, truly believe that a man chosen to be Pope would so easily leave the most basic tenets of Catholic doctrine?
While the Catholic Church does not hold the same literalist views as the authors, and while there are liberals in the church, the church itself is not at all liberal and Peter Mathews could most likely never become Pope. (Update 1/25/15: Not even Pope Francis is all that liberal.)
On pages 377-8, Hattie, who has–on Rayford’s suggestion–gone to see Chloe, Buck and Loretta, is subjected to their love bombing.
Chloe puts her hands on Hattie’s shoulders and “feels led” to say that she knows why Hattie is there and how her family reacted to her pregnancy. She then says that while this little group has definite ideas about what Hattie should know, do and agree with, and while her decisions are “life-and-death, heaven-and-hell decisions,” they will love her no matter what.
Chloe’s language is so stilted that it doesn’t sound at all real; she sounds as if she swallowed a Bible; she talks a lot and listens little; Hattie barely says a word; and she might as well be saying, “If you make the wrong decision you’ll be a murderer who will BURN IN HELL!–but we’ll love you anyway because it’s your decision.”
(But of course, we see on page 384 that Buck doesn’t want to take the baby himself. He’ll let Hattie raise the child of the Antichrist.)
I’m amazed that Hattie doesn’t run out of there screaming. This whole scene seems so–fake, somehow.
I am a Christian who believes abortion is wrong, and yet even I feel like cultists are trying to pull Hattie into their little web. They have their own special language, speak so much and so persuasively that their target cannot protest, and love-bomb potential converts.
Another way of looking at it: Rayford is Dracula; Hattie is Jonathan Harker; Chloe, Buck and Loretta are Dracula’s three brides, surrounding Harker and touching him as they try to lure him into their grasp.
As quoted in the above URL, Margaret Singer writes in Cults in Our Midst:
As soon as any interest is shown by the recruits, they may be love bombed by the recruiter or other cult members.
This process of feigning friendship and interest in the recruit was originally associated with one of the early youth cults, but soon it was taken up by a number of groups as part of their program for luring people in.
Love bombing is a coordinated effort, usually under the direction of leadership, that involves long-term members’ flooding recruits and newer members with flattery, verbal seduction, affectionate but usually nonsexual touching, and lots of attention to their every remark.
Love bombing–or the offer of instant companionship–is a deceptive ploy accounting for many successful recruitment drives.
The Watchtower Whistleblower writes:
Love-bombing is highly conditional. The cults will love you to death while you represent a prospective convert to their group. As a member a tight family love will surround you as you faithfully promote their cause.
However, when it is clear that a prospect will not join the group or a member voices doubts, create waves, or leaves the group, all love ceases. Indeed scorn is immediately heaped on these individuals and remaining members are told not to have any contact with them.
All time, effort and love-bombing is then directed towards new prospects and the faithful members.
It remains to be seen how Hattie will be treated in later books.
In the last book, Nicolae announced to Rayford and Amanda that he was engaged to Hattie and she was going to bear his child. On pages 390-1 of this book, we find Nicolae is a Beast in more ways than one:
He tells Rayford that Hattie has “always overestimated the seriousness of our personal relationship,” she should have known he had no room in his life for marriage and children, he hopes she will “terminate the pregnancy,” he has “needs,” he does not want commitment, he never committed to Hattie, he already found somebody else, she can keep the ring, etc. etc.
Oh, yeah, and he wants Rayford to give her the bad news because he doesn’t have time to do it himself.
Every female reader is now seething at the Beast. Many women, including me, have been in Hattie’s position in one way or another, with the man who makes you think you’re the love of his life, then wants out and accuses you of getting too serious, effectively trying to change history as if you have no memory of your own.
And Nicolae won’t even do the dirty work in person. Poor Hattie is getting dumped on by everybody in these books!
On page 403, as the earthquake demolishes buildings and lives all over the world, as Rayford and the Antichrist take a helicopter to get away from the destruction, we find a good scene reminiscent of 9/11.
Especially since 9/11 hadn’t yet happened when the book was written, I am impressed by the scene, and the evil of the Antichrist as he refuses to help any of the people who are desperate to get onto the helicopter before their building crumbles to dust.
That, of course, quickly changes to Buck’s reckless driving, “speeding through lights and stop signs, jumping curbs, and going around cars and trucks” because he knows the earthquake is coming.
As he drives with no thought for anyone’s safety but his own, he reaches for his car phone. Unbelievable! Buck must have a death wish–or a death wish for the other drivers.
On page 407, we read, “And Hattie! Was it possible she might have received Christ before this? Could there have been somebody in Boston or on the plane who would have helped her make the transaction?” As if it were impossible for God to have mercy on whom He will have mercy!
And all this devastation! We read of so much death, destruction, mayhem, blood, gaping wounds–on anyone who gets in the way of the earthquake, no matter who they are, good, evil, Christian, non-Christian. Even Loretta dies. The only difference is that Christians get to go to Heaven afterwards while the non-Christians go to Hell.
These are not all evil people, just people who for whatever reason are not Christians, who haven’t done this legalistic “transaction” as if salvation were a car or a piece of merchandise sitting on a shelf. Give the clerk your money, sign the contract, and you are now the owner of a brand-new salvation.
We see here a deity destroying good and bad together for the sake of destruction, vengeance and his own glory. Rayford seems to have more compassion in these past several pages than this deity! How on earth is this series bringing in converts–through fear?????
The deeper I get into these books, the less I like the characters. They’re really starting to creep me out. I wonder what fun awaits in Book Four…..
[February 26, 2009]