NRA: Feathering the throttle

Nicolae: The Rise of Antichrist; pp. 221-227

It’s always fun to try to picture the action as Jerry Jenkins describes it in this book:

When Michael docked at the mouth of the Jordan, he and his fellow guards scanned the horizon and then casually walked to his tiny car and crammed themselves inside. Michael drove to his home, which had a tiny lean-to that served as a garage.

Despite what this says, Buck Williams and Tsion Ben-Judah are not still sitting in a boat on the shore of the Dead Sea. Michael’s riverboat is actually docked, I think, at the mouth of a some unnamed navigable tributary of the Jordan River. And I think Buck and Tsion also “crammed themselves” inside Michael’s tiny car. In any case, the whole group seems to be together there at Michael’s house and we don’t seem to be anywhere near the mouth of the Jordan where it meets the Dead Sea.

But before we can make sense of that scene, we get this brief summary of the first three books of the series so far:

While Buck was on the phone he was aware of all the activity around him.

He’s calling Ken Ritz, his charter pilot buddy, to arrange his flight out of Egypt because Buck had a dream in which he was Joseph having a dream in which God told him (Joseph/Buck) to flee to Egypt.

The fact that two days ago the Antichrist nuked Cairo into oblivion does not seem to have factored into this plan of Buck’s. Why should it? If the nuclear destruction of Chicago doesn’t even complicate traffic in Evanston or flights out of Milwaukee, then Egypt probably works the same way and everything outside of the Cairo city limits will be unperturbed.

We might dwell on that for a moment, pausing to ponder what it takes for a writer to give us a book in which a city of 9 million people can be wiped out by a nuclear bomb and then, two chapters later, all the characters and even the writer himself seem to have forgotten this even happened. But we’ll instead just move on. I’m inclined to cut Jenkins a bit of slack today because of three things in the section we’re looking at this week.

First, there’s this: After settling his plans with the pilot, Buck tries to speak to Michael’s wife, to thank her for the risks her family were taking to help him. On learning she doesn’t speak English, he gestures awkwardly “to express his gratitude.”

This is, literally, an empty gesture. Saying thank you is nothing more than the very least that anyone in Buck’s situation ought to do. Commending Buck and Jenkins for remembering to do this means setting the bar as low as it can possibly be set. But having done that — they cleared the bar. Buck Williams thanked someone. One of our protagonists behaved for a moment, however briefly, as though other people existed for something other than providing him the praise and assistance to which he is entitled. I’m pleasantly surprised to see it.

She was a tiny, fragile-looking, dark-eyed thing. Sadness and terror were etched on her face and in her eyes. It was as if she knew she were on the right side, but that her time was limited. It couldn’t be long before her husband was found out. He was not only a convert to the true Messiah, but he had also defended an enemy of the state. Buck knew Michael’s wife must be wondering how long it would be before she and her children suffered the same fate that Tsion Ben-Judah’s family suffered.

Maybe she isn’t pondering such dreadful things — it might just be that she’s in pain from having her eyes etched like that. That’s got to be very painful.

We discussed this whole Christian-killing Jews fantasy last week — an example of what I think psychiatrists call projection. That’s reflected here again in that phrase “the true Messiah.” This isn’t just how Buck and Michael and Tsion think of things. In this story, it seems the evil, Christian-killing Israelis think this way too — like they sit around saying things like, “Ben-Judah has forsaken our false religion and begun following the true Messiah. True religion is forbidden — he must be stopped!”

She said something in Hebrew and he recognized only the last two words, “Y’shua Hamashiach.”

Buck recognizes those two words as meaning “I have Lamb Trilogy on vinyl.”*

He and Tsion get on board the old school bus and Buck fires up the engine.

Michael signaled him from outside to slide open his driver’s side window. “Feather it,” Michael said.

“Feather it?”

“The throttle.”

We read a great deal more over the next page and a half about feathering the throttle and trying not to ride the clutch in the old school bus. Part of this is to reassure readers that Buck Williams knows how to drive a manual transmission vehicle and is thus a legitimate manly man. (I’m not sure how the ability to shift gears in a car — something millions of women do every day — came to be seen as a shorthand measurement of masculinity for that segment of the population that seems to spend a lot of time worrying about measuring masculinity. Maybe it’s because of that idiom “drive stick.”)

But I suspect that part of what we’re seeing in these pages of feathering the throttle is Jerry Jenkins’ personal experience driving an unreliable, unresponsive, uncooperative old church bus. That’s the second thing in these pages that makes me want to cut Jenkins a bit of slack this week. I’ve spent a lot of time riding on such buses, and so anybody who’s spent time driving them has my appreciation.

The overlong discussion of driving instructions is followed by an overlong discussion of driving directions — a slaw of place names and alternate routes that can be skimmed over to read:

Blah blah blah [three paragraphs worth] … “take the southernmost … border crossing.”

That’s how this would have read if Jenkins had followed Elmore Leonard’s advice to “leave out the parts that readers tend to skip.” It’s also all that matters as far as the story goes: “take the southernmost border crossing.”

But if you actually go back and read all those place names and directions you’ll notice something unexpected: These are actual places and the directions correspond (roughly) to a map of southern Israel.

Sure, Jenkins’ reference to these places doesn’t always make sense here — such as when he mentions the “heavily patrolled” border crossings “at Rafah on the Gaza Strip.” In the world of this novel, the Palestinians who lived in the Gaza Strip were long ago relocated — cheerfully and voluntarily. The Gaza Strip was then sprinkled with Chaim Rosenzweig’s miracle formula and converted into farmland. That farmland remains “heavily patrolled,” though, apparently out of habit.

Still, even if the Gaza Strip has no business existing in this story, Jenkins locates it in the right place on the map. He also locates Hebron south of Jerusalem — and Hebron really is south of Jerusalem.

Jerry Jenkins finally looked at a map.

No, that doesn’t constitute an impressive level of research. It’s the bare minimum of a bare minimum — like making a feeble “thank you” gesture to someone whose family might be killed because they helped you. But here at the beginning of Chapter 12, finally, Jenkins actually did this bare minimum. Considering that Chapter 11 had Buck and his friends rowing down a wadi, I’d say that’s a tiny step, but a big improvement.

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* Lamb was the name of a Messianic Jewish “rock band” in the 1980s. Except it wasn’t really a band, just one guy with a keyboard mostly. And it wasn’t really rock, more like praise choruses with a “Hava Nagila” beat. Anyway, one of Lamb’s most popular songs was called  …

You know what? Nevermind. I don’t think I can explain that joke. But if you were in a church youth group in the early ’80s and you recall standing in a circle of evangelical goyim awkwardly trying to dance the hora to an earnest keyboard-and-drum-machine pop song, well, then you understand that joke.

 


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