Anonymous Tip: Introducing a New Review Series

Anonymous Tip: Introducing a New Review Series December 19, 2014

Anonymous TipGuess what just came in the mail? That’s right, Michael Farris’s novel, Anonymous Tip. Today I begin a new series—I will be reviewing the book in installments in the same way I reviewed Created To Be His Help Meet.

Michael Farris published Anonymous Tip in 1996. I read the book as a teenager star-struck by Farris. After all, my family had long been members of his organization, the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA). I read the organization’s publication—The Home School Court Report—every month, devouring the section on cases handled, which outlined social workers repulsed and school superintendent letters retracted.

As a teen, I read Anonymous Tip in the same way that I read Frank Peretti’s demon-thriller, This Present Darkness—as a sordid tale of evil at work in the world. For all the books’ devious social workers and lurking demons, I viewed both as profoundly realistic. I shivered at the wiles of the evil forces and rejoiced at the ultimate triumph of good. I’m rather excited to read through Anonymous Tip today, ten years after my first reading of the book.

So let’s get started, shall we? Here are the book’s opening lines:

He knew it was wrong. But it wasn’t a big deal. Just a little hassle. And she certainly deserved it. Without further thought, he punched in the number on the touch-tone phone.

The story begins with Gordon calling the child abuse hotline to lodge false abuse claims against his ex. Gordon asks of the call is anonymous, and the intake operator tells him it can be and adds that “We just want to protect children.” The operator asks Gordon the girl’s name—Casey—the girl’s mother’s name—Gwen—and her address—which he provides. When the operator asks whether there were bruises and when he last saw Casey, he panics and ends the report. “Just go protect this little girl,” he says.

What’s more interesting than the story itself are the subtleties. Farris writes of the intake operator speaking “with practiced sympathy.” Not genuine—practiced. As for Gordon, Farris writes that after making the report he “slammed down the receiver,” “glared at the phone,” and then went “back to the refrigerator for another Bud.” No stereotype there!

After the call, Farris writes that the operator typed up the report and emailed it to both social worker Donna Corliss and the division supervisor. Farris adds this:

The operator marked it Priority 2—“Possible Physical Abuse, Unknown Injuries.” She rolled her eyes and wished for more information, but the caller didn’t indicate a knowledge of bruises. She couldn’t enter the report as a Priority 1—“Bodily Injuries Reported.”

Well, at least it’s a 2. Corliss will get it tomorrow, she said to herself with a disgusted sigh while reaching for her Danielle Steele novel.

I’m not sure about the import of the intake operator’s Danielle Steele novel, but there’s a lot to be said of the rest of those two short paragraphs.

Why exactly does the intake officer roll her eyes? Farris doesn’t tell us. Presumably because Gordon hung up without answering her question about bruises? That seems an odd thing to roll one’s eyes about. Also, why does she give a “disgusted sigh” at having to write the report up as a Priority 2 rather than a Priority 1? It seems odd that she would want reported abuse to be severe.

Look, if I were an intake operator, I suspect I would be annoyed every time someone called in an incomplete report. But this would be because having more complete information makes it easier to judge whether a visit is warranted, and because a social worker making a visit benefits from having more complete information. Farris positions the intake operator’s annoyance differently—in Farris’s telling, she appears to be upset solely because she wasn’t able to label the report a Priority 1. This strikes me as odd and unrealistic.

Of course, if I remember correctly from my earlier reading of this book, social workers caring more about making a conviction (even if it means fabricating abuse) than about protecting children quickly becomes a bit of a theme.

Next week we meet social worker Donna Corliss.

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