Last week we began chapter 2 of Michael Farris’s novel, Anonymous Tip. In the opening pages of the chapter, Donna, the social worker, hatched a plan with her supervisor, Blackburn, to frame Gwen Landis for abuse in order to remove her daughter Casey from her home. Remember that Donna forced her way into Gwen’s home on the basis of an anonymous tip, and there found no evidence for abuse. In spite of this, Donna wants to take Gwen’s daughter Casey from her. Why, exactly? To get back at Gwen for calling her a Nazi and a witch.
It goes without saying that what Donna is doing is both illegal and extremely unethical. It also goes against Donna’s frequent claims that she’s in the business of social work to protect children. If her interest were protecting children, she would move on to the many other cases she ought to have waiting for her.
In this section, we meet the prosecutor who will be making Donna’s case against Gwen Landis before the judge.
Gail Willet joined the office of the Spokane County Prosecuting Attorney on the first of May. Her marriage to a Seattle architect had been on the rocks for two years. A cute young secretary proved to be just too alluring. The divorce was final in March.
Farris goes on to say that Gail had graduated from law school at the University of Washington six years before. We aren’t given any indication that she started law school later in life, so if we assume she went straight from undergrad to law school and to that the six years Farris tells us she spent as “a top child abuse prosecutor in the King County Prosecutor’s office” before coming to Spokane, Gail is now 31, and her marriage began to have trouble when she was 29. Just how young was this “cute young secretary” I’m wondering?
But let’s talk about how Farris presents this, because I find it interesting. First of all, he has the prosecuting attorney be a divorced woman. So Donna the social worker is living with her boyfriend (or at least sleeping with him) and Gail the prosecutor is divorced. Neither one of them are living approved lives by evangelical standards. (Of course, the observant reader will note that Gwen is also divorced. Don’t worry, that becomes an issue later, in grand evangelical style.)
But also, note the way it’s ordered. First, we are told that their marriage had been on the rocks for two years. No one party is faulted for this, so the natural assumption would be that both parties had let the marriage fall into disrepair. But then we are told that “a cute young secretary proved to be just too alluring.” As I read it, the suggestion is that their marriage was on the rocks, and in part as a result of that, the husband had an affair with the secretary. But notice who has agency there and who doesn’t—the secretary is the one that does the alluring, and it reads almost as though the husband had no agency.Frankly, it is the Gail (for letting her marriage slip) and the secretary (for doing the alluring) who are primarily blamed here, and not the husband. And honestly, in this subculture young secretaries are just assumed to be there alluring their bosses, waiting for a wife to let things slip so that her husband will be vulnerable and become easy prey, so it’s really Gail who bears the brunt of the blame. She let her marriage slip, after all!
Now maybe I’m reading too much into this, and it’s true that I’m approaching with some background knowledge of Farris’s views on marriage. Farris believes that women must submit to and obey their husbands, and that women who don’t do this are disobeying God. So am I reading too much into Farris’s description of Gail’s divorce? I’ll leave that to you to decide.
We are told that Gail came to Spokane to get away from Seattle, what with the divorce and all. We learn that the chief prosecutor, Charles Sexton, was excited to bring her on board, because he usually hired prosecutors fresh out of law school, and she came with six years of experience. We are also told, however, that Gail was “competent, tough, and would take no prisoners in the courtroom,” and that Charles was a bit worried about her “tendency to display a harder edge than was the norm” in Spokane. And then we get this:
Twelve-hour days were the norm. If she got busy, she would do more. Work was more than a career for Willet at the moment; it was the salve she chose to place on her inner hurts.
Honestly, we get more character development of Gail here than we’ve gotten of Donna in all these pages! All we really know about Donna is that she is her department’s ace investigator, that she was a party girl in college, and that she’s dating a rich kid who is about to graduate from law school top in his class and has daddy issues. We have very little to help us understand why Donna is acting the way she is.
Next week we turn to Donna’s meeting with Gail, in which she will make her case against Gwen, the case Gail will then argue before a judge.
Note: Since readers have been asking, I should clarify that Farris is not completely clear about who has the affair with the cute young secretary, or whether that secretary is male or female. Given that Gail ends up on the dumps and feeling Seattle, and given that in the evangelical and fundamentalist world it’s generally men who have affairs with secretaries, rather than women, I made the assumption that it was Gail’s husband who had the affair. I also assumed that the secretary was female, as Farris most definitely would have made a big deal of it otherwise.