Anonymous Tip: Sir Peter the Irrational

Anonymous Tip: Sir Peter the Irrational September 16, 2016

A Review Series of Anonymous Tip, by Michael Farris

Pp. 381-387

As you remember, Peter is in the wilderness skipping work. Gwen is grieving Gordon.

Gwen was awakened by a ringing telephone at 9:30 Friday morning.

What is this magic?! Gwen must be taking the week off of work due to her ex’s death, and her parents must be smuggling Casey out of the house before 7:00 each morning and taking her for donuts and then to the park, because I cannot for the life of me think of any other way Gwen could possibly sleep this long with a four-year-old. I have a four-year-old. They don’t let you sleep like that!

Anyway, it’s the Washington State Patrol calling about the autopsy report. They want to know where they should send it, since she and Gordon were divorced. Gwen tells them to send it to his mother. I’m really confused as to why this hasn’t been established by now. Gwen asks what the report says and the officer tells her—is that standard? Is the autopsy report public?

The officer tells her that “the official cause of death was drowning” but that “we also found a blood alcohol rating of .23.” Gwen asks about the brakes, and the officer tells her that while the car was old, “everything in the car seemed mechanically OK” and “the breaks should have worked.” He says the’ve ruled it “an alcohol-related fatality” and that no foul play is expected. Gwen’s reaction is predictable.

Tears of shame and sorrow flowed down Gwen’s cheeks as she gave the officer the address of Gordon’s mother over the phone.

Gwen calls Peter’s office, but Sally tells him he’s “someplace in Montana.” She wants to know if she can call his car phone but Sally says she would have to know “the specific roaming code for the cellular system in Montana” and that she’s not sure where in Montana he is and he’s probably out or range of the “cell sites” anyway. Gwen tells Sally to leave a message for Peter for him to call her.

Tell him it’s urgent that I talk with him. Night or day, he is to call me.

Sally wants to know what’s wrong but Gwen won’t say anything.

At this point, Farris switches to Peter.

On Friday morning, Peter found a place to rent a canoe and went for a two hour glide across a small corner of Flathead Lake. As he paddled across the pristine lake, eh decided that he had managed to live for thirty-one years without Gwen Landis, and that he had prepared to give her up two days ago. He should simply get on with his life.

Peter really should have decided this a long time ago. For one thing, it would be inappropriate for him to date a client, so he shouldn’t have initiated anything at all while the case was ongoing. For another thing, his religious beliefs dictated against marrying a divorced woman, so he never should have started anything or let Gwen know in any way that he was interested in her. But all this we knew.

Peter spends the night at the motel, and then wakes early, drives back to his home in Spokane, showers and dresses, and heads to Gordon’s funeral. He knows the time and location because Stan gave it to Sally, remember, and Sally told him on the phone.

Gwen was sitting in the front row next to Gordon’s mother. Casey was next to her. Peter could hear her crying softly. He had steeled his heart toward Gwen, but he desperately wanted to go and hold Casey and comfort her. Stan and June were on the other side of Casey.

I’m glad Peter could tell who was crying in the above paragraph, because I couldn’t. But seriously. Casey doesn’t even know him. Casey has the people she would actually be comforted by with her already.

I’m also really unsure of how to best write a grieving four-year-old. I have a four-year-old, and the very idea of him losing a parent, and the grief he would experience, is making me want to turn the page and skip past this. One thing I can say is that children that age are unpredictable in how they express their emotions. I could see one child sitting stony faced, aware of what has happened holding everything in. I could see another child confused and oblivious to what is happening. I could see a third child losing it complete, crying, screaming, wailing until they’re exhausted and sleep claims them. And so, I suppose, a fourth child might sit through the funeral crying softly. While the characters have played lip service to Casey’s loss, I don’t think the book as a whole is giving enough attention to the enormity of her loss.

After the “sad, hopeless funeral,” Stan sees Peter and lets him know that Gwen has been trying to contact him. Peter shrugs out of it and leaves. He says to tell Gwen he’ll be in his office on Monday. Does this mean he won’t be at church on Sunday? You know, the church he invited Gwen to? The church Gwen now attends? Awkward.

Gwen was crushed when her father told her that Peter and come and gone. But on later reflection, it gave her some hope. At least he came. Her heart banked on that fact as Peter continued to roam and walk and do his best to use the majestic scenery of the Pacific Northwest to erase her from his heart.

We’re not given details about where he goes or what he does, but as best as I can tell Peter doesn’t return home again until “Sunday night after eleven.” He checks his answering machine.

“Hi, Peter. It’s Gwen. I need to talk with you right away.” Five such messages. On the last two, she had added, “Peter, I’m really sorry.” He had anticipated the messages, and had prepared himself to ignore them.

He walked into his living room and fell on the couch exhausted. The books Pastor Lind and given him about divorce were still on the coffee table. Peter laughed, a loud sarcastic laugh, and wished the books were his so he could throw them against the wall. He swept them off the coffee table with his foot. He liked the feeling.

Okay, I’ve been holding back from getting into this, but let’s just do this. Gwen was wrong about Peter messing with Gordon’s brakes, but she wasn’t wrong about Peter wishing Gordon dead. She wasn’t wrong that Peter had courted her while simultaneously believing that he was not permitted by God to marry divorced women (as opposed to widows). And she wasn’t wrong that someone (in this case, the author) had killed Gordon off just so that she could marry Peter. But of course all that is going to disappear and Gwen is going to be oh so apologetic and oh so ready to jump in bed (or rather, in marriage) with Peter. Because of course she is.

This would actually be a really good moment for Gwen to notice that some of the beliefs of the new religion she’s gotten herself into are incredibly problematic and downright dangerous. That would be an interesting work of fan fiction right there—Gwen realizing how fucked up it is that Peter’s beliefs led him to wish Gordon dead. She might also think about the fact that Gordon’s death frees Peter up to marry her, and how wrong it is that their path to marriage would be predicated on Casey’s losing a parent. This could be a catalyst for Gwen to take a step back, look at this belief system in the sunlight, and realize how close she got to being pulled in irrevocably.

Do you know what Gwen needs? She needs some friends, and maybe some hobbies or interests. She needs her own social circle. And yes, she should be meeting guys, and ultimately dating again if she wants, but the way this book is written you’d think Peter’s the only other person in her age demographic in Spokane.

Also? I really really do not like Peter. I get that what Farris is doing here is setting up a bitterness that Peter is going to have to repent of, but this Peter is just plain scary.

Peter arrives in the office on Monday ready to get back to his regular cases. He says he won’t have to work the Landis case for at least a few weeks. But Sally’s trying to mime something, with lots of pointing and gestures, because it turns out Gwen is waiting in Peter’s office. Yes. Yes she is. At 8:35 on a Monday morning. Peter rolls his eyes—not even kidding—and then walks into his office.

“Hi Gwen,” Peter said, closing the door. “You’re here bright and early. I didn’t know you had an appointment this morning.”

“Peter, please don’t play games with me.”

“Play games with you? All right, Miss Client, how can your lawyer be of assistance to you this morning?”

“I don’t want to talk with my lawyer. I want to talk with Peter. Just Peter.”

“I’m not sure that just Peter’s in.”

I don’t think Farris realizes that this book is making Christians look like complete jerks. Like, really—all of them.

“I didn’t think you would make it this hard. Please, Peter. I’m trying to apologize to you. Please let me talk.”

“All right. Talk.”

“Peter, I was completely wrong. I listened to thoughts I should never have believed. The autopsy came in. Gordon died from drowning, yes. But it also showed he was drunk. Very drunk. Point-two-three or something. You probably know what that means. There was nothing wrong with his brakes. Peter, I accused you unfairly. In light of the way you have treated me, I have behaved wrongly beyond explanation. Peter, more than anything in the world, I want you to forgive me.”

He was silent a long time. “Drunk, huh? One might have thought that explanation of events might have occurred to you a little earlier. What makes more sense? Peter murders Gordon? Or, Gordon gets drunk and crashes?” He waited. His voice was intensely bitter.

Peter had wondered earlier, based on Gwen’s response to Gordon’s death, would happen if he and Gwen were married and he made a genuine mistake. But now I’m wondering what would happen if he and Gwen were married and Gwen were to push a point he wasn’t happy with, or challenge a decision he’d made. Because frankly, Peter’s not handling this well at all. There are so many red flags here you’d think it was Communist Russia. It’s Peter who is showing her true colors here, not Gwen.

But of course, Gwen goes on being sweetly apologetic. “I don’t know what came over me,” she says. “Are you going to forgive me?” she asks.

“I guess it is my duty to forgive you. But, my trust in you is shot. If you are so quick to condemn me for something I didn’t do, what would you do if I ever really did something wrong when we were…”

“Married,” Gwen said finishing the sentence he was unwilling to complete. “I understand, Peter. I understand that this was not a minor accusation. I accused you of murder. You have a right to be bitter. But I wish you would forgive me anyway.”

“I said I forgave you.”

“I know. But I wish you would really forgive me.”

And at this point Gwen leaves. Peter is sick to his stomach.

Married? Really? Do people not date in Spokane? I mean good grief, how are they so sure they want to be married?! They haven’t dated. They have spent barely any time alone together. Do they even know each other’s hobbies, interests, likes and dislikes? I mean my friends though I moved fast, and it was a year before my husband and I got engaged—a year of spending time together, conversing about every topic in the world together, eating dorm food together, studying together, and hanging out with mutual friends together. Gwen has known Peter for something like five months now, yes, but they spent very little actual time together, and they’ve never been to the point where they could let their guards down around each other and just be together. And already they’re talking marriage? Really?

Anyway, Gwen doesn’t tell her parents any of this—about what Peter said, or how he’s acted, etc. Instead, she reads the Bible and prayed. This is also where having friends she could talk to would be helpful. We really need some fan fiction here, because I’m pretty sure her friends would set her straight on Peter’s behavior.

At dinner break on Wednesday, while at work, she finally calls Lynn, and they arrange to meet on Thursday morning. But you’re going to have to wait until next week to learn how Lynn responds.

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