Anonymous Tip: Picture Perfect

Anonymous Tip: Picture Perfect November 11, 2016

A Review Series of Anonymous Tip, by Michael Farris

Pp. 421-425

Now it’s actually Christmas. I’m going to try not to get hung up on this, because I feel like we need to move past the holidays already. Stephen and Donna spend Christmas Eve together, and then Stephen goes to his parents house to spend the night and Christmas morning. Farris tells us that “he was doing his best . . . to convince Donna that everything was fine between them” and that “he wished he could convince himself as well.” Farris also tells us that his position as clerk for a Supreme Court justice “gave him near celebrity status” and that “he liked the attention, and he liked the females who were attentive.”

WTF is this. “The females.” NOPE.

I think what Farris is trying to communicate is that Stephen isn’t a bad guy, like, he’s not intentionally being conniving, and he really does like Donna, and he wants to be satisfied with her. But having attention from all of those “females” is a lot for any guy to deal with, and it has sort of turned his head. Boys will be boys, you know. I mean, how is he really supposed to resist? It’s hard. Now maybe I’m reading this wrong, it’s possible. But Farris hasn’t given Stephen the sort of deep-down moral brokenness that Blackburn had, in my read. Instead, he reads almost like a tragic character.

And maybe he’s supposed to be. After all, if Donna had just married him and gone to D.C. with him, like he wanted, she’d be there with him, making sure his head didn’t get turned. She’s the one who said she didn’t want to work in D.C. She’s the one who has become all teary and emotional, becoming an emotional drain on Stephen rather than smiling and silently putting her hand in his arm like Gwen does with Peter. If Donna is losing her ability to captivate her boyfriend, perhaps that is her own fault—in Farris’ world, that is.

At 7:00 on Christmas Eve, Peter, Gwen, Casey, and the Mansfield’s attended the Christmas Eve service at Valley Fourth Memorial. Casey was in the angel choir with her fellow five-year-olds. It was hard to tell which of the four adults who brought her was beaming most.

First, I’ve misjudged Valley Fourth Memorial if they can put up an entire angel choir consisting only of five-year-olds for a special event like this. This church must be huge. Second, of course Casey was in an angel choir, because of course she was. Third, Peter barely knows the child, it’s weirding me out that Farris thinks you couldn’t tell between him beaming at her and Gwen, June, or Stan beaming at her. I mean I’m all for step-parents being involved in their step-children’s lives, absolutely, but Peter has been creepy from the get-go, and this just feels like too much too soon.

Peter convinced them all to spend the balance of their time together at his house on Christmas Eve. As Gwen helped him decorate earlier in the day, ideas of what she could do to improve Peter’s spartan-like furnishings and decorations began to capture her imagination.

Every civilized person knows you’re supposed to decorate for Christmas the day after Thanksgiving. Seriously, Peter? Not that we should be surprised. This is all in keeping with patriarchal gender roles and stereotypes—men can’t decorate, they live in “spartan-like” surroundings until a good little woman comes and uses her woman’s touch to make everything beautiful. These people have clearly never watched New Girl.

The Mansfield tradition was to open presents on Christmas morning. Peter had been raised in a Christmas Eve present-opening family.

What is this heresy?! Are there actually people who open all of their presents on Christmas Eve? Then what is the point of Christmas?! They decide to open one present on Christmas Eve. I can live with that.

Casey opened a Cinderella dolls hat Peter and Gwen had picked out for her. She squealed with delight and ran to show it to her grandmother.

Can you say unrealistic? Every little girl I know who was born in the late 1980s (myself included) would have wanted Ariel. Cinderella? Really? That’d be like getting a little girl today a Snow White doll rather than an Elsa doll. I mean seriously. Cinderella was so  passé.

And as I knew would happen, I’ve gotten stuck in Christmas-land. Let me speed up. Gwen thinks Peter’s hinting at finally giving her an engagement ring. June gets new leather gloves. Farris tells us Gwen was coordinating with “the two men in her life” on presents for June, and that a leather coat is coming, and all I can think is, Gwen really has only two men in her life? That’s just sad. Stan got a drill set from Peter and was super excited to have “another man to shop for me.” WTF. Growing up, my mom was always getting my dad new tool sets for Christmas. Women can buy tools too, Farris!

I’m not doing a very good job of speeding up, am I?

Gwen got Peter a sweater ” which she hoped would bring out the blue in his eyes.” Peter . . . holy hell, what is this. Gwen was wrong when she thought Peter was getting her a ring. Instead, he gets her “a classy silk Anne Klein suit, in beige.” That is weird. Women are all shaped differently, you can’t assume something will fit, or that it will flatter a woman’s specific proportions. Peter explains:

“It’s your Supreme Court suit. I want you to wear it when we go to argue our case.”

So, what, Gwen’s Peter’s barbie now?

So here’s the other thing—for all the supposed perfection of Gwen and Peter’s relationship, they’re already getting good at lying to each other. Or at least, Gwen’s getting good at lying to Peter. She gushes—absolutely gushes—over the suit. She tells him she loves it, it’s beautiful, he has terrific taste. In reality, she’s crushed that Peter’s gift wasn’t the ring she’d expected. Farris tells us that she “had managed to mask her true feelings from Peter and Stan, but her mother was not fooled.” Sure, people pretend to like presents they don’t actually like all the time, but that’s not the kind of thing you really can (or should) hide in a longterm relationship.

June tells Gwen to go try it on. So she does. Peter is impressed.

“It’s perfect, and you look stunning. We’ll get two votes on the Court just when they look at you.”

Okay, wow. That’s an awesome sentiment.

Oh wait. Wait wait. There’s commentary on the outfit having pockets, and when Gwen puts her hands in, there is the ring.

She pulled it out, held it up to examine it, and then burst into tears. It was a full-carat diamond solitaire in the classic four-prong setting.

Because of course. All of that, of course. She thanks him, and then:

Then looking deep into his eyes, she continued, “I’m going to wear this ring with pride, Mr. Barron.” And with that, she kissed him with a lingering, passionate embrace which was returned with full abandon.

Stan cleared his throat and said, “C’mon June, let’s go make coffee.”

First, where is Casey? And second, this book was written around the same time Farris forced one of his daughters to break it off with her boyfriend, because he disapproved. I get that Stan approves, and was actually pushing Gwen at Peter, but there’s a huge disconnect between the way young adults in homeschool families are expected to interact with their significant others and, well, this. Josh Harris’s book, which came out only a year after this one, convinced many that engaged couples shouldn’t kiss—even hugs were suspect. And here we have this. I suspect it’s because Peter is Farris’s author avatar, so he’s looking at him as someone like himself, rather than looking at him as someone similar to one of his adult children.

I’m going to keep going, because I’ll be damned if I spend this whole post on the holidays. We don’t ever return to Donna and Stephen, by the way. It’s odd to me that Stephen left for his parents’ house to spend Christmas day there, without Donna. I know by the time I was engaged, I wouldn’t have done holidays separately. I would have done similar to now, splitting time between one set of parents and the others, but always together. Anyway. The holidays are officially over.

Peter finishes his cert petition in early January, with many reviews by Professor French, who is happy to help. Professor French’s motivations are unclear and are not explored, but he does call it an “important case”and he does allow Peter to put his name on the cert petition, which they agree will add to its gravity. Professor French warns that even with everything they have going for them, things are fifteen to one against the Court taking his case.

And actually, I’m running out of steam, so we’ll call it a wrap. Next week we get to see whether Stephen succeeds in keeping Justice Rose from paying attention to Peter’s cert petition.

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