Hi and welcome back! We turn our attention now to Frank Peretti’s 1986 novel, This Present Darkness. In this installment, the finale continues to build. And that means that Peretti continues to move a bunch of plastic cut-outs shaped like people around on his gameboard to their rightful places. So far, Bernice Krueger has escaped his theocratic eye. But today, we witness her dramatic conversion to TRUE CHRISTIANITY™. Yes, today Lord Snow Presides over Christians’ shameless manipulation of vulnerable people to achieve power over them.
(Please click here to find the master list of previous This Present Darkness discussions. Also, any page numbers cited come from the 2003 paperback edition of the book. Quotes come from the book or other noted sources, unless I let you know otherwise.)
Chapter 36 Synopsis.
Susan Jacobson, Kevin Weed, and Bernice Krueger arrive at the darkened offices of the now-closed Clarion newspaper.
Bernice needs the office’s darkroom. There, she can develop that roll of film mentioned at the very beginning of the book — the one the police failed to destroy when they arrested her on false charges. She thinks it contains hard evidence against the Cabal of Satanic Wiccans (or Wiccan Satanists, Whatevs) (CSWWSW).
The CSWWSW will be holding a big huge meeting with the local college that very day at 2pm. Bernice is workin’ against the clock here!
While working, though, Bernice off-handedly mentions Marshall Hogan’s daughter Sandy and her weird pal Shawn Ormsby. OMG! It turns out that Susan knows Shawn very well.
But our three miscreants are in serious trouble: some of the town’s corrupt cops are stationed right outside the offices, ready to arrest them when they leave.
Bernice snarkily suggests (p. 327) that they need “another miracle, huh?”
Meanwhile, Juleen Langstrat tells Shawn to make sure to bring Sandy with him to the big meeting as “insurance.” Sandy’s demonic “spirit guide” Madeline gloats about how much easier Sandy is to manipulate than Pat Krueger was.
Alf Brummel, Juleen Langstrat’s boyfriend and the town’s corrupt chief of police, is getting cold feet bigtime over his involvement with the CSWWSW. He really dislikes the idea of threatening Sandy’s safety to get her daddy to behave. In response to his concerns, Juleen bullies him back into somewhat-compliance. But Lucius, the newly-deposed demon prince of Ashton, begins to work on Brummel in private in a last-ditch attempt to regain his title.
Marshall Hogan and Hank Busche are still in jail. The Remnant assembles outside, though, and starts loudly singing. To every cop arriving to the station, Mary Busche demands very loudly to see her husband. Inside, Marshall sings along with the church, as does Hank of course. Marshall’s way into it now that he’s converted. He compares their situation (p. 328) to “Paul and Silas!”
Chapter 37 Synopsis.
At the offices of the Clarion, Bernice fields a series of phone calls from important people in law enforcement. She obtains promises from them to attend the 2pm meeting.
Alf Brummel arrives at the police station. There, he encounters the Remnant. They make demands of him, defend Hank’s innocence, and play upon their shared church affiliation to get him to do what they want. Lou Stanley is there too — Lou Stanley, whose disfellowshipping over adultery formed the big conflict in the early part of the book!
Inside, Brummel calls one of his co-conspirators, Sam Turner. They’d tried to turn Stanley’s disfellowshipping into a dealbreaker. After that plot failed, their little kaffeeklatsch simply hatched another: Carmen’s false rape accusation. But now the church has united behind Hank! Their plot backfired! Turner blames Brummel, but Brummel refuses to accept sole blame. He’s really annoyed at Juleen, which is great, because Lucius is really working hard on him by now.
Bernice calls Brummel right then to demand he remove the cops from the Clarion parking lot or she’ll make his life really hard with the evidence she now possesses. He complies. Susan, watching the surveillance teams leave, heaps praise and thanks upon her god, which is odd because he literally had nothing to do with that.
When Juleen calls Brummel for a sitrep, he lies to her about Bernice still being in the Clarion office. However, Juleen doesn’t realize he lied, which gives him a wild burst of hope. He’s almost completely under Lucius’ control at this point.
Sidebar: Bernice Krueger Has Odd Timing.
The whole situation with Bernice Krueger, Kevin Weed, and Susan Jacobson in the Clarion office reeks of hamfisted storytelling.
Let’s start with how Frank Peretti brings together the knowledge of Bernice Krueger with Susan Jacobson’s own. Here, Bernice tells the squad (p. 320):
“This will only take a few minutes. Boy, I haven’t the slightest idea of what’s happening to Marshall, but I don’t dare try to find out.”
“What about your answering machine? There might be some messages on it.” [I think Kevin’s the other person here.]
“That’s a thought. I can check that as soon as I get this film all loaded in here. I’m almost finished.” Then Bernice had another thought. “I wonder about Sandy Hogan, too. She pitched a lamp at her father and ran out of the house.”
“Yes, you were telling me about that.”
“I don’t know where she’d go, unless she’s decided to run off with that Shawn character.”
“With who?” Susan asked abruptly. “Who did you say?”
“Some guy named Shawn.”
“Shawn Ormsby?” Susan asked.
“Oh-oh, it sounds like you know him.”
“I’m afraid Sandy Hogan could be in real trouble! Shawn Ormsby appears quite a few times in your sister’s diary. He’s the one who got Pat involved in those parapsychology experiments. He encouraged her to continue them, and he’s the one who eventually introduced her to Thomas!”
The darkroom light clicked on. The developing tank was loaded and ready, but all Bernice could do was stare white-faced at Susan.
This whole conversation sounds stilted and out of place.
Bernice Krueger has, up to this point, had almost nothing to do with Marshall’s family. Sure, she and Marshall’s wife Kate were friendly (until Kate decided she was a rival). But there’s no sign that Bernice was at all invested in Marshall’s family drama.
And to bring all this stuff up now, with them on a tightwire schedule, with cops right outside, with danger all around them? It just makes no sense at all.
Also, Bernice Krueger read at least part of that diary. Did she fail to notice any mentions of Shawn?
And Now, the Phone Calls.
But this hamfisted connection of Character A’s knowledge with Character B’s pales before the series of coincidences to come.
First, Bernice answers an incoming phone call from Harvey Cole. I can’t remember who he is and don’t care. Bernice tells him to call her uncle, Jerry Dallas (oh my, shades of Steve Dallas!), and have Jerry call Justin Parker, the county prosecutor. I don’t think her family connections have come up in this novel before now, but what’s one more lazy bit of storytelling in a novel full of them? Harvey promises he’ll do as she asks.
Then, a second call comes in from Al Lemley. Now, him I remember. He’s one of Marshall’s old colleagues from NOO YAWK SITTEE. He was helping Marshall investigate the CSWWSW, in particular Alexander Kaseph, one of their big-name leaders. And Lemley just so happens to phone the office while Bernice just so happens to be there! Bernice informs Lemley of the meeting at 2pm, and he promises to be there “with all the good guys [he] can find” (p. 331).
And then, a third call comes in. This time, the caller is State Attorney General Norm Mattily! Mattily agrees to be at the 2pm meeting with “some real police.”
And then, a fourth call comes in — from Justin Parker himself!
In response to all these coincidences, Bernice declares to Susan, who’s been telling her this stuff all along (p. 332):
“There is a God!”
In other words: Susan Jacobson was right all along, while Bernice Krueger was wrong!
It’s the kind of thing that TRUE CHRISTIANS™ ache to hear — but almost never do.
Preying Upon Bernice Krueger.
Right now, Bernice Krueger happens to be at one of the most stressful periods in her entire young life. Her mind’s working overtime trying to figure out how to escape from this mess and somehow win the fight ahead of her.
But Frank Peretti has to stop everything. We need to witness the exact moment when Bernice Kreuger shifted from skepticism to belief.
However, this is what I thought when I read this scene:
Man, it is just cruel, how Christians prey upon the vulnerable.
One of the Few Accurate Portrayals Here.
In a very real way, though, this predatory side of TRUE CHRISTIANITY™ gets completely accurate portrayal in Frank Peretti’s novel. I can see why. He not only wouldn’t see Susan’s behavior as opportunistic and predatory, but view it as completely acceptable and even praiseworthy.
I’ve heard countless Christians claim that this-or-that serious misfortune brought them around to TRUE CHRISTIANITY™. I’m not talking about the common Christian claim that a serious misfortune actually worked to their own very direct benefit. No, I’m talkin’ about the claim that if they had not suffered from this specific super-serious misfortune, then they would never have converted to TRUE CHRISTIANITY™ all.
Indeed, Christian salespeople get trained to spot that kind of vulnerability — so they can exploit it. These Christians get taught to seek out victims experiencing this exact kind of stress and fright, even to hope for great suffering for their victims, and when all else fails to manufacture that suffering themselves.
In that extreme state of stress, toxic-Christian salespeople know that their victims are way more likely to accept wild claims and impossible promises.
What Bernice Krueger Failed to Ask.
Indeed, our heroine here fails to ask a whole bunch of questions that might have helped her avoid her fate.
Those questions center quite a bit on this god’s power, and what he has completely failed to do so far.
We’re asked to believe he can manufacture any number of interesting coincidences, but somehow failed to protect Pat from death at the hands of a demon. Somehow, this omnipotent god has allowed this situation with the CSWWSW to get as far as it has. Somehow, he has allowed decent people to die, to be disgraced, even to see their own children harmed, during the demons’ takeover plot.
Before Bernice lets her thrill buttons get pushed by a few phone calls, one of which she herself requested in the most urgent terms possible, she needs to seriously ask a few critical questions.
But she doesn’t. Because this is a Christian book written by a Christian author for a Christian audience.
So instead, Bernice Krueger acts just like they wish everyone would act. She says all the things they ache to hear but never do. She follows the script that nobody really heeds in real life, but which Christian leaders insist is valid all the same.
Today, Lord Snow Presides over the conversion of Bernice Krueger. I hope once this novel ends and she’s had time to think, she starts asking those off-limits questions — and finding the answers that toxic Christians absolutely do not want her to know.
NEXT UP: Atheological metaphysics! Y’all, when Edward Feser thinks a well-respected Christian leader’s notion is wackadoodle, you know it must be really bad. And this one really, really is. See you tomorrow!
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Lord Snow Presides is our off-topic weekly chat series. Lord Snow presides over a suggested topic for the day, but feel free to chime in with anything on your mind. We especially welcome pet pictures! The series was named for Lord Snow, my sweet white cat. In life, he actually knew quite a bit.