L.B.: Cruel to be kind, pt. 2

L.B.: Cruel to be kind, pt. 2 December 14, 2007

Left Behind, pp. 367-377

Rayford Steele has taken Hattie Durham aside for a lecture about sex, sin, God and the end of the world. This will not be an argument or a dialogue or even a conversation, he explains. He will do the talking and she will do the listening. Once he’s done talking, he will allow her to speak, but only once he’s done.

One of my repeated complaints about this book is that it is not creepy enough. The scenes describing the Rapture and its aftermath are not nearly as disturbing or unsettling as they ought to be. But this scene — this is disturbing. Rayford’s behavior here is plenty creepy. The whole scene plays out like one of those didactic school-assembly dramas that teach kids to recognize the warning signs of abusers.

Creepier still is the realization that the authors don’t intend for this scene to read this way. Rayford here seems to be doing his impression of Patrick Bergin in Sleeping With the Enemy, but the authors mean for us to see him as a model of good, Christian, manly behavior.

After several pages of his laying out the ground rules and establishing his rightful male dominance over the submissive female, Rayford finally gets around to the apology he hinted at earlier. It starts out promising:

Rayford leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees, gesturing as he spoke. “Hattie, I owe you a huge apology, and I want your forgiveness. …”

I’m glad now he’s only gesturing as he speaks and not just waving the Hand of Silence at Hattie while she’s talking. But the rest of this bit is begging to be rewritten from Hattie’s point of view:

“… We were friends. We enjoyed each other’s company. I loved being with you and spending time with you. I found you beautiful and exciting, and I think you know I was interested in a relationship with you.”

She looked surprised, but Rayford assumed that, had it not been for her pledge of silence, she would have told him he had a pretty laid-back way of showing interest.

Rayford is confident that he knows exactly what a woman would say to him if he were to allow her to speak. And he’s completely confident what Hattie would have told him if he had been less laid-back in showing his interest. “If I had found you willing,” he continues, but the “if” there is merely rhetorical. Rayford has already assumed that she — and apparently every other woman at any time — would be “willing.”

“If I had found you willing, I’d have eventually done something wrong.” She furrowed her brow and looked offended.

“Yes,” he said, “it would have been wrong. I was married, not happily and not successfully, but that was my fault. Still, I had made a vow, a commitment, and no matter how justified my interest in you, it would have been wrong.”

I think it is wrong for married men to cheat on their wives. Cheating is not a victimless crime — every betrayal involves a betray-ee, often more than one. Plus it’s not a great deal for the other woman, who is expected to make due with table-scraps. But Rayford’s wrong-wrong-wrong rant here seems more like he’s directing it at Hattie than at himself. It reminds me of Sen. Larry Craig’s description of former President Clinton as “a nasty, bad, naughty boy,” except that Rayford seems to be condemning nasty, bad, naughty Hattie for tempting him to become a nasty, bad, naughty boy.

Now Rayford’s “I must be cruel only to be kind” strategy really kicks in, and it works out as well for Hattie as it did for Ophelia. “There would have been no future for us,” he tells Hattie:

“It isn’t just that we’re so far apart in age, but the fact is that the only real interest I had in you was physical. You have a right to hate me for that, and I’m not proud of it. I did not love you. You have to agree, that would have been no kind of a life for you.”

She nodded, appearing to cloud up. He smiled. “I’ll let you break your silence temporarily,” he said. “I need to know that you at least forgive me.”

As she begins to cry we get that two-word sentence: “He smiled.” It’s not quite that he’s smiling because he has succeeded in making her cry. His smile, instead, is intended as a kind of gentle overture, a comforting gesture. It’s almost a fatherly smile. It seems very much like the reassuring smile of the Good Cop during a brief respite from “harsh interrogation techniques.” It’s a smile that says, “I’m sorry this is happening to you. Would you like a glass of water? I can get them to stop, you know, if you’d just cooperate. …” It’s a smile that never quite conceals a note of menace — a smile that asks you to play along with the false conceit that the person smiling isn’t complicit in the ordeal you’re experiencing.

Rayford is lying about his “physical” interest in Hattie. This is the “woman he had never touched,” the woman he had fetishized like a collector, stringing her along, unopened in the original shrink-wrap packaging. Nothing has changed. He’s still playing the same kinky control game that he’s played all along. I think he’s leaning forward like that to hide his arousal.

“Sometimes I wonder if honesty is always the best policy,” she said. “I might have been able to accept this if you had just said your wife’s disappearance made you feel guilty about what we had going. … That would have been a kinder way to put it.”

“Kinder but dishonest. Hattie, I’m through being dishonest. Everything in me would rather be kind and gentle and keep you from resenting me, but I just can’t be phony anymore. I was not genuine for years.”

“And now you are?”

“To the point where it’s unattractive to you,” he said. She nodded. “Why would I want to do that? … I want to be able to convince you, when I talk about even more important things, that I have no ulterior motives.”

The authors would have us believe that Rayford has gone from pursuing Hattie’s body to pursuing her soul, but that’s just not true. He’s been after her soul all along.

Hattie’s lips quivered. She pressed them together and looked down, a tear rolling down her cheek. It was all Rayford could do to keep from embracing her. There would be nothing sensual about it, but he couldn’t afford to give the wrong signal. “Hattie,” he said. “I’m so sorry. Forgive me.”

She nodded, unable to speak. She tried to say something, but couldn’t regain her composure.

“Now, after all that,” Rayford said, “I somehow have to convince you that I do care for you as a friend and as a person.”

Hattie held up both hands, fighting not to cry. …

This goes on for a full page, with her sobbing and him interjecting things like, “Your tears give me no satisfaction,” and “I would be no friend if I didn’t tell you what I’ve found, what I’ve learned …” Through it all I was desperately hoping for Hattie to launch into Mercedes Ruehl’s speech from The Fisher King

No, you don’t get to be nice. I ain’t gonna play a stupid game where we act like friends so you get to walk out feeling good about yourself.

— but she never does. She just takes it until she can’t take it anymore, at which point she blurts out, “Give me a minute” and hurries off. Rayford has been pulling her strings for so long he knows she can’t break them, so he’s not at all worried she might not come back. He just sits there, thumbing through his dead raptured wife’s Bible, running lines so he can be off-book by the time Hattie returns:

He had decided not to sit talking to Hattie with the Bible open. He didn’t want to embarrass or intimidate her, despite his newfound courage and determination.

The scene switches to Humbert, Lolita and their cookie and we return to Captain Steele when Hattie does:

… slightly refreshed but still puffy eyed and sat again as if ready for more punishment. Rayford reiterated that he was sincere …

Punishment expected; punishment delivered.

My theory for the rest of this chapter gets back to something we’ve discussed earlier about characters taking on a life of their own, struggling to behave humanly despite the best or worst efforts of the authors. My theory is that Hattie Durham, airhead flight attendant and future Whore of Babylon as written by LaHaye and Jenkins, is still sobbing uncontrollably in the women’s room at the Pan Con Club (bleibe, reste, stay!). The Hattie we see here, instead, is that other Hattie, acting on her own against the wishes of the authors. She emerges here because this is the scene where Hattie first hears, and rejects, the End Times Gospel of Tim LaHaye and so the authors attempt to make her seem combative and disdainful. Thus readers are presented with this strange scene in which Rayford, the character they are trying to portray as the very model of godliness, comes across as vain and shallow, while Hattie, the character they are trying to portray as vain and shallow, comes across as closer to an actual human than anything else we’ve encountered in this book.

Hattie’s more-assertive doppelganger recognizes that Rayford’s not going to shut up or stop pestering her until she forgives him and reassures him that he is good and strong and — above all — sincere, so she grants him a deadpan absolution:

“I need to know you forgive me,” he said.

“You seem really hung up on that, Rayford. Would that let you off the hook, ease your conscience?”

“I guess maybe it would,” he said. “Maybe it would tell me you believe I’m sincere.”

“I believe it,” she said. “… And I don’t hold grudges, so I guess that’s forgiveness.”

“I’ll take what I can get,” he said. “Now I want to be very honest with you.”

“Uh-oh, there’s more? Or is this where you educate me about what happened last week?”

She actually lands a couple of punches there. I’m sure the authors intended that to show us how hard-hearted she is being despite Rayford’s sincere sincerity, but all I was thinking was Good for you.

“Does this require some reaction?” Hattie asks before he begins his sales pitch. “Do I have to buy into your idea or something?” According to Rayford’s Rules of Order, she’s still not supposed to be allowed to speak, but meta-Hattie isn’t playing by Rayford’s rules anymore and Rayford is no match for her. The Hand of Silence has lost its power. Her tone is a bit sarcastic, but her questions are genuine — she’s really asking what it is, exactly, that he needs her to do in order for him to get this over with already.

“If it’s something you can’t handle right now,” he says, “I’ll understand. But I think you’ll see the urgency of it.” And then we get the paragraph quoted earlier, about Holy Spirit descending on Rayford in the form of a dove and a voice from Heaven declaring “This is my beloved evangelist in whom I am well pleased. Take notes, people — this is how you proselytize”:

Rayford felt much like Bruce Barnes had sounded the day they met. He was full of passion and persuasion, and he felt his prayers for courage and coherence were answered as he spoke.

And then we get two pages of the authors telling us about Rayford telling Hattie about the things Bruce told him about. Rayford began by telling Hattie that he didn’t want a conversation or a dialogue, but we don’t even get a glimpse of his big monologue, just a lot of sentences like this:

He told her of calling the church, meeting Bruce, Bruce’s story, the videotape, their studies, the prophecies from the Bible, the preachers in Israel …

Interspersed throughout this are little notes about how “Hattie sat motionless,” or “Hattie stared at him. Nothing in her body language or expression encouraged him,” or “Hattie wouldn’t even give him the satisfaction of a nod.” (Again, Good for you.)

After nearly half an hour, he exhausted his new knowledge, and he concluded, “Hattie, I want you to think about it, consider it, watch the tape, talk to Bruce if you want to. I can’t make you believe. All I can do is make you aware of what I have come to accept as the truth.”

Was it as good for you as it was for me, baby?

Hattie sat back and sighed. “Well, that’s sweet, Rayford. It really is. I appreciate your telling me all that.”

She’d stay and cuddle for a bit, but she has an early flight in the morning and she has to go home to walk the dog and no, that’s fine, she’ll see herself out, thanks. Buh-bye now.

Rayford’s Big Speech is so underwhelming because L&J are terrible writers who always prefer telling to showing. The reader thus reaches the end of this chapter as unmoved and unpersuaded as Hattie is. But L&J really didn’t have a choice here, there was no way to write this passage effectively. There was no credible way to show Rayford’s “passion and persuasion” when this was his subject matter; no way to allow the readers to hear the words he spoke while still maintaining the illusion that those words made sense. “I never knew that stuff was in the Bible,” Hattie says after Rayford’s speech. But “that stuff” isn’t in the Bible, which is why his speech had to be kept hidden from readers.

Throughout our discussion of this section, I’ve used words like “evangelize” and “proselytize” to describe Rayford’s agenda here, but I should note again that this was never really what he was doing — even if it’s what he and the authors think he was doing. Everything leading up to this chapter showed Rayford worrying about Hattie’s salvation, as though leading her to repentance, to conversion, to faith and amazing grace were what he intended. But he never gets anywhere near any of that.

The “gospel” Rayford presents to Hattie has no incarnation, no cross, no resurrection, no Christ. It has nothing to do with anything other than “prophecy” and the End Times Checklist. The central figure of Rayford’s gospel is not Jesus Christ, but Nicolae Carpathia. Rayford is preaching an anti-gospel.

Browse Our Archives