L.B.: Care less

L.B.: Care less December 21, 2007

Left Behind, pp. 379-381

When Buck and Chloe reconnected with Hattie and Chloe’s father, it was clear Hattie had been crying.

The Event occurred just over a week ago, so it shouldn’t be out of the ordinary to see people red-faced and puffy-eyed from frequent crying jags. So soon after such an earth-shaking trauma, nobody would need a particular reason to break down crying. The two-thirds of the earth’s people remaining would all be prone to sudden, irresistible waves of emotion. The slightest thing might set anyone off at any time. They would all be in Hamelin:

… citizens of a different town now. A place with its own special rules and its own special laws. A town of people living in the sweet hereafter.

Hattie might have seen someone’s jacket draped over a chair, or one of the airport-terminal TVs may have shown one of those unsettling pre-Event ads with little kids in it. (They’d have stopped running most of those relics of a bygone world, but a few might still be shown, by accident.) Or she just might have seen that one more person walking by, shell-shocked, with the haunted look of the newly childless, and for a moment she’d been unable to maintain the thin line between soldiering on and the blind, screaming panic and anguish that lurked just below the surface for everyone, everywhere, all the time these days.

But of course the world of Left Behind isn’t even a little bit like that. The Event — the spontaneous disintegration of every child on Earth — is regarded as little more than a curiosity. It is the subject of idle speculation at the water cooler, but no one seems affected by it in any meaningful way.

This is, again, an insurmountable, fatal failure for this book. It turns every scene in the novel into something monstrous and horrifying. Think again of the previous chapter’s account of Buck and Chloe’s giddy, flirtatious stroll through the airport terminal. Reread that scene set against a more realistic post-Event backdrop and our young lovers seem even more demented than the wretched dialogue makes them appear in L&J’s context-less context. Their age difference shouldn’t be nearly as big an obstacle for them as the crippling survivor’s guilt that would accompany this kind of love among the ruins, but they, like the authors, never give the ruins a second thought.

In order to consider such scenes on their own terms — in order to keep turning the pages without throwing this inhuman book against the wall — we end up having to accept LB’s premise that trauma does not traumatize and that human suffering is peripheral, inconsequential and meaningless. It’s tempting to see this as the book’s great moral theme, it’s moral instruction. Read carelessly, this book will make you a worse human being.

Of course, if we accept the authors’ terms here, then Buck has no idea why Hattie has been crying.

This seems like it should be an intensely awkward situation. He doesn’t know whether her hour spent with Rayford was the cause of her crying, or if Rayford spent that time consoling her grief over some other, unknown cause. The latter would suggest something admirable about Rayford, but the former would suggest something disturbing. You’d think Buck would want to know which was the case. He is, after all, smitten with this man’s daughter, and he’s about to spend the evening hanging out with the guy, so it would seem to matter whether he’s the kind of steadfast friend who offers a shoulder to cry on or else some kind of abusive, bullying jerk. We readers already know the answer is B,* but Buck has no idea. Yet, we’re told, “Buck didn’t feel close enough to ask what was wrong, and she never offered.” After which he never gives it a second thought.

Second thoughts aren’t Buck’s, or the authors’, forte.

Buck would run back to the office, then home to change, and meet them later at the Carlisle. Af the office he took a call from Stanton Bailey …

Iit’s refreshing that Jenkins spares us a blow-by-blow account of Buck’s cab-ride from the airport back to Manhattan, but then he’s on the phone again. He’s on the phone with someone sitting in the next office.

Bailey updates him on “developments at the U.N.” In LB, the disappearance of 2 billion people is scarcely noticed, but the possibility of a new secretary-general at the United Nations has everyone on the edge of their seats like they’re watching the ninth inning of a perfect game. Bailey says:

“It’s already starting to come down. Plank assumes his new position in the morning, denies Carpathia’s interest, reiterates what it would take, and we all wait and see if anybody bites. I don’t think they will.”

“I wish they would,” Buck said, still hoping he could trust Carpathia and eager to see what the man would do about Stonagal and Todd-Cothran.

One wonders how many friends and colleagues of his Carpathia has to kill before Buck starts thinking that maybe he shouldn’t be given absolute, unchecked power over all the world. Bailey shares Buck’s enthusiasm for Carpathia’s give-me-all-your-weapons-because-I-asked plan for global conquest:

“I do too,” Bailey said, “but what are the odds? He’s a man for this time, but his global disarmament plans are too ambitious. It’ll never happen.”

“I know, but if you were deciding, wouldn’t you go along with it?”

“Yeah,” Bailey said, sighing. “I probably would. I’m so tired of war and violence …”

Bailey is inconsistently drawn here because the authors can only imagine him as embodying two contradictory stereotypes of their Imaginary Liberal. (Bailey is a corporate tycoon, but he’s a media corporate tycoon, so they think he must be a liberal.) They try to portray him both as a hardbitten, cynical pessimist and as a Kumbaya-singing hippy who thinks flowers and folk songs will bring about world peace.

LaHaye and Jenkins are led astray here by their disdainful ignorance about those who don’t share their enthusiasm for war and blood. In any case, Carpathia’s ridiculous scheme has nothing to do with disarmament, but with the consolidation of power. He’s not asking the world to lay down its arms, but to hand those arms over to him. He is saying, essentially, “Hello, I am a megalomaniac. Please give me all of your weapons so I can rule the world. Hola, soy un megalomaniac …

That wouldn’t work. Nobody — not even a liberal media elite — would ever agree to such a thing. Carpathia’s plan to seize a global monopoly on military force would never happen because people are “so tired of war and violence.” Such a plan might work, however, if people were sufficiently afraid of war and violence. “Give me absolute power and we’ll all hold hands in unity” doesn’t work, but “Give me absolute power and I’ll protect you from the Evil Bad People” often does.

It would have made far more sense for Carpathia to have followed the classic demagogue’s path, rising to power by promising stability amid the chaos, turmoil and trauma of the post-Event world. That would also have made more sense of the authors’ obsession with the Antichrist’s peace treaty with Israel, and of his eventual betrayal of that agreement. Israel, with its miraculous bounty and its sorcerous imperviousness to nuclear weaponry, would make an ideal candidate for the Threatening Other of Nicolae’s demagoguery. (Demonizing the Jews may not be very original, but it’s worked before.) But again, in LB the post-Event world shows a bizarre lack of chaos, turmoil and trauma. The people are freakishly not afraid, so more traditional forms of demagoguery aren’t an option for Carpathia.

Bailey also wants to know when Buck will be going to Chicago “to get Lucinda Washington replaced.” Lucinda, you’ll remember, was the RTC head of Global Weekly’s Chicago bureau. How a born-again RTC came to occupy such a position in the evil liberal elite media is never explained. Nor is it ever explained why the Weekly even has a “Chicago bureau” or why its personnel vacancies should be a top priority for the magazine’s brand new executive editor.

They briefly discuss whether they should promote someone from inside, or do a wider search. This tangent does nothing to advance the plot, themes or characterization of the book, but it does raise — for us, if not for the authors — the interesting question of what the job market would be like post-Event. On the one hand you’d have millions of newly unemployed teachers, toymakers, nannies, pediatricians, etc. But on the other hand you’d have all those new job openings. We’ve already seen Bruce Barnes get himself promoted to senior pastor but, despite their suddenly vacant pulpits, most churches probably wouldn’t be hiring at this point. Let’s take a ballpark figure and assume that about 1/5 of Americans would meet L&J’s criteria as Rapture-qualified RTCs. The sudden disappearance (the raptured don’t put in two weeks’ notice) of 1/5 of the work-force would have staggering macroeconomic effects, but it would also fundamentally change the terrain for individual job-seekers.

As always when we peek through one of these gaping holes in L&J’s lazy, incompetent attempts world-creation, alps on alps arise. The authors have given almost no thought to any such questions, because the more they allowed themselves to think about such things, the more they would realize that this world could be nothing like they believe it is “prophesied” to be. The more they tried to flesh out what might realistically follow from the events they predict the more they would demonstrate that such events could never happen. So the lack of credible and realistic world-building in Left Behind isn’t a bug, it’s a feature.

Buck told his new boss he would fly to Chicago the next morning and get back to New York by Sunday night.

Bailey’s not his “new boss,” just his boss in a new capacity, but let that pass because remember who else is flying to Chicago the next morning? That’s right:

Buck phoned Pan-Con Airlines, knowing Rayford Steele’s flight left at eight the next morning. He told the reservation clerk his traveling companion was Chloe Steele. “Yes,” she said, “Ms. Steele is flying complimentary in first class. There is a seat open next to her. …”

He booked a cheap seat and charged it to the magazine, then upgraded to the seat next to Chloe. He would say nothing that night about going to Chicago.

The line between dating and stalking can be pretty thin here in Left Behind.

It had been ages since Buck had worn a tie, but this was, after all, the Carlisle Hotel dining room. He wouldn’t have gotten in without one. …

Jenkins’ Mary Sue fantasy gets away from him here. His mental picture of Buck seems to be that of a war correspondent in the jungle, probably in one of those vests with all the pockets. But there’s no reason for Buck to be dressed like that. Buck’s job is interviewing people like Dr. Rosenzweig, President Fitzhugh and the visiting president of Romania. When you interview Nobel laureates and heads of state, you don’t wear a T-shirt and jeans.

Buck stashes his bag, and his luggage for Chicago, in a cloakroom and meets the Steeles and Hattie who are already seated.

Chloe was radiant, looking five years older in a classy evening dress. It was clear she and Hattie had spent the late afternoon in a beauty salon.

The portrayal of the women here is as unsurprising as it is appalling. The “beauty salon” holds a special place for the authors’ conception of women because it is the one place they imagine that might be frequented by both madonnas and whores.

But think for a moment about any salon you’ve ever been in. You sit in that chair facing the mirrors. There are always pictures tucked into the sides or taped to the frame of the mirror (or, at a more upscale salon, arranged in frames on the counter below); pictures of the stylists’ children. Here in our story, those kids are gone, but Chloe and Hattie and LaHaye and Jenkins don’t care. And they don’t want you to care either.

That’s the lesson they wrote this book to teach you: Don’t care.

– – – – – – – – – – – –

* Hattie was crying, you’ll recall, because Rayford told her he never loved her but was only interested in sex. It’s worth noting that Rayford is also Hattie’s coworker/supervisor, and that this entire one-sided conversation took place at the Pan-Con Club (Even ze orchestra is beautiful!), which is to say in the workplace, where it was likely captured on video from several angles. After Hattie’s slam-dunk sexual harassment lawsuit, Rayford’s career with Pan-Con will be over. He’ll be lucky to get a job as a baggage carrier for Ken Ritz.

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