NRA: What Would Rayford Do? (Do the opposite)

NRA: What Would Rayford Do? (Do the opposite) August 9, 2013

Nicolae: The Rise of Antichrist; pp. 165-174

This chapter offers scenes featuring Rayford Steele at his Rayfordiest.

He and Hattie Durham are at a restaurant. That gives Rayford another chance to interact with people who are at work, and whether that’s at a restaurant, an airport, a store or a traffic stop, it’s an opportunity for more cringe-inducing Rayfordishness:

They were led to a table set for four. But even though two busboys hurried out to clear away two sets of dinnerware, and the waiter pulled out a chair for Hattie while pointing Rayford to the one next to her, Rayford was still thinking of appearances. He sat directly across from Hattie, knowing they would nearly have to shout to hear each other in the noisy place. The waiter hesitated, looking irritated, and finally moved Rayford’s tableware back to in front of him. That was something Hattie and Rayford might have chuckled over in their past. …

To fully appreciate the Rayfordosity on display here, keep in mind that this isn’t just any restaurant. This is Hattie’s restaurant. “Hattie herself had helped conceive it,” we are told. Rayford knows this, but — despite several pages of small talk in this chapter — he never says anything to her about it. No comments or compliments on the decor or the place’s success. No questions conveying an interest in her project. No acknowledging her work at all.

Most of us, on visiting a restaurant with an acquaintance who helped design the place, would find something encouraging to say about it, even if the place was a total trainwreck. “You must have had fun bringing all this together,” or some other such vaguely positive comment would seem like the least one should say. Hattie’s Global Bistro, we’re told, is doing very well. It’s a magnet drawing discerning patrons who have come from all over the world to work in the new global capital city.

Yet it never occurs to Rayford to say one word about it. Instead, within five minutes of arriving he’s giving the waiters a hard time for no reason (“I’d prefer to sit here, please,” would have avoided the irritation he seems to have provoked deliberately), rolling his eyes as though visiting such a restaurant is an ordeal. And he imagines that Hattie would be “chuckling” over this behavior if she weren’t otherwise in a bad mood.

The irony is that Rayford’s appalling behavior stems from his “thinking about appearances.” His aim, on arriving at the restaurant, was to appear virtuous — and he seems to believe he succeeded at doing so. He and the authors both seem wholly unaware that the main appearance he is creating is that of being a callous, condescending jerk.

That gets at the core of what it means to be Rayford Steele: the vast chasm between how he imagines he appears to others and how he actually is. That difference is a product, in part, of the fact that he seems to spend a great deal of time preoccupied with imagining how he appears to others and of the related fact that he is terrible at doing so accurately.

Consider this part of his conversation with Hattie, where he seems to think that imposing a lawyerly control on the terms of their former flirtation is a better way of asserting his goodness than, say, the long-delayed apology Hattie deserves from him:

“Well, to tell you the truth, when you dumped me –”

“Hattie, I never dumped you. There was nothing to dump. We were not an item.”


“OK, yet,” he said. “That’s fair. But you have to admit there had been no commitment or even an expression of a commitment.”

“There had been plenty of signals, Rayford.”

“I have to acknowledge that. Still, it’s unfair to say I dumped you.”

One of the things that I find fascinating about Rayford Steele is the way he subverts the readers’ expectations about the significance of a character’s motive. Broadly speaking, we expect good characters to have good motives and evil characters to have evil motives. That’s a conventional way of distinguishing between the heroes and the villains of a story. Rayford doesn’t fit into such tidy categories. He has horrible motives, but he seems to believe — sincerely — that his motives are good. He’s a bad guy who thinks he’s one of the good guys, a cad who thinks he’s a gentleman, a jerk who thinks he’s a mensch, a negligent bystander who thinks he’s a hero.

This also separates Rayford from antihero protagonists. Antiheros may spend time “thinking about appearances,” but they tend to be aware of the difference between the appearances they strive to project and the characters they actually are. Antiheroes tend to be aware of their own conflicted motives.

With an antihero, redemption is always a possibility. Think of Tony Soprano. One could argue that the theme of The Sopranos was that Tony knew he needed to change to become a better person, and he even seemed to want to change to become a better person, and yet at every opportunity he chose not to. The show would have been a stagnant, repetitive mess except that Tony was perpetually aware of his need for redemption, of the possibility of choosing it, and of the cost of that choice.

The difference between a literary masterpiece and something else can sometimes boil down to whether the artifice of the unreliable narrator is conscious or unconscious.

Rayford is not aware of any of that. He thinks of redemption only in the past tense. Where The Sopranos gave us an antihero struggling, and failing, with the ever-present possibility of redemption, Left Behind gives us a Rayford, a man so wholly entombed in his delusion that he can’t even imagine changing or choosing or growing.

Whenever I think about this, trying to plumb the bottomless depths of Rayford’s shallowness, I’m tempted to think of him as a remarkable literary creation. He epitomizes the kind of delusional narcissism that enables one to enable evil. There are layers of complexity to his simple-minded self-absorption. Had any of that been a deliberate effect intended by his creators, these books might be read in literature classes. Jerry Jenkins — despite his shortcomings as a stylist, his tin ear for dialogue, and his delirious disregard for continuity and research — might be spoken of in the same sentences as Nabokov or Dostoevsky or, at least, David Chase.

But we don’t commend the authors for this achievement because they seem as wholly ensconced within Rayford’s delusion as Rayford is himself.

It almost seems unfair that such an accidental, unintentional achievement isn’t recognized. I suppose that’s partly because such accidents are all too common. Consider, for example, the polar opposite appreciation and literary reputation of Lolita and Known and Unknown. Both books feature an unreliable narrator desperate to charm the reader into forgiving the unforgivable by weaving a tapestry of self-serving rationalizations. Both narrative voices are a painstaking construct — the product of labor and artifice. Yet the former book is hailed as a masterpiece and one of the greatest novels of all time while the latter collects dust on remainder tables as an unwelcome relic from a time most of us prefer not to remember.

But imagine if “Donald Rumsfeld” was a wholly imaginary character and that the events recounted in his memoir were audacious fiction, a wicked satire describing an implausible campaign of deceit that ultimately ensnared even the deceivers themselves, leading to a catastrophically lethal blunder in which trillions were squandered and hundreds of thousands slain. Yet despite that all-too-predictable outcome, this fictional narrator with the oddly Dickensian name is unrepentant, effusively praising himself as a hero and a champion of virtue. If it were fiction — the product of conscious artifice rather than of unconscious artifice — Known and Unknown would be on the syllabus of English literature classes everywhere.

Now imagine the other side. What if Lolita was actually a memoir, written by a real-life Humbert Humbert? All that gorgeous prose would be reviled and rejected. Copies of the book would sit, unwanted and unread alongside copies of O.J. Simpson’s If I Did It.

Rayford Steele is, in his own way, a literary achievement that ranks up there with Humbert Humbert and the Underground Man, and with “Donald Rumsfeld” and “O.J. Simpson.” But because, like those last two, Rayford was not a deliberate artistic creation, he isn’t celebrated as such.

I don’t want to celebrate Rayford, but I do want to learn from him. He has a great deal to teach us. And so do his creators.

That, more than anything else, is why I’m still reading these books after nearly 10 years (!) of slogging through them page-by-ludicrous-page.

I’ve seen this referred to as “hate-reading” — analogous to the diversion of “hate-watching” so-bad-it’s-good TV shows or movies just for the fun of mocking their shortcomings and reveling in their failures. I appreciate the pleasures afforded by this pastime. It can be a lot of fun in small doses — especially in the company of quick-witted friends.

But hate-watching for its own sake can’t be sustained very long before it turns into something else. The whole point of the exercise isn’t just to absorb the awfulness of some so-bad-it’s-good movie or show, but to respond to it. And that response leads to something richer than just quips and mockery.

Just responding, “This is bad,” is unsatisfying. It lacks specificity. To get more specific — to identify and articulate that specificity — means switching from statements to questions. Why is this bad. How is this bad?

And that, in turn, leads to bigger questions: What is the nature of badness in general? What is the precise nature of the precise badness we’re witnessing here? What, if anything, would make this good? What is the nature of goodness?

These questions are not asked explicitly or didactically — that would ruin all the fun of getting together with your friends to watch Plan Nine From Outer Space or The Real Housewives of New Jersey. But such questions are also unavoidable if you want to say anything funny, clever or incisive. Without considering those questions on some level, you’d be left with nothing but puns and funny noises. (Not that I’m opposed to puns and funny noises — I still giggle at this YouTube classic starring Robert Tilton. But we surely there are also more substantial critiques that need to be made of Tilton’s brand of deceitful, predatory sanctimony.)

Even if you only start asking such questions in order to sharpen the edge of your mockery, thinking about such questions leads you beyond mere hate-watching and into something more like what we could call apophatic criticism.*

“Apophatic” is a fancy word from the world of theology. It usually refers to a kind of negative theology in which we strive to clarify the nature and character of God by saying what God is not like. The idea was put forward by folks like Maimonides and Dr. Seuss (“the way to find a certain something is to find out where it’s not”).

The idea of “negative theology” sometimes gets a negative response because the word “negative,” of course, has negative connotations. So some people hear that word “negative” and assume that negative theology must involve destruction — a tearing down or a tearing apart. But it’s actually a helpful approach that yields positive results. Negative theology allows us to be more constructive — to speak with greater clarity and confidence about the nature of God than we are able to do when attempting to make “positive” statements, which tend to be inadequate, anthropomorphic, or limiting and, therefore, misleading.**

That apophatic principle from The Cat in the Hat is what allows us to learn so much from the World’s Worst Books. These books are an almanac of awful — an exhaustive catalogue of “where it’s not” that enables us to better locate many certain somethings. These books fail on every level — storytelling, characterization, continuity, theology, politics, ethics, logic. They’re also clearly “so-bad-they’re-good,” and thus suitable for the amusement of hate-watching, but more than that, they are instructively bad. Every page provides an opportunity to ask all those questions above — an exercise in negative theology, or negative literary criticism, or negative ethics.

We can learn, in other words, how not to do theology, how not to tell stories, how not to treat others.

This is the value of contemplating Rayford Steele in all of his insufferable, overwhelming Rayforditude. Rayford serves — albeit unintentionally — as a flashing red danger sign warning us of the perils of delusional narcissism. He is worth studying and contemplating in the same way that Charles Sheldon taught us to contemplate Christ. “What would Jesus do?” Sheldon famously asked. And we can ask — just as fruitfully — “What would Rayford do?”

The difference there, of course, is that we should then make sure we’re not doing it.

If you’re a storyteller and you’re trying to write a story with an actual hero, ask WWRD? Then write the opposite.

If you want to be the hero of your own story and of your own life, ask WWRD? Then do the opposite.

Try it out next time you’re at a restaurant and the waiter comes to your table. WWRD? Do the opposite. You’ll make one person’s day and help to make the world a better place.

– – – – – – – – – – – –

* We shouldn’t make too much of this distinction between “hate-watching” and what I’m describing here as an “apophatic” approach. Don’t conclude that the former is frivolous or that the latter is ponderous. The whole point of hate-watching, after all, is to say something funny — and that means to say something true. So the real difference here may be something more like the difference between poetry and prose.

** This is part of why so many of my favorite bloggers are atheists — and why I often find myself agreeing with what they think and write about God. We can agree on the statement “God is not X,” even if we still disagree on the shorter, more sweeping statement, “God is not.” The atheist channel here at Patheos features several really excellent apophatic theologians.

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  • Um…. I always _liked_ Star Trek: Generations. Does that make me weird?

  • ReverendRef

    Very nice!!!

  • Jenny Mingus

    Mouse here,
    I really have nothing to say except wow! Any other critiques feel paltry when we’re in the presence of the critique-master.
    And now to shamelessly self-promote: If any of y’all wanna see how a hero should act, read my posts on Taylor Graham at my blog. There’s a reason I started a Taylor is Awesome tag.

  • Donalbain

    I think it is compelling enough for that, rather than natural enough.

  • I have to catch up! Also, “Mingus”? Auggie Anderson from Covert Affairs is a fan of the music group. :P

  • GDwarf

    Weird? I think it makes you unique. If you report to the Smithsonian they’ll probably put you on display. :P

  • Larry

    It must be a circular table, then, because he’d be trying to sit diagonally across from her if it was a rectangular table.

  • Lujack

    “So, sit on the same side of the booth, eh? I just think its a little unusual, for two people to sit on one side, leave the other side empty…”

  • FearlessSon

    In that case, “Tinkins” has quite a dirty imagination.

    Man, those guys are really fixated on sex. Their whole set of dom/sub rules (like the precise distance to sit at a restaurant table demanded by the dom) would not be nearly as unhealthy if they could just admit to themselves that is what they want.

  • FearlessSon

    Incidentally, expect to find several extracts from that book scattered about Deus Ex. They know their influences are not are afraid to wear them on their sleeves.

  • Charby

    You don’t link to your blog. Now I have to (gasp) scroll over to find it. :)

  • Redcrow

    Link, please?

  • Jamoche

    (Posted at work, meant to come back and edit)

  • Redcrow


  • arcseconds

    No, it just means you have no taste.

    Don’t worry, you’ve plenty of company in that regard…


  • arcseconds

    no charge… :)

  • Jamoche

    Not sure what they want – Hollywood’s unpopular stars? Also not sure about their math – Nicolas Cage is the only one I’d call a top star, and I’d bet anything he’s only in it because his finances suck.

  • Ima Pseudonym

    Soooo…it’s basically Chuck-E-Cheese with a Satanic motiff? I can well believe that Rayford would regard Chuck-e-Cheese as classy. He strikes me as the sort of person who would consider taking a date to an evening shooting rats at the town landfill.

  • Daniel

    It might take away some of the frisson though. They’ve actually managed to create a sort of fractal dom/sub thing because every person has an internal controller relentlessly on the watch out for anything even remotely sexual, which their internal submissive really really wants. To follow their weird view of sexuality you basically have to turn your own body into a police state, always suspecting your right hand might really really want to do something that might offend you.

  • Vermic

    This one right here, this is what I was picturing. Except bigger and gaudier, and you can’t touch it because of the OWG guards with truncheons.

  • Seraph4377

    By the way, is there anyone here who, by some act of Wayback-fu, can recover the July 25, 2008 Left Behind post, “The Hidden Display”?

  • Vermic

    Why in the world are we here?
    Surely not to live in pain and fear

    John Lennon: greatest apophatic philosopher of all time? I’m just putting the suggestion out there.

  • Vermic

    Let’s talk about unreliable narrators! Because they’re pretty neat, and sometimes it’s useful to contemplate neat writing in the midst of reviewing the World’s Worst Books. I never read Lolita (a fact which I should probably remedy), so when I think of unreliable narrators my first example is a sci-fi novel from the ’50s by Wilson Tucker, The Long Loud Silence.

    TLLS is more or less a post-apocalyptic survival tale told in first person. The premise is that the eastern U.S. has been depopulated by a plague; the military has successfully stopped the spread at the Mississippi River and everything to the east is under heavy quarantine, with the few remaining immunes left to fend for themselves. Our protagonist, Corporal Russell Gary, is one of these immunes, and the story is his tale of survival in this lawless, nearly empty land.

    The interesting thing about Russell Gary is what a sociopathic bastard he is, and that he never seems to realize this himself. He sees himself as a smart survivor, and while he is that — as ex-military, he’s better equipped than most to navigate the collapse of civilization — he’s also utterly focused on himself. Other people don’t seem really real to him; they’re just tools; although he meets a few decent folks in his wanderings he always comes to write them off as stupid, weak, and burdensome. From the moment the disaster falls, Gary slips into “opportunistic, survival-at-all-costs” mode with an ease that’s almost disturbing, and he never slips back.

    Ultimately the very isolation that is necessary to keep him alive (or so he feels — there are points where he has the opportunity to live in security and peace, but abandons them) changes Gary into little more than a wolf in human skin. His goal for most of the book is to find a way to cross the Mississippi and return to civilization. He does eventually accomplish this, but by then he can barely stomach the “weaklings” of the civilized world. In the end he sneaks back into the quarantine zone, back to the only place he understands and where he gets to be the Ultimate Badass of the Apocalypse.

    The point is that Corporal Russell Gary never has a moment of self-awareness in all this. His narration shows that he thinks that TLLS is his account of survival, how much more clever and smart and practical he is than everyone else. But it’s clear to the reader that it’s the story of a man willingly abandoning his humanity.

    The interesting thing — and I guess it’s probably true of a lot of unreliable-narrator fiction — is that I can’t prove that this was a deliberate choice by the author (although I’m pretty certain it was). It could be that Tucker also thought he was telling the story of a clever badass in a world of weaklings, which would make Russell Gary the Rayford Steele of his world — an accidental study in dehumanization, a jerk despite both the character and the author believing otherwise.

    Bruce Willis eventually learned he was a ghost, but not every unreliable narrator comes to realize or admit his unreliability. In those cases, there is room for debate: unreliable narrator or just Bad Writing?

  • Interesting. Why do you think this was a deliberate attempt at an unreliable narrator? My experience with post-apocalyptic wasteland fiction is that an awful lot of it is written by people who want to write stories about clever badasses in worlds of weaklings, and don’t see anything wrong with being an opportunistic survive-at-all-costs wolf in human skin. I don’t think I’ve seen a story where the protagonist was such a person but the author was deliberately aware that, no, that is not actually ther Real True Proper ALpha Male Way for a person to be before, so that sounds interesting.

  • Now is one of those times I wish I’d actually bothered to save all the Slacktipages.

  • aunursa

    What happened to the LB Kids updates?

  • Tapetum

    Huh, we have the exact same fountain at our local zoo.

  • Jamoche

    Given it was written in the ’50s, that puts it in the initial post-nuclear wave when they were more inclined to be cautionary tales. My high school library had a lot of older SF short story collections so I know I’ve read some, just can’t recall titles or authors.

  • Skweisgaar Skwigelf

    Eh, even if it’s mean and/or humiliating to the characters, it doesn’t sound very good. “This one event didn’t happen, it was all a delusion” only works if all the action surrounding it still makes perfect sense when you know what reallty happened. The more events that had to be completely fabricated, or recontextualized so heavily they may as well have been fabrications, in order for the delusion to maintain itself, then the closer the story is to just being “it was all a dream”, which is garbage. There’s unreliable narrators, who stretch and misinterpret and recontextualize and omit minor details, maybe even imagine a scene or two, and then there’s “oh yeah nothing even a little bit like anything this character has narrated so far actually happened”, and the latter is terrible.

  • ChristianPinko

    I’m going to destroy my Christian cred here, but now I want a Satan-themed version of Dave & Buster’s. Like, one where you can toss little balls into the Hellmouth, and order jalapeno Hellfire hors d’oeurves.

  • Original Lee

    Oh, Daniel. Promise me that when it’s all over, we’ll remember this pastiche with fondness and laughter, and almost feel the almost having never fallen in love with each other over it.

  • phantomreader42

    Lucifer & Beelzebub’s?

  • lowtechcyclist

    My Wayback-fu is coming up against a dead end in this case.

    Here’s how you’d do it, if it was there:

    First, go to the Wayback Machine (, type “” (without the quotation marks) into the box with the “take me back” button next to it, then click the button.

    Now there are years across the top, and a calendar below. Click the year you want (2008), then click the first highlighted date after the date of the post you’re looking for.

    That will give you the content of Fred’s blog as of that date, so you normally wouldn’t have to scroll far down to find the post you want.

    But in this case, they didn’t take a snapshot of Fred’s blog between June and mid-September 2008. By mid-September, the July posts were not on the blog’s front page anymore, but were rather several pages back. And the Wayback Machine’s snapshot is only of that first page.

    Unfortunately, my lunch hour is over, and there’s a s***load of work awaiting me, so my efforts have to stop here. But if you Google “wayback machine alternatives” apparently there are a number of other sites that do similar stuff. My suggestion would be to try a few of them. Good luck!

  • DavidCheatham

    I was trying to figure out what sort of term describes Raymond, who is, in a way, the opposite of an anti-hero.

    I thought at first ‘anti-villain’, but that is the absolute opposite of what Raymond is. An anti-hero is a ‘bad person’ attempting to go a good goal, and thus an anti-villain is a ‘good person’ attempting a horrible goal.

    Anti-villains aren’t that common. But there’s actually a current example. Kira, the protagonist on the TV show Continuum, is one. She is a completely moral person who cares about others, who is a law enforcement officer, and is trying to make history turn out the way it originally did…so she can get back to 2077, to her fascist corporate-owned future with literal mind-control slavery. (Of course, the victors wrote history…and control the news…and make claims of ‘necessity’ that probably are untrue. She really doesn’t seem to understand how bad her future actually is for most people…and her goal of ensuring her son actually _exists_ is entirely sympathetic.)

    That is an interesting universe, but it’s not what we have here.

    What we’re _supposed_ to have is a universe where Raymond is internally a hero while pretending to be a villain. (The writers do not understand that such a thing is defined by _goals_, not ‘internal morality’…nor do they actually appear to understand how ‘internal morality’ works either.)

    What we’ve actually ended up with is a universe where Raymond is actually a villain internally, or at least an ass, but thinks he’s a hero. And externally he’s pretending to be a villain, while _actually_ being a NPC.

    This is, indeed, a fairly strange setup. Raymond is an …anti-NPC? Anti-heroic-bystander? It’s such a strange setup we don’t even have a _term_ for it. (And thanks to TV Tropes, we have a term for _everything_.) No one has ever deliberately written such a thing, where the protagonist is not actually a good person, has evil endgame, and does not even do anything to attempt to accomplish _that_.

    It probably wouldn’t even work if done deliberately. Maybe as some sort of character study, but not as an actual _plot_. It certainly can’t work when the writer doesn’t seem to realize what’s going on.

    Meanwhile, we do actually have an anti-hero. It’s Nicky. But that’s only because they made God into an outright villain. But you can’t really be an anti-hero (Or any sort of hero) unless the narrative admits you are one.

  • DavidCheatham

    I’ve got it! I figured out the term.

    Raymond is an anti-protagonist. (And Buck also.)

    They either are villain anti-protagonist, or possible anti-hero anti-protagonists. Depending if you think what they’re doing is a good goal or a bad goal. (As they’re not doing anything to effect the actual real problem of ‘this is the apocalypse’, it’s almost a moot point.)

    I personally, vote villain anti-protagonist, because they aren’t even sharing their knowledge or preparations with _their own church_.

    Anti-heros would be jerks who selfishly refuse to explain themselves or speak politely…but would secretly be planning to save as many people as possible. (And, due to self-loathing, probably wouldn’t even plan to save themselves.) Raymond and Buck are jerks who selfishly refuse to explain themselves or speak politely who…who are secretly planning to save _themselves_ and their wimmin. And no one else.

  • s_noe

    This is the post where I, after weeks of slogging, have caught up with Fred in his LB posts. Yes, I started at the beginning. (Someone at Roy Edroso’s blog linked to this, I clicked, and that was that.) Among other things, I’ve learned a lot about theology, how not to write, and the pleasures of intertextuality. (That’s just a tiny piece of what I’ve learned.)
    It’s been awesome.
    As this moment neared, I thought I would have something meta to say about Fred’s project. I was feeling a bit put out, because I wouldn’t be able to see the future anymore: what happens to Rayford “Buck” Steele? (They’re one dude in my mind.) What are Nicolae et minions gonna do next? What will it look like when shit starts getting biblical, with rivers of blood and fields of toenails or whatever?
    It seems really well-timed that I ended up stalled on this post, because Fred’s own little meta-bit about hate-reading points toward something I absolutely adore about his approach to Christian living – scratch that, just living – and is a great antidote to that growing why-isn’t-he-done-yet resentment I have been feeling.
    Given the pace here, it’s entirely possible – maybe probable? – that he won’t ever catch up with LH&J. But being FINISHED is not the point. It’s what you learn, and what you do, and who you do it with, and whom you do it to, that counts.
    Unless LaHaye and Jenkins are right. In which case I’m emulating Huck Finn: “All right, then, I’ll go to hell.”
    So thanks, Fred and commentariat. I hope I’m right in thinking you all made a difference in my life – time will tell!

  • VMink

    I can’t wait for Zeno to put an arrow through the target of THAT scene!

    … I’ll get my coat.

  • Vermic

    I can’t prove that Tucker intended to tell a different story than the one his protagonist was telling; it’s just a very strong impression I got from reading. I could certainly be wrong. At any rate, I think it’s a more interesting read when interpreted that way, whether the author intended it or not, and of course the same can also be said of Left Behind.

  • Apocalypse Review

    Pssst… Rayford. :)

    Otherwise your analysis is excellent, especially with regard to the analogy to Continuum. :)

  • Apocalypse Review

    Also, robots.txt is blocking the retrieval of the exact URL as saved to the Right Behind master list.

  • kenfair

    Hear, hear. I’ve been reading Fred’s Left Behind posts since the very beginning, and I still can’t wait for more. As someone not raised in evangelical culture, I have learned greatly from Fred’s window into that culture. And Fred is a constant reminder to me that there are evangelical Christians who actually act like Christians rather than self-centered bigots.

  • Nick Gotts

    A bit OT, but if you want a post-apocalyptic wasteland fiction that is nothing like that, I recommend George R. Stewart’s Earth Abides (1949). The protagonist is a thoroughly decent man, an embryo academic before the plague hits, who tries but fails to preserve literacy and rationalism in the “tribe” that forms from the descendants of a handful of people. But it does inherit much of his decency.

  • I’ve been imagining that, since Hattie designed the restaurant, she’s one of the owners and therefore can sit wherever she wants and not have to pay a penny. Although I can also see Hattie booking a small, square table in the corner just because she knows the quasi-intimate setting will freak Rayford out.

  • That was beautiful. Wow.

  • I think Jenkins’ plot is one of the rare situations in which the fact that no one cares makes the story far more palatable.
    If everyone in Left Behind cared, if they reacted with the levels of shock, loss, and utter devastation that most people would feel in this situation, Jenkins’ readers would be naturally horrified. No one would want to read about people having emotional breakdowns, throwing themselves off bridges, spending their few remaining years trying to piece together what’s left of their shattered sense of reality. Such a scenario would make the readers question whether the whole Rapture thing is such a good idea after all.

    Whereas with Left Behind, the reader can feel ok about wanting the Rapture to happen because, See? The people who are left behind will be fine. They’ll forget about the disasters by the next page. You can fly away to heaven and not worry about them anymore. Realistic? No. But comforting in that it allows them to look forward to the apocalypse without feeling guilty.

  • Evan

    i like the idea, but it should end with their inability to cope driving them to suicide, or else with Buck and/or Rayford trying to “bring down the antichrist” with a shooting rampage in the Global Weekly offices, ending with them being shot to death by the police

  • darchildre

    Looking at the wiki article on the book, it mentions that, at one point in the original draft, the author had the protagonist eat his mistress, but was convinced to change it for publication. Since cannibalism is pretty much universally frowned on, this would seem to give credence to your reading.

  • Newbiedoobiedoo

    What, no Jane Lynch as Verna Zee?

  • ASG

    A couple of years ago, Harper’s magazine published a glorious piece on The Room, an earnest, overwrought drama that is much, much worse than it thinks it is and which has become a cult hit due to its surreal, almost sublime badness. (Seriously, look on YouTube: its badness will blow your MIND.) The article itself is behind a paywall, but it’s well worth finding a copy if you can, because it’s about as good a discussion as I’ve ever seen of the phenomenon of let’s call it the inverted or doubly-unreliable narrator — the story that thinks it’s doing one thing while subtextually doing something completely different. I strongly recommend the piece to anyone who’s still reading this thread, because it captures something amazing about the “unskilled and unaware of it” quality of the worst writers we know, and, by troubling extension, the ways in which we all think we’re above average while perhaps not interrogating quite as carefully as we should the ways in which we fail at kindness, leadership, generosity, wit, and so on. I believe we are called upon to question ourselves and try to overcome our weaknesses; the Tim LaHayes of the world, by contrast, double down; and that itself is a fascinating glimpse of the workings of sin.