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Ok! Back to the end of the world.
Left Behind: Chapter 4
At the airport, the ongoing adventure of Buck trying and failing to check his email continues.
He found another message in his e-mail in-box and was about to access it when he was tapped on the shoulder.
“I’m a doctor. Let me dress your wound.”
As you can see, Jenkins and LaHaye continue to amaze with their capacity for dialogue.
“Oh, it’s all right, and I-”
“Just let me do this, pal. I’m going crazy here with nothing to do, and I have my bag. I’m workin’ free today. Call it a Rapture Special.”
“Well, what would you call what happened?”
This doctor seriously has nothing to do? The last two chapters have been nonstop “DEATH AND CHAOS ARE ALL AROUND US”. I’m pretty sure this should be the busiest day of this doctor’s life. How is it that in a book about the Rapture, the least bullshit part is the Rapture itself?
Maybe it’s because the plot has been weirdly slow so far (especially when you consider that the plot is “the world is ending”), but I’m already noticing all the boring patterns we’re apparently going to have to deal with every single chapter. Like dialogue that awkwardly works in “hey, are you talking about THE RAPTURE?” points…
“I’m going to do a little shave job so I can get a bandage to hold. All right with you?”
Buck’s eyes were watering. “Yeah, sure, but what was that you said about the rapture?”
…a man telling a woman to calm her tits because men are working, sweetiehoneybuns!
A club attendant came by and asked if they could move the operation into one of the washrooms.
“I promise to clean up, hon,” the doctor said. […]
“Well, this can’t be sanitary, and we do have other members to think about.”
“Why don’t you just give them their drinks and nuts, all right?”
…and said woman blandly pointing out that this is rude, the man half-assedly apologizing, and then apparently this is a sufficient exchange.
“I don’t appreciate being spoken to that way.”
The doctor sighed as he worked. “You’re right. […] Listen, Suzie, I’ve been rude and I apologize. OK?”
Okay, so, playing devil’s advocate here, this book takes place in the rapture, so it makes enough sense that the people left behind – and, hence, all of our characters – might be assholes in one way or another. So to a certain degree, the fact that we don’t have any likeable characters so far could be a good thing. Exploring morally grey characters in the aftermath of divine confirmation that they’re not “good”? That’s a genuinely interesting premise! Of course, to achieve that, Left Behind would need to achieve “character”, which it’s… definitely still struggling with. Because all the male and female characters in this book each fit into basically the exact same mold so far.
Buck gets an email from one of his colleagues who managed to confirm that Hattie Dunham’s mother and sisters are still around. He also learns that “everybody from the senior staff [of their news publication] is accounted for”, so put your own “liberal media” joke here. As is already the norm for this book, the email also awkwardly works in a point about the book’s religious themes.
“Have you noticed it seems to have struck the innocents? Everyone we know who’s gone is either a child or a very nice person.”
This is such a weird thing to say. “Innocents” doesn’t match the tone at all. And I guess she’s implying that Buck is kind of a dick, although I can’t find an actual point to argue against with that one.
[Buck’s] mind was already whirring with ideas for the story behind the disappearances. Talk about the assignment of a lifetime!
Case in point.
Anyway, remember Nicolae Carpathia? Is the answer “no, because he was mentioned in a single paragraph in an email Buck got at the end of the last chapter that was super awkwardly just there and it wasn’t clear that this was important or relevant at all”? Because apparently that’s not the intended takeaway, as Buck suddenly reflects on his interview with Rosenzweig where they… spent a few minutes talking about this Carpathia fellow, for no particularly clear reason.
While he waited he tried to remember what it was Chaim Rosenzweig, the Newsmaker of the Year, had told him about the young Nicolae Carpathia of Romania.
I’m glad Left Behind felt the need to remind us who Rosenzweig is, but not this other character whose name has literally appeared only once before this.
[Buck and his editor] Steve agreed it wasn’t worth putting in the already tight story.
It’s interesting that Jenkins and LaHaye have invented characters who are more capable editors than the ones they actually had.
More concerned about this Carpathia character than it was particularly clear we needed to be all of a sudden, Buck goes looking on his laptop for his notes from the interview to see what Rosenzweig had to say about the man. It’s a very long and still rather pointless-seeming dialogue that isn’t worth going over aside from 1) all the men in this book come across like assholes (which you already knew) and 2) Carpathia is a low-ranking Romanian government official who was “charming and humble” with an interest in “global disarmament”. Seriously, it’s embarrassing how much they’re struggling to explain why Carpathia is supposed to be an interesting character.
“What did you like so much about him?”
“Let me count,” Rosenzweig had said. “He knew my language as well as his own. And he speaks fluent English. Several others also, they tell me. Well educated but also widely self-taught. And I just like him as a person. Very bright. Very honest. Very open.”
That’s it? This is on par with what you’d come up with when making up a fake significant other. “Oh, they’re smart! And they… uh… speak English. And other languages! I just like them, you know? They’re totally great and very real.”
Buck continues in his quest to get to New York at any cost (for some reason) and gets contact info for a private pilot for hire. He also brags that he’s not a gold or platinum member, but “Lady, I’m, like, a kryptonite member”, which only manages to convince me that the authors of this book have zero familiarity with Superman.
Meanwhile, Ray is also on a dramatic mission to get to his home.
The other pilots hung around the entrance, hoping to share a cab, but Rayford had a better idea. He began walking.
In trying to make Rayford seem like an intelligent, level-headed character, Left Behind is already resorting to walking as an action that demonstrates how great he is. Can we admire how sad this has already gotten?
On his way home, Rayford fears for the worst, wondering if he’ll find evidence that his family has been raptured, or hints that they died in a car crash or something more ambiguous. He feels torn between wanting her to have “seen her dream realized [and] have been taken away by Jesus” and, you know, not that, because “the ache and the emptiness were already overwhelming”. Maybe this would be a bit more convincing if the first chapter didn’t kick off with Rayford’s whole backstory with making out with a coworker at a Christmas party while his wife stayed home pregnant with their second child and how he didn’t consider this cheating. Maybe.
He also gets a ride home from a woman who encourages him to think about the novel’s religious themes.
“I’m not much for praying,” Rayford admitted.
“You will be,” she said.
Rayford gets home and goes through the house, finding his son Raymie’s clothes in bed and realizing his son has been raptured. More importantly than this – amazingly – is some absolutely absurd character building.
[Rayford] noticed a picture of himself on [his son’s] bed table. […] The picture was signed, “To Raymie with love, Dad.” Under that he had written, “Rayford Steele, Captain, Pan-Continental Airlines, O’Hare.” He shook his head. What kind of dad autographs a picture for his own son?
The type of person who has to count as a “complex” character in a novel like this one.
In his bedroom, he finds that, yes, his wife has indeed been been raptured. Let’s take a moment to appreciate the depth of his despair because it’s only a little weird, in terms of BBGT standards:
What a sweet, sweet woman! He thought. I never deserved her, never loved her enough! […] He climbed into the bed and lay facedown, gathering Irene’s nightgown in his arms so he could smell her and imagine her close to him. And Rayford cried himself to sleep.