It’s not always easy to title these posts, you know.
Left Behind: Chapter 6
Rayford, like many of us having spent this much time with his story, decides he needs a drink. We also get a charming little backstory that really highlights the very unclear morality that this Christian novel is preaching:
“That’s dishonest,” Rayford had countered.
“It’s prudent,” [Irene had] said. “He doesn’t know everything, and he doesn’t have to know everything.”
“How does that jibe with your insistence that we be totally truthful?”
“Telling the whole truth doesn’t always mean telling everything you know. […] You don’t have to make it obvious to your preteen son that you drink hard liquor.”
So I’ve been pretty quiet so far about making many “this doesn’t sound very Christian” jokes about this book (weirdly to the chagrin of our commenters), but this weird dance of technicalities over the subjective nature of truth seems like a good time to bring up my biggest problem with this book so far. It’s a book about the Rapture, but the difference between the people taken and left behind has nothing to do with whether they’re “good” people – just whether they believed in precisely the exact same subset of one of many religions that the authors do. This is a criticism I feel a little weird making, since I personally hover somewhere between “raised Catholic” and “pretty atheist”. But American Dad did an episode about the Rapture that raised questions about morally grey actions and what makes a “good” person, rather than distilling the whole idea down to “well, are you really Christian?” And I mean, if a fucking Seth MacFarlane show can be more thought-provoking than this book… what is this book saying?
Anyway, speaking of morally-complicated characters that Left Behind has no apparent interest in actually exploring, Rayford still hasn’t tried to reach out to his daughter about that whole not being dead thing.
Rayford’s sleep had been deep but not long enough. He had few immediate chores. First he had to connect with Chloe.
I’m sorry, Rayford went home and went to sleep before he bothered letting his daughter know that he was still alive? Maybe this is why you didn’t get to go to heaven, Rayford. Or at least it should be, but in Left Behind logic it’s just because he wasn’t into Jesus enough. So, you know, the leaving your daughter to fend for herself in the actual apocalypse only sort of matters.
Rayford tries calling her, but with no luck since “there would not likely be phone connections between Illinois and California for hours, maybe days”. It’s weird how this book isn’t even that old and even that seems super dated. Good thing the Rapture didn’t happen before Skype was at least invented. Rayford changes the message on the answering machine to a message to Chloe, letting her know that he’s still alive and telling her to get home at whatever expense. Then he eats some cookies. Then it finally hits him that, shit, his daughter is still alive.
And then it hit him. He sat up, staring out the window in the darkness. He owed it to Chloe not to fail her. He loved her and she was all he had left.
And also to let Jesus into his heart and stuff.
Above all, he had to study, to learn, to be prepared for whatever happened next. If the disappearances were of God, if they had been his doing, was this the end of it? The Christians, the real believers, got taken away, and the rest are left to grieve and mourn and realize their error? Maybe so. […] But if there were options, if there was still a way to find the truth and believe or accept or whatever it was Irene said one was supposed to do, Rayford was going to find it.
Oh good. I’m glad that it only took six chapters for him to come to this conclusion. I just hate when I have to read a whole book to see a character gradually understand the error of their ways.
But first, Rayford reflects on how his son probably got Raptured because he wasn’t manly enough. No, seriously. This is a real thing in this book that speculates on what kinds of people will and won’t be deemed true believers when the Rapture comes. Seriously.
It wasn’t simply Raymie’s age and innocence that had allowed his mother’s influence to affect him so. […] He didn’t have the killer instinct, the “me first” attitude Rayford thought he would need to succeed in the real world. He wasn’t effeminate, but Rayford had worried that he might be a mama’s boy
For what is quickly becoming one of my most repeated jokes about this book: it’s super obvious that this book was written by two men.
Meanwhile over in Buck’s story, Buck makes his way to a run-down motel near the Waukegan airport, where he listens to the voicemail from his totally-not-a-crazy-conspiracy-theorist source that made him try to fly to London in the first place:
“The big man, your compatriot, the one I call the supreme power broker internationally, met here the other day with the one I call our muckety-muck.”
It’s not even the Rapture parts of this book about the Rapture that I’m having trouble taking seriously.
“There was a third party at the meeting. All I know is that he’s from Europe, probably Eastern Europe. […] Watch the news for the installation of a new leader in Europe. If you say, as I did, that no elections are scheduled and no changes of power are imminent, you’ll get my drift.”
Man, if only there were a mysterious character from Eastern Europe who has been awkwardly crammed into this book’s endless exposition who this could possibly be.
Buck gets on the phone with his dad, and learns that everybody in his family remains un-Raptured, except for a sister-in-law. Which somehow becomes a perfect opportunity for Buck to bring up his unresolved daddy issues.
“This is awful, [Buck]. I wish you were out here with us.”
“Yeah, I’ll bet.”
“You bein’ sarcastic?”
“Just expressing the truth, Dad. If you wanted me out there, it’d be the first time.” […]
“Let’s not get into this, huh? For once, think of somebody other than yourself.”
Buck then narrates his entire backstory about how he was the first in his family to go to college instead of going into the family business, prompting them to resent him forever and ever, and how much Buck resents them in turn that they’ve only welcomed him back now that he’s famous. Because being told to think of somebody other than himself seems like a good prompt to go into all of this.
Something mildly interesting actually happens next in the conversation, except we already know that Left Behind isn’t interested in morally-ambiguous or hypocritical characters when all it has to do is reduce anything to “Welp, someone wasn’t a true believer! SHAAAAAAAAME.”
“You know your brother is afraid it was like the last judgment of God or something. […] But I don’t think so. […] Because I asked our pastor. He said if it was Jesus Christ taking people to heaven, he and I and you and Jeff would be gone, too. Makes sense.”
After the phone call, nothing particularly interesting happens. Jenkins and LaHaye continue to have fun imagining crazy Rapture scenarios:
From some countries came professional copies of live television shows in progress, a host’s microphone landing atop his empty clothes, bouncing off his shoes
And continue to write things that could only generously be described as “sentences”:
He remembered the many earthquakes and wars of the last decade and the nightly coverage that was so moving.
And add even more details that manage to somehow make the Rapture the least implausible part of the story:
[Buck] was the type who could look at his watch before retiring and wake up precisely when he told himself to. It was nearly midnight. He would be up at five-thirty.
The chapter ends back with Rayford, who gets a call from Chloe’s roommate informing him that she’s already trying to find a way back home and will try to get in touch along the way. He also reads the previous day’s paper and finds an interesting article about Nicolae Carpathia becomes president of Romania “with the seeming unanimous consensus of the people and both the upper and lower houses of government”. Man, it’s almost like we’re supposed to care about this character who has nothing to actually do with the plot yet or something.
I’ll leave you with one last “writing is hard”, and some obvious foreshadowing:
Rayford glanced at the photo of the young Carpathia, a strikingly handsome blond who looked not unlike a young Brad Pitt. […] Wonder if he would’ve wanted the job had he known what was about to happen? Rayford thought.