Friday, June 03, 2005

90% Less Fat

Assassins: Assignment: Jerusalem, Target: Antichrist, by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, Read by Richard Ferrone, Recorded Books LLC, 2001

Now, I have to admit, I cheated here. The library didn’t have the audiobook. Apparently some good Christians had stolen it or never returned it, and the library couldn’t special order it for me through interlibrary loan, which left me in a bit of a quandary. I certainly had no intention of sitting down and actually reading one of these books. But of all the cheeseball titles Mssrs. LaHaye and Jenkins have foisted on the reading public, this was truly the worst one of all, and for that reason it was my favorite as well. Any book so badly titled had to be spectacularly badly written too. I couldn’t wait and my disappointment was immense. But I had my pride. No actual reading. I’d not be caught dead sitting around in public with one of these books in my hands. I would listen or I’d break down.

Luckily for me, the good folks at Tyndale audio had made radio show versions of the books and the library did have that. It was even further from actually reading than just listening to the books, but I had listened to five already and knew the ins and outs and weaknesses of Jenkins’ prose.

Only that’s the problem, or rather the non-problem. Part of what makes the Left Behind series of books is how spectacularly bad Jenkins’ writing truly is. His prose style, his kiddie pool depth of character, his painfully awkward metaphors and figurative language, his ear for dialogue so debased as to make calling it “tin” a step up, all of this is what makes the Left Behind books so stunningly, originally, horrifically bad. And it’s bad in that so bad it’s funny so it’s kind of good way. It’s like watching someone who can’t sing audition; a train wreck in which no one gets hurt but your stomach from hysteria.

What we’re left with is the plotting and the character dialogue. The shows move too fast for there to be time for comparisons to stagings of Les Mis, for us to learn about newlyweds feet firmly on floors, for us to sit through long prayer breaks to the heavenly father. There’s explosions and gunshots and door slams and baby’s cries and racing motor engines to get in here, plus an over the top soundtrack that makes Bernard Herrmann’s scores as stately as Mantovani.

Supposedly this book, as the title suggests, poses the hypothetical question of is it right to try to kill the Antichrist? Short answer: no. Jenkins and LaHaye’s answer: you better believe it, buckaroo. Two threads of two characters, Hattie Durham who fled from the creepy Christians of the Tribulation Force, and Rayford Steele who is supposedly trying to find Hattie, attempt to reach Israel in order to shoot Nicolae Carpathia. Only one of them makes it and succeeds. Ah, to hell with keeping you in suspense. It’s Rayford, damnit.

You don’t suppose they’d let a skirt pull the trigger do you? Okay, actually, that’s unfair. Perhaps the most surprising thing about the whole Left Behind series (again, apart from how tremendously awful million copy bestsellers can be) is how uppity the women are. These Christian broads really sock it to their respective men; it’s night and day with the back-chat, the lip, the mouthiness. I know there’s interpretations of the Bible that’d excuse smacking around a chick who got a bit snotty, yet Jenkins makes all the women tough cookies who give their men what for with impunity. I wonder what LaHaye thinks of that.

Anyway, plot synopsis since plot is all we got. Rayford wants to kill the Antichrist, which is, I guess, understandable enough. His buddy Ken Ritz, after turning over all his gold coins to Rayford and the Trib Force, got killed by the Antichrist’s forces. Then Nicolae poisoned Hattie and killed his own evil fetus and almost killed Rayford’s former extra-long-shower-fantasies girl. But here we have to stop for a second. Nicolae has Hattie poisoned and this causes her miscarriage and impairs her health seriously. Her doctor, Floyd Charles, another believer who’s fled his secular hospital (damn those secularists with their science and their medicine!), falls ill from this poison, somehow not strong enough to kill Hattie, yet strong enough that when secreted from her body that it can kill a full-grown man. Does anyone else see a little, I don’t know, ignorant bullshit here?

Luckily, as before, this minor character dies just after helping Hattie through the worst of it, and is quickly replaced by yet another believer doctor, one who also brings money to the Trib Force. Leah Rose, the new doctor, is another mouthy spitfire. Honestly, it’s a trend. I don’t know how this would come across in the novel itself, but in the radio show she comes off as a real high falutin’ bee-yotch. Perhaps that’s the devil’s bargain struck here: you can be a woman who speaks her mind, but we all know how to spell that and it begins with B.

At any event, when Doc Charles falls ill, Leah treats him, yet she doesn’t die, doesn’t get sick, won’t let anyone touch his body without gloves, but she sleeps in his old bed. This toxin is so horrific yet so benign that to touch Doc Charles might kill someone, but to sleep on his old sweaty mattress and pillow is okay. And at the same time, Doc Charles delivered Chloe’s baby and presumably at some point after delivery touched a brand spanking new infant fresh from the heaven of the womb with his bare unclean hands. Odd, no?

Meanwhile, shortly after giving birth, Chloe begins organizing a food co-op that’s supposed to feed millions of believers on an underground Christian market — this to avoid having to get the mark of the beast when the time comes. I don’t know about you, but I find keeping a secret among two or three people hard enough, but millions? And none of their non-Christian neighbors would ever notice this? And Chloe has time to do it as a new mother? As a new parent myself, I can tell you she won’t have enough time. And what’s up with all this pinko stuff like grocery cooperatives? Apparently communism and socialism are bad forms of government, but good for small bands of Christians. In fact, in his economic lecture to Rayford in Apollyon, Ken Ritz actually extolled the virtue of micro-communism as in small bands of Christians, as in the book The Acts of the Apostles.

I guess Chloe might have time for this commie venture. After all, as she tells Buck, she can’t pick up her newborn infant every time he cries because it’ll spoil the baby. She tells him she read about this. Maybe if she’s only reading Dobson, but child rearing specialists and pediatricians tell us you can’t spoil a newborn. That you should pick up your child every time they cry until they reach a certain age or they’ll find it difficult to trust and be comfortable with their parents. It’s that kind of either a.) ignorance of reality reflected in Jenkins work or b.) it’s that vicious cruelty in fundamentalists toward children, you know, sparing the rod and all that. At any rate, there is an age where you shouldn’t be attentive to and fuss and coo over every cry of your child, but it’s significantly after the first week.

Anyway, the big event of this book, the big event not the climactic assassination of the Antichrist anyway, is the appearance of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Now, you or I might be tempted to take such things as figurative, but we’d be wrong, oh so wrong. When the Horsemen do show up, they are real actual visible riders on horseback, terrifying Leah and Rayford on their midnight run to bring her stash of cash back to the Trib Force headquarters. And like the cross on the forehead, the Horsemen can only be seen by believers. This seems a ridiculous plot innovation but no more so than any others. Why only those already saved if the goal is to save more? Wouldn’t the Horsemen be more effective if the non-believers could see them? In some instances, the non-believers explode into balls of fire. This would go a long way toward convincing me.

Safe back with the moolah, Rayford decides the time has come for a little vengeance is mine. Yes, he’s tired of turning the other cheek. Through a black market run by a Muslim (naturally, damn terrorists), Rayford manages to secure a powerful, non-metal pistol that he can slip through security. How he gets the bullets through I don’t know. Despite being a wanted man, Rayford has no trouble getting into Israel. How you ask? Well, it’s a bit ghoulish, but there’s a man who works for the Trib Force who goes around pulling wallets out of the corpses of non-believers killed by the Horsemen. I suppose it’s necessary for the Christian underground, but it seems a bit nasty and the man’s glee in his work is especially sick. This little bit of high school level trickery seems to fool the most technologically advanced government organization, and even someone as famous as Buck Williams can just get a new ID and fly back into Israel yet again, as he works to prevent Rayford from his assassination attempt.

The unchristian ways of these characters continues and extends even to Tsion ben-Judah. The Rabbi declines to go and speak in Jerusalem despite an invitation, and he declines based on prophecy that there will be (yet) another earthquake there. He says he doesn’t “want to see such destruction.” He does not say that he doesn’t want to attract a bunch of his Christian followers to the city where they’d be killed. No, he just doesn’t want to see destruction himself, personally. Then when the Trib Force are asked about whether or not they’re Christians, they’re encouraged to “tell ‘em what they need to hear,” meaning lie. Now that’s standing up for what you believe in. All those tortured saints from the Roman times are proud of that courage. So, our examples of good behavior include planning for murder, embracing communism, avoiding seeing anyone else’s suffering, being completely self-absorbed, lying about your faith, and scavenging among the dead. Guess I'll burn in hell.

The climax of the series builds with the Antichrist convincing the ten kings of the world (the regional rulers of ten subdivisions of the globe) to stab Pope Matthews to death with shards of ice from a sculpture of himself as an angel. (Yeah, I know, weird.) Then the Two Witnesses are shot to death by Global Community forces, their period of invincibility lapsed, but then they rise from the dead and soar off into the sky. (Weirder still.) And finally the book ends with Rayford plugging a hole right through Nicolae Carpathia at a Global Community rally in Jerusalem. (Not so weird.) It's kind of a rip-snorting conclusion

The radio shows each start with a booming dramatic voice “last time on Left Behind” similar to old time serials or Pigs in Space. What’s surprising about this radio series is how corny it is even without Jenkins’ dreadful writing style. He’s so bad that it’s implicit in the plot, even if we don’t get corny cliches and hammy grandstanding. At the same time, the action sequences like when Nicolae’s plane is attacked in Africa aren’t burdened by Jenkins’ sloppy prose that might have slowed things down but just have explosions, automatic rifle fire, screaming, dramatic music.

From one look at the cast, you can see that this is one white ass troupe of honkies doing their best to provide us with a deep collection of hokey accents. The Two Witnesses, for fire breathing angels, sound a bit weaker than you’d expect, and Nicolae sure doesn’t sound like someone from Romania, but whatever. The series was actually rather entertaining, perhaps even more so than Jenkins’ abominable writing, but for different reasons. That such poorly written work can be the basis for a multimillion-dollar franchise of books, radio shows, movies, calendars, screen savers, prophecy clubs, and other assorted merch just demonstrates what Nietzsche told us over one hundred years ago. God is dead.

Or irony. I forget which.

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