‘Twas the Night Before: Chapter 1: Tom Douten
Happy Black Friday, everyone, and welcome to my critique of ‘Twas the Night Before by Jerry B. Jenkins–a Very Special Wintermas Special!
Let me get something out there, right up front:
I love Christmas.
I am not even kidding. This lifelong atheist really does love Christmas. And not because I was deprived of it as a kid by my evil secular parents or anything–our family comes from a Christian tradition, so we always had a tree and presents and watched Christmas movies and listened to carols.
I love getting gifts for people. I try to watch every version of A Christmas Carol that I can. Hell, my favorite carol is “O Holy Night.”
And I love the tacky side of Christmas. I love sappy, stupid Christmas stories and cheap-ass decorations and cheap-ass Christmas candy.
So, combining my loves of bad Christmas fare and bad Christian fare means that I was a happy Ruby when I saw a beautiful hardcover copy of ‘Twas the Night Before in a used bookstore. (I always get my bad Christian fare used if I possibly can. So far, I have made only two exceptions.)
‘Twas the Night Before is a very different animal than Soon or Babylon Rising. They are pre-apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic action novels, or so they would have you believe. ‘Twas the Night Before is Jerry Jenkins’ self-described “parable of faith,” a novella of a mere twenty-nine chapters and 209 pages.
Now, we’ve talked a lot about Jenkins’ name gaming. Anagram names like Paul Apostle-Stepola, ultra-obvious “exotic” names like Ming Wong Toy Woo and Hannah Palemoon.
And now in our Christmas parable, we have a Doubting Thomas hero named…Tom Douten. The heroine, Tom’s Miss Right who was born at Christmastime, is named…Noella Wright.
I’ll start by dealing with our main characters one at a time. Our story opens on (hey!) Black Friday, and there is a blizzard in Chicago:
Tom overtipped [the taxi driver], gathered up the competing Sun-Times and his notebook, and stepped into the mess. By the time he settled in to write his column, “Douten, Thomas,” the snow in his hair had melted and was running down his neck.
So the character whom the author named Tom Douten after Doubting Thomas is acknowledging his own weird-namedness by calling his column “Douten, Thomas.”
Oh, and ewwwwww.
This is really Jenkins’ name game turned up to eleven.
In his how-to book, Writing for the Soul, Jenkins talked about the above paragraph:
I wanted to make the reader cold as she read, and I strove for the visual and tactile. In one sentence, she learns that Tom is generous, worries about the competition, and is a writer. Giving the reader credit, I gradually reveal more—that he’s a glass-half-empty guy who meets a glass-half-full woman who still literally believes in Santa Claus.
If I had started with: “Tom Douten was a cynical newspaper columnist who always wrote about down-and-outers but fell in love with a Pollyanna girl who still believed in Santa Claus,” I would have been spoon-feeding the reader what she would rather discover on her own.
Writing for the Soul, p. 129
The character’s name is TOM DOUTEN and he is a DOUBTING THOMAS. I really don’t think the reader has been given credit on this one.
So, Tom heads in to Tribune Tower to do work in the middle of a blizzard on the day after Thanksgiving, and you know what really puts me in the Christmas spirit?
Petty office politics!
“Pushin’ the deadline again, Tommy Boy?” Gary Noyer said on his way out. “Wrapped mine up by three.”
Gary. Noyer. Seriously.
Tom told himself not to bite, but he couldn’t resist. “Then why are you still here?”
“Getting ahead. Building a cushion.”
Tom sighed. “Throw a party. Just don’t invite me.”
“Jealousy is ugly.”
Tom pressed his lips together. “Gary,” he said slowly, “if I wrote what passes for your column, I’d be far enough ahead to take a month off.”
Noyer slowed. “Your last column was almost late.”
“There’s another way to say ‘almost late,’ Gary. It’s called ‘on time.'”
“Oh, Tom,” Noyer called over his shoulder. “I almost forgot. My Columbia Prize arrived today. Peek through my window if you’d like to see what one looks like.”
Tom’s column was twice as popular as Gary’s, but he wouldn’t bring that up. He felt sleazy enough having allowed Gary to engage him at all.
WHO TALKS LIKE THIS? I WANT TO KNOW.
Hell, I’d say the dialogue was childish, but that’s insulting to children.
Our hero, ladies and gentlemen.
Please note that I am not saying that the hero of a story can’t be flawed. He should be flawed. But are the childish insults really an acknowledged flaw? Because I have a feeling that poor Gary Noyer (who was apparently given a frakking PRIZE FOR HIS WRITING) has been declared the villain of the piece, and we can all look forward to seeing his humiliating come-uppance by the end of the story. After all, he has gone and insulted Our Author-Insert Hero, and must be punished for such blasphemy.
Thus we are introduced to Doubting Thomas. Next up, we will learn about his match, Miss Noella Wright.