‘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.”

I’m serious.

This serious.

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 fer…

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.

 

 

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Posted on November 25, 2011, in Books, Christmas, Twas the Night Before. Bookmark the permalink. 32 Comments.

  1. It is good to see the start of this dissection. I like the silly Christmas stories as well. I hope you have a good holiday.

    I still have some problems with the English language. What is “Gary Noyer” a play on? It sounds strange, yes, but it seems like it should be a pun and I can’t see it.

    • Dito on not getting Gary Noyer. New Year?

      And it’s “nice” to see that Jenkins really acts like his heroes: He thinks he’s exceptionally talented and subtle by making a very obvious pun, pointing at it shouting “Get it? Get it?” but not outright saying it (admittedly, any attempt to show character through actions is an improvement over Left Behind) , just as heroes his heroes think it must be because they found God that they are so awesomely nice to the poor downtrodden people by remembering they still technically count as humans and God would not fry them forever if they become his slave-drones like they are. It must be easy to see the love of God everywhere when you assume that ‘kicking them while they are down’ is the base attitude people have, and anything short of advocating mass-murder of their enemies is an excercise in empathy that they couldn’t hope to do without Divine intervention

      • I do have a Writing for the Soul quote on the Gary Noyer name. 😀

        …in my Christmas fantasy ‘Twas the Night Before, it made sense to use some names with clear double meanings. The annoying, needling guy no one can stand? Gary Noyer.

        The main character, a Doubting Thomas? Tom Douten.

        And the other lead, the pure-hearted adult who still literally believes in Santa and is Tom’s Miss Right? Noella Wright.

        So, just a play on the word “annoying.”

      • Headless Unicorn Guy

        He thinks he’s exceptionally talented and subtle by making a very obvious pun, pointing at it shouting “Get it? Get it?”

        This is called the “See How Clever I Am?” school of bad writing, and before Buck Jenkins the only place I heard it was from drooling fanboys who didn’t have a clue.

  2. Jenkins has apparently missed the memo about how going “Look at me! Aren’t I clever?! Did you see that clever name I created?! Didja?” is considered poor form.

    It’s one thing to create punny names (and no, those aren’t the same thing as clever or significant names. Someone needs to get him on the mailing list for writing 101) but they stop being clever, or even mildly entertaining, if you then point them out in neon. >>

    I can only conclude that either he thinks his readers are literal turnips (with leaves and everything) or he came up with the idea of a main character writing a column called “Doubting Thomas” and created the name from there. Both options are ridiculous..

    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      Note that such obvious names would work in Allegory — in that genre, Uber Symbolic Names are a normal part of the scenery. Characters in that genre are not characters, but Archetypes symbolizing something and are named accordingly.

      So this could work if Jenkins goes for straight Allegory. However, from past performance, I doubt he would pull it off.

  3. Is there some context for that quote from “Writing from the Soul” that’s missing, or does Jenkins genuinely use “she” and “her” to refer to hypothetical readers? On first glance, that seems like a bizarrely egalitarian move, considering his track record. May I ask for your input on this, Ruby?

    • I’m pretty sure that in this specific case, referring to Twas the Night Before, Jenkins refers to the reader as “she” because the story is a romance and he is assuming most readers would be women. The subtitle of Twas the Night Before is “A Love Story.”

      I don’t have a copy of WFTS in front of me (got it from the library), but that’s the best I can guess right now.

      • Yeah, that makes sense. It’s way more likely than Jenkins trying to casually subvert conventional gender narratives, anyway. Playing to conventional gender narratives, on the other hand, sounds right up his street.

    • That said, I’ve seen books which try to opt for “she”/”her” as the general pronoun in preference to “he” and “his”. (e.g. a book I have says, “Sally owns a business, and might choose to invest in (etc)”)

      Not sure if Jenkins was consciously aiming for egalitarian treatment of the readership though.

  4. If I’ve learned one lesson from the combined oeuvre of Jerry B. Jenkins, it’s that all reporters are jackasses.

  5. I just…. I dont even get why Jenkins would think that it would be at all reasonabke to call Tom Doutens column “Douten, Thomas”. While it is lretty common to put some sort of name pun as a column title, such as Ian Fortey’s column on Cracked, “Fortey Days and Fortey Nights”, it still doesn’t make any damn sense. Maybe, a big maybe, if he had just called of “Doubting Thomas” by Tom Douten, qnd he wrote from a skeptical point of view, i could get on board. It woukd still be stupid, but just the believably right amohnt of stupid

    • See, I think that in real life, if you were a real-world writer called Tom Douten, calling your own real-world column “Doubting Thomas” would be exactly the kind of cringeworthy ham-fisted wordplay that you want. It’s dumb, but newspaper column titles often are. As the star of a story, it could even be a decent joke, with the right measure of self-awareness and a small nod towards the fourth wall. Unfortunately, Jenkins is involved, and the whole thing is an awkward, unsubtle mess both within the context of the story, and as a thing that’s in a book. It’s almost impressive how completely he bungles it.

  6. I feel strange, good people. I have read about a Jenkins protagonist and I still like him. He overtipped the cabbie without making a production of it and he realized that getting involved in that childish spat with Gary was stupid. I realize Tom’s almost certainly going to be unbearable by the end, but right now he actually sounds decent.

  7. There are certainly elements of the Christmas Thing that I like. The Santa-and-reindeer stuff really isn’t one of them. So with that in mind…

    I want to pick at a different bit of that first paragraph you quote – “gathered up the competing Sun-Times and his notebook”. What I get from that is that the notebook and newspaper are competing for Tom’s limited gripping capacity, and threatening to fall out of his grasp; I didn’t realise until you quoted the bit from Writing for the Soul that it was meant to imply that the Sun-Times was Tom’s competition.

    I know that Fred on Slacktivist talks about the hypothetical Church Lady audience for Left Behind and similar such books – I haven’t seen a breakdown of their readership by sex, but I suspect that Real Manly Men wouldn’t be seen reading any book that wasn’t the Bible anyway…

    • “gathered up the competing Sun-Times and his notebook”. What I get from that is that the notebook and newspaper are competing for Tom’s limited gripping capacity, and threatening to fall out of his grasp; I didn’t realise until you quoted the bit from Writing for the Soul that it was meant to imply that the Sun-Times was Tom’s competition.

      Oh? I didn’t have any trouble with that.

      • Fair enough, it may well be that it’s just me. I found the paragraph disorientating; we’re going from a taxi to “settled in” without any description of movement, or even an indication of whether this is happening at home or at work…

  8. Where may I acquire more of Jenkin’s work? He sounds like he would make a good drinking game. Hero is a dick. Take a shot. Hero whines about his problems even though they are minor or effect others more. Take a shot. Every time he mentions height, weight or a population. Take a shot.

    Every time he gives a character a stupid name and doesn’t go “oh look at this, it means x or refers to x” down a whole bottle.

  9. WHO TALKS LIKE THIS? I WANT TO KNOW.

    Since I’ve been following Ana’s Twilight deconstruction, I was filled with the overwhelming impression that they were going to turn out to be the One True Pair. That’s what childish insults mean, right?

    I’m not completely sure why, but I felt like Gary was Edward. Probably because:
    “Oh, Bella,” Edward 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.”
    doesn’t feel far off to me.

    That said, if Tom is Bella he’s Bella when she’s looking away from Edward so that Edward’s beauty doesn’t disrupt her ability to be insulting.

  10. Militant atheist here. (What can I say, I love jackboots.) I lurve Christmas. I decorate EVERYTHING. I have bows leftover from years of Christmas presents that I put on anything that doesn’t move faster than me, resulting in every light fixture in the house dripping in tacky decorations.

    That’s all.

  11. inquisitiveraven

    As long as we’re talking about the stupidity of going to work in a blizzard in the other thread, when is this taking place? If it’s supposed

  12. inquisitiveraven

    Gah, comment posted prematurely, I was going to say that if it’s set around the time the book was written (which turns out to be 1999), then surely Tom could write his column at home and submit it by email. The only people who actually need to show up are the ones responsible for actually printing the physical paper and getting it out the door (which may or may not include layout depending on how it was done at the time). The content producers shouldn’t need to be there.

  13. “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.”

    Now, I’ve done my share of both deconstructing and teaching how to deconstruct text. Here’s what I got from this paragraph, Mr. GCWOAT:

    1) Tom overtipped the driver for no apparent reason but given how much of a rush he’s in, I’d chalk it up to carelessness or apathy, ie couldn’t be bothered to calculate a proper tip or couldn’t wait for his change

    2) perhaps some kind of reporter? I don’t really get the “competing” reference. Competing against what, or who?

    3) Tom’s parents had a cruel, twisted sense of humor to name him that. (Yes, I know — Jerry is being Oh So Clever again but in real life, if you met someone with that unfortunate of a name, you’d wonder what his parents were thinking, and possibly why he hadn’t changed his name yet.)

    4) Tom wasn’t wearing a hat. That’s how his hair got full of snow, which then proceeded to melt everywhere.

  1. Pingback: Deconstruction Round Up, December 7th 2012 « The Slacktiverse

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