Twas the Night Before: Chapter 1: Noella Wright
Unsurprisingly, people seem to have found Tom Douten a likeable guy. I find him so, too. In my opinion, he does one really jerkish thing, and one really self-aggrandizing thing in the course of the story. And that is really not bad for a Jenkins hero, even in a shorter work. But we’ll get to that later. For now, let’s meet his sweetie, Dr. Noella Wright.
Two interesting things about Noella and Tom:
1. Noella is a year and a half older than Tom.
2. Noella is much more educated than Tom, with a Ph.D. in journalism to Tom’s three semesters at community college.
I’m tempted to consider this progressivism of a sort. Certainly a woman dating a man eighteen months younger than she is a long way from Buck Williams being ten years older than co-ed Chloe.
Then again, Tom takes multiple opportunities to disparage education and speak snidely of students. So maybe it’s not as progressive as I’d like to hope.
When we left Tom, he was banging out his column at the Tribune. Noella, a professor of journalism, is hanging out in her office at Northwestern.
Remember, it’s the day after Thanksgiving.
And there’s a blizzard.
Her car was the one lump under the white covering the parking lot. Noella’s colleagues, gone as early as possible every day, hardly ever came in on a no-class day.
Nice little slam on the other J-school profs. I guess nobody cares but Noella.
Noella loved being in her office. She told herself she didn’t teach journalism, she taught students. The more hours she spent in her office, the more contact she enjoyed with them.
Um, okaaaay. That’s nice and all, Noella, but you do realize that it’s the day after Thanksgiving and there aren’t any classes and there’s a blizzard, right? Exactly how much student contact were you expecting?
Perfect weather for student-teacher conferences!
I’ve been through more than a few Midwest blizzards, and I am quite fuzzy on why Noella left her house. I’ve always considered it both nicer and safer to stay off the roads during a blizzard unless you absolutely have to go out. I just do not see the point of Noella sitting in her office for eight hours, twiddling her thumbs, all alone. What, she couldn’t have checked her e-mail and done some work from home? She has to go out on icy roads and put the security guard to trouble?
Noella accepted the escort of the security guard, who also helped brush off her car and waited until she started the engine. She rolled down the window to thank him.
“I’ll push if I have to,” he said.
That’s sweet of him, and it’s nice of her to thank him, but he shouldn’t have had to do this in the first place. What the HELL has she done all Black Friday No-Class Blizzard Day?
She’s been doing what any good woman should be doing: thinking about her good man.
These first few chapters are awash in flashback, and Noella remembers a recent conversation with her colleague, Sue. I suppose Sue and Noella could talk in present-time, but I guess Sue just didn’t care enough about her students to come into work on a non-working day in the middle of a blizzard.
As well, like all LaJenkinsian minor characters, Sue knows she is a minor character. Thus, the only topic of conversation that interests her is the state of the main characters’ relationship with each other. In service of this topic, Sue is not afraid to underline the Significant Names that she has noticed in the story in which she makes her home:
“Tom and I will live happily ever after, and you know it,” Noella told her.
Sue shook her head. “You say it like you mean it, but you’re blind. You’re Pollyanna Pureheart. He’s Sad Sack. You’re his Miss Wright. He’s your Mr. Douten. Well, I’m doubtin’. I’m a sucker for a love story. But, Noella, really. A half-empty-glass guy with a half-full-glass gal?”
Hmmm, where have I heard this just recently?
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.
Consider yourselves having gotten credit, dear readers. I’m on page 5.
Two things about the next bit:
Noella had roared. “You call yourself a feminist and you call me a gal?”
1. I dislike the phrase “roared with laughter.” Mostly because I have never actually heard anyone roar with laughter, but also because the phrase really suffers from overuse when Jenkins is at the keyboard.
2. IT IS NOT A TENET OF FEMINISM THAT ONE MUST NEVER SAY THE WORD “GAL.” ALL IT IS SAYING IS THAT WOMEN SHOULD BE THE SOCIAL, POLITICAL, AND ECONOMIC EQUALS OF MEN OMG THIS ISN’T EVEN HARD.
Our heroine, folks. A woman who thinks other women call themselves feminists and thinks that it is anti-feminist to use the word “gal.”
Having sat in her office all day, Noella heads to a diner just off Lake Shore Drive, where she and Tom routinely hang out after he finishes his column. The blizzard does not even give her pause.
What a gal.