‘Twas the Night Before: Chapters 1-4: Tom and Noella, Part One
As those of you who have been following Soon, and those of you familiar with the Left Behind series know, Jerry Jenkins tends to be a linear storyteller. This happened, then that. Then that, and that, and that. Nothing wrong with the method–it’s a very effective one, especially with an action-based story, as Soon and the LB books purport to be.
But ‘Twas the Night Before is a parable, a romance. And for this, Jenkins changes tactics. We bounce back and forth between Noella and Tom’s blizzardy Black Friday at the Round-the-Clock diner downtown, and their meeting and courtship over the course of the past year. Once we hit the Big Issue of Faith (in Santa), we go back to linear.
But hell, I’m ignoring all that. Once I get Tom and Noella settled at Round-the-Clock, I’m going back in time and then moving us all the way back to the Black Friday blizzard with which we began.
So Tom and Noella meet up at the Round-the-Clock diner. I know at least one reader has asked for Chicago details, so here goes: Tom has been working at the Tribune office, and Noella at Medill. Round-the-Clock is on “Sheridan Road, a few blocks from Lake Shore Drive.”
Now, I don’t have to be a Chicago expert to know that it’s damn foolish to go out to a diner to have ONLY DRINKS during a BLIZZARD WITH ABANDONED CARS ON THE ROAD, even if it is your cutesy little weekly romantic Thing. Once again, it is frakking Thanksgiving weekend. Why aren’t they camped out at one of their homes to wait out the storm together?
But no, they are at a late-night diner, late at night, as they always are on Fridays. They NEVER order food, only hot chocolate for Noella and coffee for Tom. As a point in Tom’s favor, his generous tipping habit is highlighted once again. Although, frankly, if all they ever order are drinks, they SHOULD tip generously.
Both the present and the past highlight the most annoying qualities of our Christmassy heroine: her emotional manipulation, controlling tendencies, and inability to take “no” for an answer. (For the record, Tom’s faults are his classism and self-centeredness, but once again, I feel Noella comes off the worse of the two.)
[Tom] had never been big on public displays of affection, but that didn’t stop Noella. … She appeared so thrilled to see him that he felt as if she had cast a spotlight on him everyone had turned to watch.
He put a hand on her shoulder and leaned in for a peck, but she would have none of it. She reached for him with both hands. “Hi, sweetheart,” she said, pulling his face to hers and kissing him hard. To anyone else it looked like a quick greeting, but he got the message when she brushed his lips with her tongue.
Seriously, I am not a prude, but EWWWWWW.
Jenkins, you are not to write snogging scenes, you hear me??? DO NOT WRITE THEM YOU CANNOT DO THEM.
Sorry, got distracted. My major point is this: Noella is an emotionally manipulative jerk. She knows that Tom is uncomfortable with this sort of thing, but she goes ahead and does it anyway. Guess her feelings are just much more important than his.
This is a big theme of Noella’s life.
AND NOW WE MAGICALLY TRAVEL BACK, ALL THE WAY BACK TO LAST YEAR…
Noella wants Famous Columnist Tom Douten to lecture for her students. She calls him several times: no answer. She sends e-mails. Still no answer. She sends him a long, handwritten letter on personalized stationary. He writes a (mostly) very nice note back, politely declining.
THEN SHE DOES NOT TAKE THIS UNEQUIVOCAL “NO” FOR AN ANSWER.
Instead, she writes him ANOTHER letter. At this point, she has been nagging at him (yet another prominent personality trait of hers) for SEVERAL MONTHS.
He writes her yet another “no” letter, but her nagging has worn him down, and he sits in on two classes.
Refreshingly, Tom is impressed by Noella’s teaching and editing styles, not just by her beauty. He is so impressed, in fact, that he changes his mind and agrees to speak. Which just goes to show that if you nag someone enough, he will eventually cave, right?
Not so refreshingly, Tom turns out to be a real bigot when it comes the educated. We know this because Noella e-mails him ALMOST EVERY DAY before he speaks. (Among other things, she wants to make posters with his headshot and throw him a reception beforehand. This is presented as Noella “work[ing] hard,” but it sounds more like simpering fangirlishness to me.)
Anyway, during the course of the e-mail exchange, we learn that Tom…
…assumed her students were rich kids, materialists. He assumed the faculty consisted of lazy, tenured, unpublished theorists–except for [Noella], of course. He assumed the university administration had its own agenda and took advantage of staff. He also assumed Northwestern suffered from Ivy League envy.
Nice. Need I point out that Jenkins appears to share Tom’s attitude, since he makes a point of saying that Noella is the only faculty member who habitually puts in a full day’s work?
Now, being “over-educated” myself, I was fully prepared to take offense at Tom’s anti-education bias. And I do, at least a bit. However (and I can hardly believe I’m saying this), Jenkins actually succeeds at making this into part of an interesting character quirk. Tom, you see, grew up working class on the South Side. His father was an abusive alcoholic, his mother an enabler. Now, Tom has worked his way into a very high income bracket, and his attitude towards money and class is–refreshingly!–confused:
1. He drives an old car with a broken heater, yet grouses about the cold.
2. He lives in the Carl Sandburg Village. (Check out the video on this page. It’s a 2-bed, 2-bath, which is what Tom has. And look at that VIEW!)
3. He “dresses like a student.”
4. He’s embarrassed by his parents’ home, their lifestyle, their interests (such as professional wrestling).
5. But he still hangs out with his childhood best friends.
Tom’s co-workers even give him grief about his attitude:
Colleagues accused him of affectation–dressing down–pretending to be a neighborhood guy even after reaching the pinnacle of his profession. … Flaunting wealth was so abhorrent to him that he had given away an expensive gift watch rather than appear to have bought it.
I’m sorry, but Tom’s colleagues are right. THAT IS AFFECTATION. Giving away something expensive, not because you dislike it, but solely because of What People Will Think, is pretty much the definition of affectation.
Hell, not that I mind. In fact, I kinda love this attitude of Tom’s. It’s like Tom (Meta-Tom?) doesn’t even know how he feels or what he really likes and wants. It all makes this Jenkins hero so…so…
I know, right? I don’t know if this is what Jenkins meant to do or not, but hey, whatever works. I’ll take it.
To close for the day, a few words on Our Hero’s haircut from The Annoying Gary Noyer:
[Tom] got a “normal” haircut once a month. Gary Noyer had an opinion on that: “Too short for a week and a half, nondescript for a week, then too long for another week and a half.”
So now we know that Gary keeps track of Tom’s hair length on a day-to-day basis.
That is entirely too much attention, methinks.