[Warning: Spoiler-ish-like content ahead.]
It’s been a while since I managed to write my last entry in this series. As in, I just looked and it’s been a month. A month! I thought it was two weeks, tops. Apparently that’s how my life has been going this fall. So let’s take stock of just how much the world has changed since then.
Um. Well, since the last time we were here I thought I would be buying a townhouse on the south side of Wheaton. Then I found out I wasn’t buying a townhouse on the south side of Wheaton. But now I’m under contract to buy a townhouse on the south side of Wheaton, pending bank approval of the short sale. And the craziest thing about that: it’s the same goddamn townhouse. Also a whole bunch of other stuff happened that kinda made me want to tear my hair out and go back to renting. Or living in a cardboard box. But I hear that gets cold in the winter.
The last time we were here I was awaiting the release of Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds with something approaching breathless anticipation. I’m currently sitting on a train listening to Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds. There will be a review. Oh, yes, there will be a review. Mostly because I think it’s about time everyone learns the two key factors that separate good music from great music in my (somewhat diseased and/or blighted) mind.
Numero three-o, the last time we were here I was single and utterly convinced I’d never meet anyone with whom I could have a relationship. That…um, that hasn’t actually changed. So, y’know, it’s nice to know that some things in the universe remain constant. I think we all need a little consistency in our lives, after all.
Also, too, I saw Mike Doughty at the House of Blues Chicago and didn’t walk away hating the House of Blues Chicago. So that gives me hope that I’ll have an enjoyable time seeing the Lovehammers at the House of Blues Chicago in March. And I saw Reckless Kelly at Joe’s on Weed Street.
Oh, and they’re setting up the Kriskindlmarket in Daley Plaza. Christmastime in Chicago kicks massive amounts of ass. Just thought I’d throw that out there.
Anyway, I’m sure that you’ve figured out by now that I’m just trying to waste time. I’m like a student trying to pad out an essay because I waited until the night before the paper was due to actually start researching and I discovered the library isn’t actually open at 2 am and also isn’t a bar. I wish someone would have told me they wouldn’t have Lagavulin 16 at the library, dammit. How am I supposed to work in these conditions?
Wait. Where was I? Oh, yeah, Night of the Living Dead Christian. I believe we’ve covered what I hate about the book. I believe we’ve covered my own preconceptions of the Christian publishing industry. And Matt Mikalatos himself has showed up in the comments to defend himself, explain himself, or try to point out that I’m an idiot who doesn’t know nothin’ or something. Hopefully he’ll show up again, assuming he hasn’t died of old age in the interim.
And so but anyway, let’s talk about why I was actually pleasantly surprised by the book. Before I hated the book. And then briefly right after I hated the book. What it boils down to is this: while I had many preconceptions of Christian fiction and Night of the Living Dead Christian did, actually, conform to several of them, it didn’t actually play to (stereo)type and it was possible to see a good book poking out around the edges of even the worst of the narrative.
Actually, bracket that off for a moment. Let’s have a talk about expectation. It is the issue of expectation that caused me to briefly want to throw my Nook across the train car, thereby undoubtedly braining some poor morning commuter, causing some sort of lawsuit, and – worst of all – breaking my Nook. See, I went in to the actual reading process knowing from whence Night of the Living Dead Christian came. If the book had simply conformed to my Christian-fiction-publishing-based expectations from word one I wouldn’t have hated it. I know I wouldn’t have liked it, but I wouldn’t have been emotionally invested. The very fact that I was able to develop an emotional reaction to the book is, in and of itself, something to which I credit the book and its author. Basically my hatred was based entirely on a thought process of, “Screw you, Matt Mikalatos. Screw you for seeming to break out of the standard Christian fiction crap, then throwing it right in my face.”
So, y’know, the book’s got that goin’ for it.
Now, there are also some things that I just have to accept in the book. I find Luther’s conversion scene to be a bit far-fetched, mostly because Jesus hisownself shows up. You would think that I could just, y’know, leave that one be. I’m already willing to accept the premise that actual people turn in to actual werewolves, zombies, vampires, and other things. So, hey, why not Jesus? Mostly because I actually personally know people who believe that Jesus shows up and, like, has conversations with them, but those same people (probably) don’t believe that people actually turn in to werewolves. So while I was willing to accept monsters – due to the fact that they’re simply a part of the premise of the book – I wasn’t willing to accept Jesus actually showing up in a book about Jesus.
Oddly, it’s not because Jesus doesn’t belong. It’s because I totally worry about that mentally-unhinged-actually-thinks-they-talk-to-Jesus segment of the population. So in worrying about how they’d receive that part, I actually took myself out of the narrative.
Well, that and the fact that we had a character who was struggling with his own journey of faith or acceptance or whatever. Then Jesus showed up and made it (mostly) all better. Again, I know people who think that exact thing happens and, again, I worry about them. But this is definitely one of those, “We’re going to have to agree to disagree,” moments, since I came away from two-plus decades in evangelical circles getting all that, “Jesus gonna come save you!” stuff and not actually seeing it happen. What I did see a lot of was people filling in the blanks and engaging in wishful thinking. But this is actually something of a nitpick, since I’m basically saying, “The problem I have here is that Mikalatos didn’t write the book that I would have written.”
The appropriate response to that is, “No shit, dude.”
So let me toss a few things out that I thought he did well.
First, I already mentioned that he went to great lengths to have a character point out the Hitler wasn’t an atheist and that it’s entirely possible for Lutherans and Catholics to also be Christians, too. This is a weird one, since it’s a lot of, “Yeah, duh.” But for the specific intended audience of a Tyndale House Christian fiction book, that’s kind of a point that needs to be made. It’s also the sort of point that could end up getting a brick thrown through Mr. Mikalatos’ window. Or, at least, a series of blog posts from some overly serious Bible College dropout entitled, “Matt Mikalatos is not a Real True Christian.” It’s an act of moral courage in some circles to say things which are obvious to most of us. This, for the record, is sad. It also might not have been something Matt actually thought about.
Second, right up until the moment I decided that Lara was simply a cipher to allow us to feel sorry for Luther, I actually rather liked Lara and thought that she was a good addition to the whole thing. I didn’t actually change my opinion of Lara after that happened. I more decided that the author was being a dick for taking the time to create a good female character in a genre that lacks good female characters and then just throw her away for the benefit of the male character.
Third, everything wasn’t magically fixed by judicious application of Jesus. This is a point that needs to be surgically inserted in to the skull of pretty much every Evangelical Christian I’ve ever run in to who doesn’t host a blog called Slacktivist. Luther gets the magic-Jesus-healing-action for the main issue he has. But all that stuff that he fucked up until that point? Yeah, it’s still fucked up. Even if I hated every single word on every single page leading up to the (admittedly cliché) baptism sequence, I would absolutely appreciate that Luther was still in a bad place in re: his relationship with his wife and that everyone was okay with that because, holy shit, Luther was a wife beater.
This actually deserves a bit more discussion, I think.
One of the big problems with books in general is the way they tend to neatly tie up all the narrative threads. There’s a reason for this: it’s far more satisfying. Some threads, however, need to be left untied. In some cases it’s because some things need to be open-ended. In some cases it’s because at the end of the day there are still several threads that can’t be tied to anything, but for the love of crap, that doesn’t mean they need to be tied to each other. Still, it’s tempting to try to tie them together for the sake of completeness. That particular compulsion is probably much greater when talking about Jesus-y things, since Jesus is supposed to make it all better.
The fact is that Matt seemed to do that, at least with Lara and Robert’s threads. But he didn’t do that with Luther’s thread. Since Luther’s was the central conversion story, leaving him alone, vulnerable, and occasionally longing for the past was actually a really, really good thing. Why? Because Jesus isn’t actually a magical fix-all. It’s nice to see a Christian book where Jesus isn’t actually a magic cure for everything.
Fourth, I liked what Matt did with the relationship between Luther and his father. Having a father who was wrong, didn’t know what to do, and then made things worse and was heart-broken about it was nice, especially since the father was a pastor and the correct pastor to solve the problem. So having the father admit that he’d been helpless rather than having to just have Luther admit he was wrong about everything was actually unexpected.
So, yeah, that’s a sort of broad set of ideas, and I suppose it’s probably underwhelming as praise compared to the vitriol I used in previous posts on the subject. But these are the four main threads that caused me to like the book enough to get mad. So they’re actually kind of a big deal.
Also, too, there’s probably a Part 5 in here somewhere. Although I doubt I’ll end up with as many posts on the subject as Michael Mock.
And if he has, I hope his last words were, “I’ll see you in Hell. From Heaven!” and they were directed at me. Really, who wouldn’t want to know someone died like that?
I’m currently fighting a powerful urge to write about five pages on an issue that’s near and dear to my heart: expectation management. I’ll hold that for my next The Single Life post, I think…
We have two tropes at play here: “Death of the Author” and “Intent is not Magic.” “Death of the Author” basically says that the artist’s intent doesn’t matter, all that matters is what the consumer gets out of it. That’s absolute bullshit, as art is message, so the intent of the messenger matters. On the other hand, there’s “Intent is not Magic,” which isn’t technically a trope. I’m actually re-purposing a bit of internet rhetoric that pops up whenever someone who is blind to their own privilege explains how the world works to people who are trying to illuminate unexamined privilege. However, it also works here.
Basically, I made a series of assumptions about who Matt Mikalatos is and what he was attempting to get across when I picked up the book. Matt Mikalatos, meanwhile, wrote a book based on a series of assumptions of his own. Posts two and three in this series were about my assumptions about him and his book. The comments contain an awful lot about his intent.
This is where it gets tricky: as best I can tell neither one of us is actually in the wrong. I genuinely believe that he has been explaining himself and his intentions in good faith. I can totally see what he’s going for, too, and I get the impressions from his comments that he’s willing to concede that he didn’t always get his point across in the way he intended and/or didn’t always see the possible other ways to take the things he wrote. I’m willing to walk back some of my stronger reactions based on subsequent information, but I haven’t really seen any reason to walk back my overall assessment of the book.
That’s, ultimately, why this is interesting. Because everyone can learn something from this. By the same token, I suspect that if Matt were to take everything I’ve said to heart and go back to re-write the book from scratch he would decide to change a few things based on what I’ve said that he agrees with and he would keep other things exactly the same because he’d say, “Nah, that dude was totally wrong about this.” And I’d be totally willing to accept that, because I didn’t write this book.
Hell, we all know what happened when I wrote a Jesus-themed zombie story…
True story: I searched Teh Google for that and came up with nothing. I believe that I am now contractually obligated to write that post. And incorporate porn of some sort. Some days I hate the internet. I mean, seriously, this post about Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds is not going to write itself.
With kung-fu grip!
I am about to nerd out on all a y’alls, here. I read every single BattleTech novel back in the day. Then FASA went under and BattleTech all but disappeared, only to be resurrected by Wizards of the Coast or something. They released a whole new set of novels called Mechwarrior: Dark Age set seventy or so years after the end of the previous ones in a universe that was kinda the same but had a few drastic and noticeable changes. I ignored them.
Right after I got my Nook I decided, “Ah, hell, I need some easy train reading,” and I started getting the ebooks. I ended up really liking the series because it was a lot tighter than the previous BattleTech books and it was a lot more, shall we say, adult. There was basically no sex or swearing in the older books and it focused mostly on people high up in the halls of power, most of whom were nobles, basically. So other than a few characters there wasn’t much in the way of grittiness. Mechwarrior: Dark Age was all grit. Characters had issues, bad shit happened, and that was just kind of how things went. There were a few characters who pretty much had me thinking, “Holy shit, they allowed THIS?”
That’s all well and good, but I have one huge nitpick with the series: it just freaking ended. I’m guessing that it wasn’t supposed to just end at book thirty, but holy crap, it just ended at book thirty with the Free Worlds League half rebuilt, the Republic still in Fortress Republic mode, the Lyrans and Wolves probably about to go to war with each other over the scraps of the Marik-Stewart Commonwealth, and holy-shit-what-about-Julian-Davion-and-the-whole-Caleb-Davion-is-a-paranoid-schizophrenic-thing? They just left the Federated Suns behind at book 15. And the Draconis Combine was just flapping in the breeze. And there was the whole bit where Malvina Hazen blew up the friggin’ Jade Falcons by crashing a space battleship in to a planet but it just got dropped because, y’know, that book ended and none of the subsequent books went back to the JFOZ.
So, basically, what I’m saying is that tying up threads neatly, or at least TYING UP YOUR GODDAMN THREADS PERIOD is actually a good thing. I like being satisfied that the time I’ve invested in something has paid off. Now I’m angry.