Sunday, July 25, 2010

Meet Lionel Washington

Jerry Jenkins can't write convincing rebellious teenagers. That much is a given. With the exception of Vicki, so far none of these characters ring true, and Vicki is receiving more sympathy than Ellanjay probably thinks she deserves. But for those who think his portrayal of Judd was bad, you haven't lived until you've read his portrayl of Lionel.

Lionel is black and even less rings true about his character than with Judd. This whole passage reads like a middle-aged white man's attempt to channel what it's like to have friends in the projects, yo.

And it is here I must make another confession: I am white. Therefore, I'm afraid I don't know much about black culture either, but I recognize bad writing and hopefully that'll be enough.

I'm going to refer quite a bit to James Baldwin here. James Baldwin was a great writer, far greater than Jerry Jenkins could ever hope to aspire, but I have a feeling Baldwin's works aren't required reading in RTC households. Here's a small example of this man's works. If you haven't read any of him, you should.

If the concept of God has any validity or any use, it can only be to make us larger, freer, and more loving. If God cannot do this, then it is time we got rid of Him.

"Letter from a Region of My Mind" in The New Yorker (17 November 1962); republished as "Down at the Cross: Letter from a Region in My Mind" in The Fire Next Time (1963)

Lionel didn't like the changes in his mind and body as he became a teenager. It was too strange. He found himself thinking more. He thought about everything.

And that's Lionel's cardinal sin according to Ellanjay: he thinks instead of mindlessly swallowing whatever the church tells him. Never mind that even Mary pondered the Lord's words in her heart.

He spends a lot of time thinking about his Uncle Andre, the bad seed of the family.

Uncle Andre was a great storyteller. He loved to regale the family with exaggerated tales that made them all laugh. He told the stories in a high-pitched whine, making up new things as he went along, and each story grew funnier each time he told it. He would throw his head back and grab his belly and laugh until he could barely catch his breath. Tear would stream along his face until everyone else laughed right along.

Once again, Jerry Jenkins doesn't provide us with an example of one of these tales which is probably a good thing. I'd hate to see what he considers funny then try to imagine it being told in a high pitch whine.

So anyway even though they live in Mount Prospect like every other character, at least they don't attend New Hope Village Church. This gives a little broadening of the narrow-minded views of the PMD. They're willing to allow a stereotypical black church into the fold, but they don't really give us a clear picture of this church because they have only the vaguest of notions about it.

But anyway Lionel and Andre have a conversation where they both confess they're not christians. Andre's been pretending for years, playing the classic gambit where he gets in trouble than comes up during the altar call, but with Lionel, it's harder to see what his sins are. So far, all he's done is be quiet and introspective about his faith, but once again we run into that wall where imagination is a sin and so is contemplation. Also, if their sister/mother Lucinda is supposed to be so smart, why hasn't she figured out that they're faking it? What does being a good Christian mean when it seems anyone can fake it and fool fellow Christians?

I will end with another James Baldwin quote which seems frighteningly appropriate.

Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, the only fact we have. It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death--ought to decide, indeed, to earn one's death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life.


Apocalyse Review said...

That fellow - James Baldwin - sounds like the kind of writer I'd like to actually read on my own time. Thanks for the intro. :)

The "high-pitched whine" thing got my attention, too. A person who spoke like that would be more annoying than anything else because those vocal frequencies tend to just grate, somehow.

I think Jenkins must have been thinking of the way Rush Limbaugh mocked people by purposely putting on a "Liberal whine" and in that tone, mocking Democrats, feminists, etc.

If so, it's definitely not the kind of trait I would attribute to a man like Uncle Andre. Hell, a storyteller kinda guy? I'm imagining a loud bassy voice which just naturally commands attention and conveys the realism and fun of the story being told.

And yeah WTF at the thinking??? Gosh. They're really down on people who don't fit the mold. Cal Jordan over at Edge of Apocalypse gets buckets of crud dumped all over him because he has a girlfriend, spends time with her, and *takes after his mother*.

These initial chapters Do Not Inspire Confidence.

Ruby said...

Good call on the Rush Limbaugh thing. Storytelling is an art, one mastered by very few (least of all Jenkins, ZING!) and it can be difficult to describe the actual mechanics of what makes a good storyteller.

Still, "high-pitched whining" is definitely NOT one of the attributes.

Anonymous said...

"I'd hate to see what he considers funny then try to imagine it being told in a high pitch whine."

You mean like this?

New reader, coming from Slacktivist and Ruby's blog.

Apocalypse Review said...

Reading the Lionel page. I really want to slap L&J through the page for writing crap like this:

Now, seven years later, thirteen-year-old Lionel was having trouble deciding where he fit. When he visited his relatives in Chicago, or when his other relatives visited him from the South, his cousins criticized him for "los­ing your blackness. It's like you're white now."

It was nice to live in a neighborhood where he didn't have to be afraid to ride his bike anywhere or run with his friends, even after dark. And Lionel enjoyed having more things than he was used to having when he was smaller. His cousins, probably to cover their jealousy of his nicer clothes and shoes and the fact that his parents had two cars, called him "rich boy" and "whitey" and said he might as well not even be black.

Real nice L&J, you just pander to racist stereotypes about black people there.