Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Meet Vicki Byrne

Our next protagonist, and my current favourite, is Vicki Byrne. Vicki is currently my favourite character not because we're both chicks, I'm not that shallow, but because right now she's being the voice of reason. A shaky one, but still she currently rings more true than Judd "I'm too sexy for my parents" Thompkins.

Of course, though, I have a sickening feeling that Vicki exists solely to pull in girl readers and soon enough, she'll be made into a proper Stepford wife as soon as she's saved.

Anyway, Vicki lives in a trailer park and is described like this.

Vicki Byrne was fourteen and looked eighteen. Tall and slender, she had fiery red hair and had recently learned to dress in a way that drew attention, from girls and guys. She liked leather. Low cut black boots, short skirts, flashy tops, lots of jewelry, and a different hair style almost every day.

So right now, Vicki falls into the Whore dynamic in the Madonna-Whore complex. I'm picturing Kristen Stewart from The Runaways movie playing her part. I keep waiting for her to start singing "Cherry Bomb" but if LaHaye and Jenkins heard that song, I think their heads would explode.

She was tough. She had to be. Other kids at school considered kids who lived in trailer parks lower class. Vicki's friends were her "own kind," as her enemies liked to say. When she and her trailer park neighbors boarded the bus on Vicki's first day of high school, they quickly realized how it was going to be.

If this was written by a true master of young adult literature, like say Katherine Paterson, we would delve deep into the culture of the trailer park and its inhabitants and get a clear picture of where they live. But as said before, LaHaye and Jenkins consider imagination to be a sin and want to make sure the readers don't identify with Vicki too closely.

Anyway, when Vicki was twelve, her parents got God. Before than they'd been the classic drinking, carousing stereotype of trailer trash. But at one of the trailer park dances, they got religion.

Basically what happened was this: some guy invited a preacher to talk. Jenkins describes it as this:

The man launched into a very fast, very brief message that included verses from the Bible and a good bit of shouting. Vicki had been to church only once with a friend and she had no idea what he was talking about. She was struck, however, that everyone, even the bartenders and musicians, seemed to stop and listen. No one ran around, no one spoke, no one moved.

That last part is clearly set in Fantasyland. In real life, if at a dance, someone stopped the music so some guy could preach, the poor preacher would get a beer bottle thrown at him or her.

Also, one of the curious things about these books is the lack of preaching. You go into a Left Behind book expecting to read long sermons, but there's none of that here. Not that long sermons would improve the book, but if you're going to describe the characters as being on fire for God, it might be helpful to show what ignited that fire and what God is.

Anyway, Vicki's father and mother receive Jesus and we get this conversation.

"I want to quit smoking and drinking, Dawn," he said, as Vicki came in. "I want to clean up my whole act.
"Now, Tom," Vicki's mother cautioned, "nobody says you can't be a Christian if you smoke and drink. Let's find a good church and start living for God and let him do the work in our lives."

At least they somewhat acknowledge that you don't have to be a teetotaler in order to be a Christian. As the saying goes, "The church is a waystation for sinners, not a country club for saints." It may not be much, but it is progress of sorts for Ellanjay.

But Vicki's not convinced. And why should she be? No doubt, she's heard these kinds of promises before.

"I'll tell you what I bet," Vicki said. "I bet you'll be drinking and cussing and fighting and losing your job again."

And with that quote, I want to shout "Brava!" to Vicki. Again if what we can tell, Vicki has endured years of abuse at the hands of her parents. I can understand perfectly why she would be skeptical of any promises made by them.

But in Ellanjay's universe, skepticism of any kind is a cardinal sin and no doubt, they have quite the punishment in store for Vicki.


Ruby said...

I was so pissed at Vicki's parents when I first read The Kids, and was in TOTAL sympathy with Vicki. I LOVE that she didn't trust her parents' promises after all the times they'd failed her in the past. I also like to think that there was an element of "So, you guys cleaned up your act for some preacher, but couldn't be bothered to clean up your act FOR YOUR OWN CHILDREN?" to her complaints (even if this was never stated explicitly).

Mouse said...

I completely agree. That's why I think we need a Meta-Vicki the way we have a Meta-Chloe.

Apocalypse Review said...


No kidding, eh? Vicki has every right to be a little cheesed off that it took a stranger to get her parents to behave themselves when they were perfectly fine with smacking her around before.


It's interesting, now that you mention the Madonna-Whore dichotomy, how much LaHaye-sponsored books make use of cultural tropes as a shorthand for pigeonholing or "coding" characters for their intended audience.

So Vicki can't be an ordinary girl, grateful-but-resentful about her parents' good behavior over the last while, she's got to be the "fast girl" in all but the actual act.

Some of the best novels, online and print, I've read, purposely give characters complexity and depth. There's one I read recently in which the deeply-Christian father figure shows tolerance and forbearance, and refuses to adopt "template" right-wing political ideology in a world that no longer is suited for it.

Redcrow said...

>>>Tall and slender, she had fiery red hair and had recently learned to dress in a way that drew attention, from girls and guys.

Did... did we just get a bisexual sort-of-protagonist in a LaHaye&Co.'s book?!
(Probably not. Most likely "attention from girls" is supposed to mean "envy". Or...?)

Apocalypse Review said...

Sorry I'm replying so late to this but I'm reading the actual text of the book and noticed that L&J at least tried to acknowledge the existence of an economic and social hierarchy that takes some account of intersectionality.

She's been raised to be slightly racist against blacks, but also resents the richer kids for looking down on her.

She could be a fascinating viewpoint character for the kind of changes that could be wrought by means of the Rapture, but no, she'll be Stepfordized in time.


Peren said...

I'm not the only one that thought of My Immortal with the description of Vicki's clothes, right?

spiritplumber said...

Still better characterization that we got for Captain Steele and Bucky...

(I am apparently a masochist, because I will be rereading your commentary in an attempt to write the Young Tribbles true to the original material in my next fanfic)