Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Deconstruction: Night of the Living Dead Christian 13

Reflecting on the fight...

Welcome to the detailed (and, unfortunately, spoiler-rich) review of Night of the Living Dead Christian. For a briefer review that doesn't give anything away, read the main review. If you're curious, here's a discussion of why I'm doing this.

This is a rather long bit of reaction, so I'm breaking it up into sections. Hopefully that will allow for more bite-sized discussions. So, now that you've all been fairly warned, we'll pick up the deconstruction after the jump:

If you're coming in late, it's probably best to start at the beginning. Briefly, though: Luther Martin is a werewolf. Matt Mikalatos is his neighbor, who - along with the Mad Scientist Dr. Culbetron and his Android Assistant the Hibbs 3000 - has discovered the truth of Luther's condition. Luther is seeking a cure, and Matt (etc.) is/are trying to help him. Having attempted to master his abusive/wolfy nature, Luther has met with his ex-wife Clarissa; whereupon he immediately lost his temper. Luther then gets a brief chapter to reflect on his sins.

Returning to the the main portion of the narrative - i.e., Matt's narration - we find Matt packing his children off to school. Hibbs (the android) joins him as he's walking back, and hands him a map to the Hibbs-and-Culbetron Secret Lair, which Narrator-Matt imagines as looking very much like the Bat Cave[1]. Narrator-Matt collects Luther, who is moping (and cleaning up the things that got broken the previous evening).

While they're talking, Narrator-Matt reflects on the fact that Luther has (somehow) become his friend. He then considers the events of the night before: "I felt bad for the way his wife had treated him the night before, even though he deserved it and probably worse. But still, he had invited her to the house in good faith, wanting to show her that he had made steps toward health, and she had purposely torn him apart."

This is... wrong.

What we're being told here is at odds with what we've just been shown. I'd argue that, in fact, it's incompatible with the confrontation that Narrator-Matt just showed us. In the scene, Clarissa was the one who came in good faith. Luther might have wanted "to show her that he had made steps toward health," but he hadn't actually made those steps. And since he asked Narrator-Matt to hang around and help him keep control, it's pretty clear that he knew it. Clarissa came because Luther asked - making her, rather than him, the one who was acting in good faith. The worst that could be said of her behavior was that she took smart, fully-justified precautions; at no point did she tear Luther apart, purposely or otherwise. She arrived, he flipped out, and she rightly A) defended herself, and B) pointed out that in fact Luther hadn't changed at all.

Narrator-Matt then reflects a bit on how much he wants to explain that Christianity doesn't have to be zombified, that it can be a living belief that could truly change Luther. He does not, however, invite Luther to attend his own church, or even bother to share his own view of Christianity or his experiences with it. Even given the quirky and farcical nature of the story, this doesn't make a lot of sense.[2] But they head over to Dr. Culbetron's Secret Lair, which appears to be located inside an ice cream store.

So, to summarize: this entire section basically left me shaking my head and wondering if the author and I were actually reading the same book. (Later note: actually, to some extent it seems to have been the case that we weren't; but that's outside the scope of this deconstruction. It's made for some interesting discussion of authorial intent, technical execution, and reader reactions - and how the three interact - in the comments on the posts, though.)

[1] This was one of those bits of incidental humor that really struck me as funny.

[2] The references to Matt Mikalatos' previous book seem to indicate that his experience of Christianity involves a talking donkey, so maybe it's for the best if he doesn't try to take Luther down that path. But it's unclear from this book whether that, or something else, is Narrator-Matt's reason for not sharing his own Christianity. In this book, the idea apparently doesn't occur to him at all.


  1. I know this particular piece of narration caused similar problems for Geds, but I think it's one of those moments of two ways of reading the same sentence. I think it's fair to say that Luther's motivation in inviting his wife over was to show her that he had become healthy... although obviously he has not. That doesn't change his motivation, because he in his head he really thinks that what will happen is that he will show himself as changed and they will live happily ever after. Also, I would just add that I do think that encouraging someone to commit suicide might be a step beyond "smart" and "fully-justified." I think it's an understandable thing, of course. I think it would have been understandable for her to shoot him dead. This may have been a good place to include pedantic footnotes in the novel. Ha ha ha.

  2. Also, sentences that include phrases like "because he in his head he really thinks" are so beautiful to me, especially when I notice them after I already hit "publish."

  3. I don't think Luther was trying to trick Clarissa into coming back to him, it's just that... No, on some level, I actually think he was.

    If he thought he had his werewolvery under control but was genuinely mistaken, that would be one thing. But he asks Narrator-Matt to stay and help him keep control, which is not the act of someone who legitimately believes that he's cured. That being the case, I can only read this as Luther not being sure that he has a working solution... but deciding to call Clarissa anyway. And that simply isn't "acting in good faith" in any sense. He's either trying to trick her into actually thinking he's better, or he's trying to force her to acknowledge that he's better regardless of the facts (which is, I'll admit, a very believable presentation in that it portrays a common emotionally-abusive behavior).

    Now, Luther himself may have believed that he was acting in good faith - denial and rationalization are quite likely to be very active elements of his thinking process. He's admitted that he has a problem, but that doesn't automatically make him able to evaluate its full nature and scope.

    To put that more simply, it makes sense for Luther to think that he acted in good faith, but Clarissa tore him apart. It doesn't, in these circumstances, make sense for Matt to think that.


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