Before I delve into the next chapter, I wanted to go into something I left out of my review of chapter one. One of the most frustrating things about Michael Farris’ writing is hispropensity to write scenes where we, the readers, are supposed to empathize
with his characters, but that end up making you dislike them.
The first time I attempted to read Anonymous Tip, while I was in college, I gave up when Saintly Mom
Gwen was contemplating kidnapping her daughter out of foster care and fleeing
to Canada. We were supposed to feel for her and her distress about losing
custody of her child, but all I got from it was that she was unhinged and there
was no way I could root for her. When I finally managed to read all the way
through, I ended up hating Saintly Mom Gwen and her entire family and wishing
CPS would just take the poor kid away permanently before her bio family traumatized
her for life.
The paragraph I excerpted from the first chapter of Guilt By Association is another example
of Farris making me dislike characters we’re supposed to like. Handsy Sidewalk
Counselor Ginny and Creepy Colonel Danners are introduced to us as they’re
invading a young woman’s personal space, with Ginny initiating physical contact
without consent and Danners looming over the whole scene as an intimidating
These are people we’re supposed to like, and by page two I
already want to get as far away from them as I can. That’s compounded by the
part I didn’t mention last chapter where Creepy Colonel Danners puts a fatherly
hand on Handsy Sidewalk Counselor Ginny’s shoulder, because well, none of these
people respect personal space. Not to mention that from my
I-was-a-teenage-activist days, the older men who would get touchy feely with
younger women always creeped me out—hence why I’ve decided to refer to Danners
as “Creepy Colonel Danners” from here on out.
There are people from my I-was-a-teenage-activist phase who
I still like and respect, but they aren’t the ones who I see reflected in the
first few pages of Guilt By Association.
Rather, I see the ones who I never particularly liked, who made me
uncomfortable, and who I go out of my way to avoid. That’s not a particularly
auspicious start to this novel.
With that, onward and upward to chapter two and beyond!
Two – In which we
find out how our merry band of protesters came together
Wait, what? Farris tells us that Creepy Colonel Danners was,
“A strong pro-life advocate with many leadership qualities,” who “soon found
himself the chairman of the “Whatcom Life Coalition.”” Last chapter he told us
that the Creepy Colonel had never been involved in activism before, now he’s a “strong
pro-life advocate.” When you’re already contradicting what you said on page
three by page seven, you’re not off to a good start. Anyway, the Creepy Colonel
started holding WLC meetings at his “spacious” home.
Here’s where we get the rest of the cast of characters.
Creepy Colonel Danners starts a leadership council for his group, consisting of
- Pastor Randy Wallace of Immanuel Bible Church (presumably
and independent fundamentalist sort of church, going by the name). We’re told
it’s a “natural choice” because his church is one of the largest in Bellingham.
- Shirley Alper, a grandmother in her mid-sixties with two
decades of pro-life activism under her belt (Why didn’t she get put in charge?
She’s the only one who has any prior experience. Oh wait, she’s a womans, gotta
have the mens in charge).
- Ginny Kettner, the previously mentioned Handsy Sidewalk
Counselor Ginny, thirty year old pastor’s wife and former television reporter.
- Suzie O’Dell, nineteen year old college sophomore from
Spokane who leads “a group of forty brave believers” who sing and pray in “Red
Square” on her “secular, left-leaning” Western Washington University campus.
Is Suzie on the leadership council because of her proven
campus leadership skills? Nope. Women can’t be leaders (except apparently on
heathen college campuses), remember? That’s the men’s job. Nope, she’s on there
because the Creepy Colonel thinks that they need a college student who can
relate to the soon-to-open clinic’s target market, college girls. The rest of
the group didn’t really want her on the team, Creepy Colonel had to convince them.
Here’s where I RAEG.
After describing how Suzie organized the Christian students
on campus to lit drop dorms with pro-life material, “cutting down the
profitability of the clinic,” and demonstrating that she’s the only one of this
cast of characters who is actually any good at organizing and doing squat,
Farris tells us, “Suzie was well liked by the adult leaders.” Well liked by the
Because in Farris’ universe, Suzie, a legal adult with all
the rights, privileges and responsibilities that go along with being a legal
adult, Suzie, the one who has successfully organized dozens of students on a
campus we’re supposed to believe is hostile, is still a child.
Here’s a Venn Diagram, lazily drawn for you in MSPaint:
It’s quite telling that Michael Farris doesn’t see Suzie O’Dell
as an adult. One of the things that homeschool alumni repeatedly run into in
advocating for homeschooled kids is that no matter how old we are, no matter
how accomplished we are, homeschool movement leadership refuses to see us as
anything other than children. Here we have Michael Farris writing a character
who is over eighteen, who clearly has leadership skills, a character who we as
readers are supposed to like, and he can’t see his own character as anything
other than a child.
The people who should be leading this pro-life activist
coalition are Shirley Alper, who has been in this fight since the early days
post-Roe v. Wade, and Suzie O’Dell, who is clearly doing way more than anybody
else and has demonstrated leadership skills. But nope, we can’t have the
womenfolk in charge, no siree, clearly Creepy Colonel Danners with the spacious
house has to be running the show because he’s a man and That’s Just The Way
Anyway, the rest of the chapter just tells us that by the
time the Whatcom Women’s Center for Choice opened, Creepy Colonel Danners
organized enough people to cover things down at the clinic every Saturday. He “frequently
cruised the sidewalks during the weekdays,” WHICH DOES NOT SOUND CREEPY AT ALL.
Farris is sure to reassure us that Creepy Colonel Danners
and his Merry Band of Protesters stayed strictly within the city protest laws. What
with all of the personal space invading it sure sounds to me like they’re
walking right up to the edge of the letter of the law but hey, what do I know?
It’s not my novel.
At this point, my review is longer than the chapter, so this
sounds like a good place to stop. Next time we get to meet the cast of
characters at the clinic. I’m sure they won’t be strawmen at all.