I think I’ve figured out why this book is bugging me so much. I spent the better part of the ‘90s—the decade when this was written—on the front lines of the pro-life movement. I know what that the movement was like in that time period because I lived it and the world Michael Farris has created is not the world I knew.
My memories about that time and the people I knew are a mixed bag of good, bad, and indifferent, and I’m conflicted about a lot of it, but one thing I know for sure is that I don’t recognize any of it in our Merry Band of Protesters. It’s all cardboard cutouts. If Farris is doing anyone a disservice with this novel, it’s pro-life activists.
With that bit of meta discussion out of the way, strap into your seats, it’s time for chapter five.
“”Doctor, is it … is it killing?” the woman asked with eyes that pleaded for the truth.”
If there was a way to lay it on any thicker, I can’t imagine one.
This has ventured into Very Special Episode territory. It’s a discussion of abortion that would be right at home on my favorite hatewatch show (may it rest in peace), Secret Life of the American Teenager, which was my favorite because all of the characters were cardboard cutouts and every other episode was a Very Special Episode. Kind of like this book, now that I think of it.
Thus far I’ve seen no indication that Farris is even aware of why women might choose abortion. You’re not going to save any babies from abortion if you don’t understand why women have them. That’s like pro-life activism 101.
Seriously, the I-was-a-teenage-activist part of me is the one who is most annoyed at this book right about now. This is not what I was expecting when I set out on this project. I thought I was going to crack a few jokes about Author Avatar Lawyer Peter, whine a bit about how Farris needs to stop using his novels to demonstrate his extensive knowledge of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, that sort of thing. I certainly didn’t think I’d find myself getting increasingly annoyed that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about when it comes to the pro-life movement. But here we are.
This whole section of the chapter only exists so that we can learn that Rhonda is conflicted about her work because she still holds on to the part of her Catholic upbringing that teaches that life is sacred.
Since I’m pretty sure that Rhonda is the one who’s going to get killed in the deadly arson that the back of the book told us is coming, this repeated effort to paint Rhonda as someone who is going against her beliefs and convictions is making me increasingly uncomfortable. It reads as Farris punishing his character for her choices by killing her off, something that has some seriously unfortunate implications.
Farris gets in a nice dig at medical school too, it had “hardened” Rhonda. We get a lovely strawman portrait of a “sexuality and woman’s issues” class where a student asks if abortion is killing and, “The professor replied with practiced nonchalance, “is removing an inflamed gall bladder, killing?”” So yeah, Farris actually wrote that.
Oh, and when the receptionist lets Rhonda know that she’s got someone calling with post-procedure questions, Rhonda worries whether it’s another patient calling with an incomplete abortion or perforated uterus, which we’re told already happened in Rhonda’s first month at the clinic. I should probably note that this is a scare tactic. As medical procedures go, abortion is one of the safer ones, with fewer than 1 in 1000 having a serious complication. This is a common talking point among pro-life activists, but in reality giving birth is more dangerous, and I don’t think lying about statistics is an ethical tactic. If abortion is immoral, it’s immoral even if it’s the safest thing on the planet, you shouldn’t lie about dangers that don’t exist. Either that or Rhonda is kind of a terrible doctor, but we’ve been given no suggestion that’s the case.
The rest of this section is kind of dull, so I’ll jump ahead to Rhonda looking out the window and seeing Stephen, I mean Vince, talking with Single Person Lisa. Rhonda correctly deduces that Mysterious Vince is flirting his way into the inner circle of our Merry Band of Naïve Protesters. Also, Rhonda notes that Handsy Ginny is better looking.
Rhonda’s back at her house watching a Clark Gable movie when Mysterious Vince shows up late at night demanding to be let in. Relationship tension between exes ensues.
And, here we go. Conspiracy theories kicking into motion.
The clinic lawyers can’t get an injunction if the protesters are polite and well-behaved, so Mysterious Vince is there to infiltrate and goad everyone into being obnoxious and harassing.
More awkward relationship tension between the exes.
I’m bored. So bored. And there’s like another twenty pages in this chapter because suddenly Mike has gotten long winded.
If this review is putting me to sleep writing it, it’s probably putting you to sleep reading it, so I’m giving up and throwing in the towel. Come back tomorrow, or maybe Wednesday, and you’ll get some more of Mysterious Vince being Mysterious, the Merry Band of Protesters being naïve and trusting, and I’m sure it will all be so thrilling we’ll be on the edge of drifting off to dreamland, where we shall dream of other, better books.