Chapter 12 finally gets the plot moving along, as Devlin’s spy phone rings. There’s yet more long-winded explanations of all the awesome security measures Devlin is enveloped in, which I’ll skip except to point out these two absurdities:
Fingerprints scanned, the line was uplinked via satphone to one of the NSA’s birds, scrambled with level three remodulation logarithms.
I am fairly certain Walsh meant to say “algorithms” here.
A stealth-encryption field descended, so that even the most adept or malicious hacker would be left trying to apprehend emptiness.
My brother works in IT security and forensics. I asked him what a stealth-encryption field is and he just stared at me blankly.
Devlin talks to President Tyler and acts like a condescending dick for a while, before asserting that something else is going on with the terrorist situation and they should hold off on deploying him. As proof he points out Charles and his way-above-a-teacher’s-pay-grade suit in the video the terrorists released, guessing that he’s actually the ringleader behind the whole thing. Devlin’s advice is actually unnecessary, as it turns out that Devlin has no obligation to take on assignments if he doesn’t want to, which makes him more of an extremely high-powered mercenary than a secret agent. Which is fine, but the reason given for this kind of blew my mind:
A Branch 4 op had every right to refuse a presidential request. With their lives on the line every time, they were the arbiters of their own fate.
Soldiers and actual spies (not to mention police, firefighters and lots of other professions) also put their lives on the line every time, but they don’t have the luxury of refusing a job just because it might be dangerous.
“Also, this really is it for me. If we go red zone and score, I’m out. Last job. I disappear, you never hear from me again, and you damn sure never contact me. Yes or no, General?”
We don’t get a reason just yet for Devlin’s decision to retire after this job, but General Seelye pretends to agree with this stipulation while Walsh’s roving selectively-omniscient narration informs us that he’s lying.
The president look confused. Was this “Devlin” on the job or not? He wished that America were a kinder, gentler nation, one that didn’t need hard, rough men like Devlin to keep the women and children safe from people with legitimate grievances and misunderstood motives. He swallowed his pride. “Are you in or are you out, Devlin?”
Needless to say, over the course of the book President Tyler will learn that none of America’s enemies have legitimate grievances or misunderstood motives, and hard, rough men like Devlin are exactly what the country needs.
Devlin tells his supposed superiors to run a suite of implausible sounding analysis techniques on the video of Charles, then hangs up. Afterward Seelye and Grizzard theorize (with not much in the way of justification) that the entire terrorist crisis is actually a plot to draw CSS and the Branch 4 operatives out of the shadows, and they plan on using Devlin to spring their own trap in response. Meanwhile, Tyler acts befuddled and confused about everything, as usual.
I should point out that we’re now one-fifth of the way through the book and thus far our protagonist has appeared twice and has been given almost no personality, while the supporting cast consist of thin caricatures and morality play chess pieces. This will not improve going forward.
For the next chapter it’s finally back over to Hope and the situation at the school- in case it wasn’t already obvious, this book tends to spread its focus around thinly.
Now, given what we know of Walsh’s ideas on gender you might expect Hope to break down and cry helplessly (which, to be fair, would be entirely understandable given the situation) and wait for a man to come and sort out the problem, but as we saw with Devlin’s mother, Walsh is willing to grant women the chance to have a backbone in one situation and one situation only: protecting their children.
To go off on a tangent for a moment, writers (and culture in general) often glorify the “mama bear” phenomenon, in which mothers both human and non-human supposedly hulk the fuck out when their offspring are threatened and perform herculean feats of courage or strength. This is a real thing- the fastest way to get many animal species super pissed is to get between a mother and young, and countless parents have either endangered or willingly sacrificed themselves to save their children- but the explicitly gendered nature of the idea always bothered me. This trope has a masculine counterpart (see, for example, the Taken franchise) that usually consists of a father using some sort of pre-existing skill or talent to save the day, whereas the female version always involves the mother discovering some unknown, possibly quasi-supernatural strength from nowhere in response to their children being in danger. Basically, men get to be badasses who sometimes use their badassitude to rescue their kids, while women have built-in feminine super-powers that activate solely in that one situation.
But Hope was learning something about herself she never would have suspected:
She wasn’t breaking down. She was getting stronger by the minute.
But anyway, we can’t dwell on gender issues too long when Walsh has lots of other topics to address, like this jaw-droppingly inaccurate assessment of American societal values:
She’d been a good American, taught from birth never to resist a mugger, never to defend herself, never to fight back—possessions were just things, after all, and while things were replaceable, your life was not—never to assert herself. She’d been taught from birth never to complain, never to raise a ruckus, to accept everything that fate threw her way without complaint. The government will handle it. The police will take care of it.
One of the questions I keep asking myself while reading this book is whether it’s meant to be a castigation of American as it is now, or if it’s intended more as a dystopian reflection of where Walsh believes the country is headed. Sections like the one I quoted above make me assume the novel must be taking place in some kind of alternate reality, positing as it does an America where self-defense and gun laws aren’t blazing hot-button issues, and where the right to defend ones property isn’t sanctified to a higher degree than most basic human rights.
Her children weren’t things. […] They were hers.
I really wonder if this was intended to be deliberately contradictory or not. In the hands of most authors I’d say definitely, but with Walsh, who knows?
Now something began to well up inside her—not fear, not horror, not trauma, but an emotion even stronger: hatred.
didn’t know she possessed. She didn’t want to be defenseless any more; she didn’t want to be weak and passive in the name of “understanding” or “tolerance.”
Most of the time in this book when Walsh wants to make a point he isn’t in the least bit subtle about it, but at other times he seems to either accidentally insert bits of his own politics into the narration or does it deliberately in a vague way, as we see here. If you’re not keyed into American right-wing politics it might be hard to understand what this situation has to do with tolerance, but if you’re sufficiently up to speed it becomes abundantly clear what Walsh is actually trying to get across here, without saying it directly.
“Yes, Janey,” she said. “There is something we can give them. We can give them hell.”
Of course, Walsh is trying to portray this as a glorious outpouring of long-stifled patriotism, but the truth is Americans are more or less encouraged to react to situations like this with jingoistic bloodlust.
Some disembodied voice on NPR was trying to put what was happening in Edwardsville in “context,” blathering on about Israel and the Middle East and the Iraq War and the CIA’s overthrow of Mossadegh in Iran in the 1950s and—
Suddenly she found herself screaming at the radio, pounding the steering wheel and shouting, “Shut up! We are not the bad guys! Shut the fuck up!”
I can’t help but read this as defensiveness on Hope’s part, but I suspect it’s supposed to be more FUCK YEAH MURICA
A cop notices Hope screaming at liberalism in her car, but it’s okay because the cop tried to molest her when they were in high school and treats her well to make up for it (no, really) and she pretends to sheepishly leave the area while actually formulating a plan to go into the school and do….. something. Tune in next time to find out.