Friday, February 27, 2015

Michelle Remembers, Chapter 15

While we're on the subject of the many flaws of the worst book of the 1980's, there is one specific flaw I feel like I really need to mention. It isn't nearly as big a flaw as, say, the racism or the fact that the thing sparked off a goddamn ridiculous moral panic, but it's still a pretty grating flaw.

Basically, Dr. Pazder simply won't shut up about how awesome he is.

This problem started early on in the book. I noticed it then, but I was reluctantly willing to put it down to changing cultural mores at the time--like, maybe there was more machismo floating around in 70's professional culture, and "talking yourself up" like this was a more accepted practice. But then I read chapter 15, and now I'm convinced that the bragging wasn't a strange archaic social convention of bygone days, and Dr. Pazder probably is just the kind of blowhard who loves to hear his own voice.

Imagine you were in charge of editing the manuscript for this book. You're going along with your red pen, marking typos and doing your editor thing, and suddenly you come across this monster of a paragraph:

     Lawrence Pazder had a knack for what one of his friends affectionately termed "creative tardiness." Dr. Pazder himself would admit that punctuality was not a fetish with him. There were so many people crowding in on his life--colleagues, patients, family members, friends, comembers of the many committees he found himself agreeing to serve on--that there was always a call or an impromptu visit to delay him. His openness and, more than that, his commitment were such that fending off interruptions did not come naturally to him. Colleagues, patients, family friends--they all learned to accept the fact that this energetic and altogether engaging man, important in all their lives, was unlikely to appear at the designated moment. It was best to allow fifteen or twenty minutes. Perhaps half an hour. And then, well before acceptance yielded to irritation, the tall, lithe fellow with the high, broad Polish cheekbones and the warm, white-toothed smile would come striding in, his expression a mixture of sheepishness and self-amusement. 

This massive sumbitch takes up half a page in the book. Half. A. Page. And it doesn't even contain anything particularly important, like a significant revelation or development to move the plot forward; it's only there to give us a piece of information that could have been adequately conveyed with two sentences (Dr. Pazder never meant to keep a patient waiting, but he was a very social man and often got sidetracked by chance encounters with friends and colleagues. It was best to allow him fifteen to twenty minutes.) and to give Dr. Pazder another opportunity to remind us that he's too sexy for his shirt.

Considering that this chapter is coming on the heels of a horrific "Satanists molested me with a dead fetus" scene, the tone of this paragraph is really, really jarring and super-inappropriate.

Not that being a perfect pure charming handsome Marty Stu saves our good doctor from a major case of interpersonal relationship fail. He reveals that he told his wife (his first wife, the one who isn't Michelle) about Michelle's "therapy."

"You were kind enough," he began, "to let me discuss this work with my wife." Dr. Pazder had been anxious to have his wife comprehend something of the nature of this extraordinary endeavor--so that she would understand why he was seeing less of the family these days, and spending so much additional professional time with one patient. He had wanted his wife to understand how important the work was, and to have her support.

Predictably, this does not go over well:

"I tried to tell her something about the nature of your remembering," Dr. Pazder continued. "...I'm afraid I just wasn't able to say enough about it so that my wife could understand and feel at peace about it."

Yeah, you're skipping out on family time to spend more and more suspicious amounts of time with your pretty young female patient and you cuddle with her on the floor of your office. Your wife's not stupid. Did you really think she was going to swallow that mealy-mouthed explanation?

Michelle did not reply. Dr. Pazder began to feel that he had perhaps made another mistake--in telling Michelle about the mistake he had made in telling his wife.

Oops. The Other Woman is mad now too. Mr. Perfect just can't catch a break.

I think this scene is meant to show how hard it is to treat someone who was abused by Satanists, and how it'll eat up all your time and attention and emotional fortitude and your family will have a hard time understanding, but I look at it and just wonder if we've been granted a glimpse of the precise moment when Pazder's first marriage started to fall apart. I got more of a feeling of intimacy, of something private we weren't meant to see, from the scene than I have from any of Michelle's recovered memories. I feel a little unclean for reading it, to be honest.

Dr. Pazder also does some research into Michelle's background in the name of corroborating her memories, but it mostly consists of talking to a doctor at the local hospital who remembers Michelle's mother vaguely and Michelle even more vaguely, and recalls that Michelle had a tonsillectomy as a child and maybe also "something about a car accident." Dr. Pazder seems much more excited about this discovery than he ought to be, considering the doctor's "confirmation" of Michelle's car accident ends with him apologizing for not being able to remember any details and for his not having access to the hospital's old (accidentally damaged) files.

   

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