GW Recaps–The Book of Joel: Chapter Two, Three, Four
Chapter Two/The quote that frames the chapter:
Walt Whitman, Each of us is inevitable. Connection to the story: The great poet Walt Whitman was a master at constructing his persona, reinventing himself, becoming his destiny as a poet after working several unsatsifying jobs, and believed the human soul was immortal and always in development. To tie in with Camus’ giving all to the present, and Russell’s responsibility for one’s destiny, realize you are here, you are inevitable, and find now how to make that meaningful. This is what Joel realizes in his journey from rejection to embracing.
Gabriel receives a phone call, from someone who immediately hangs up on him. Contemplating how things are going in life right now, he’s heading for Joel’s apartment. He gets another call. It’s a woman who asks him about Joel. Gabriel tries to get information from her but she’s unwilling to identify herself, and abruptly hangs up.
In Joel’s apartment, both of them are aware of getting used to each other again. Joel receives a delivery of personal items Jan left to him. The boxes also contain Joel’s old notebooks, which Joel feels very protective over.
Gabriel and Joel are planning to work on a case later in the evening. While discussing this, Joel sees the number of the last call to Gabriel’s phone. He’s in shock–it’s his mother’s number. Gabriel explains the call, and Joel hesitantly tells Gabriel some information about her. He then looks her up online.
Later that evening, they have lured a petty drug dealer, Sean, out to an alley. Gabriel proceeds to intimidate him into giving up information on a missing teen. Sean’s comment about how another criminal, Andreas, considers the kid his property, and how Sean minimizes his involvement in the abduction, sets something off in Joel, who proceeds to kick the shit out of Sean. Gabriel stops this and they are able, with Bob helping, to move on and rescue the teen.
The next day, Gabriel is uncertain of Joel’s state of mind. However, he seems to be in a better mood, asking Gabriel if he remembers their first night together. Gabriel gets a call from Clark Ahn, reporter from the Herald-Standard. Clark asks Gabriel to meet with a friend of his as soon as possible, for an urgent matter. Gabriel agrees. He leaves Joel and Bob at the apartment. At the coffee shop, it turns out Clark’s ‘friend’ is Alex.
Chapter Three/The quote that frames the chapter:
Albert Einstein, People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion. Connection to the story: A fascinating idea that all of time is existing at once. If only you could reach back and change something in time as easily as replacing a roll of paper towels in the kitchen. In a sense, the past is in the present when it is causing something to happen in the present–as with Joel in his health club. The future is in the present when a choice is made to act, that changes one’s course.
Alex tells Gabriel that he has an informant who knows of some intelligence agency operations similar to MK-Ultra. He asks Gabriel to explain MK-Ultra to Clark. When Clark steps away, Gabriel demands to know what Alex really wants. Alex says his informant is in danger of being found out. Joel and Bob suddenly show up outside the coffee shop. Clark invites them in. Joel lets Gabriel know that Alex had encouraged Matt to investigate Joel’s past. Enraged, Gabriel forces Alex outside. Before he can do any more, Joel stops him.
Later that day Gabriel goes to visit Joel. Isabella is there, and tells Gabriel of Joel’s latest sale. Gabriel suddenly comes down with a vile headache that practically causes him to lose consciousness.
The next day, Joel goes to a health club where he has reserved the pool. His swim is to clear his head, but images from the past are brought up. Jan, his late friend and client, is suddenly there as well, talking to him. Joel describes what happened the night he and Gabriel rescued the teen boy. Jan tells Joel that he needs to read his notebooks and understand how the past relates to his life now.
Chapter Four /The quote that frames the chapter:
George Eliot: …a man’s past is not simply a dead history, an outworn preparation of the present: it is not a repented error shaken loose from the life: it is a still quivering part of himself, bringing shudders and bitter flavors and the tinglings of a merited shame. Connection to the story: George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans) was a character in herself–a woman who wrote under a male pen name because women’s writing was expected to be all romantic, and taken less seriously. Perhaps the male pen name was her Noh mask. Eliot does not have a positive view of the past in this passage. But to me, it fits in with the first cut being the deepest. When Joel opens his notebook, he can feel the shudders and bitter flavors, and feel the sting of that cut. It sends him spiraling into his own mind.
Joel is going through some of Gabriel’s photographs. He and Gabriel are planning to visit Bob. At Gabriel’s inquiry as to Joel’s restlessness, Joel says he wants to see his mother. Danny then calls Gabriel, saying that Alex wants to talk to Gabriel and is outside on Avenue A. Gabriel’s irritated, but Joel suggests seeing what Alex wants.
Alex asks for Gabriel’s help. Alex’s informant, Zach Mesereau, thinks that an intelligence analyst Aaron Comstock, temporarily stationed at Mesereau’s workplace, is actually a spy trying to expose Mesereau’s whistleblowing activities. Gabriel is hesitant to help, although he says he will look into it. He has words with Alex about their conflicts, including Alex’s own inappropriate research into Joel. Alex says he’s sorry and will apologize to Joel, which he does. That impresses neither Gabriel or Joel, and they go on to New Jersey.
On the way, Joel talks about some of what his childhood was like with his pompous, cynical father and hypocritical, possessive mother. His father was indifferent to him except for what Joel did to glorify or shame the family name. His mother was concerned with Joel being her best friend and confidante, and guilt-tripping him when he tried to have a life outside her. He talks about his friend Tim, skipping school to play videogames, and the feeling that no one understood or believed what was going on at home. Joel feels an even deeper sense of being marked, tainted, as he addresses some of his past. Jan visits him again, and notes that it’s time to confront Joel’s anger at someone else in Joel’s past.
The next day, Joel and Gabriel go to Joel’s old house. Gloria opens the door, shocked to see them. But she seems to be glad as well. Ken McFadden is also there, and having ejected Joel from his mind and his life long ago, doesn’t know which man is his son.
Between the Pages:
- In that alley scene, feelings are being stirred. First off, Joel is very much angered by Sean’s despicable role in luring a teenager to a brutal criminal like Andreas. Gabriel sees the connection to something in Joel’s psyche.
- In terms of story elements, I was torn between A Level in Badass and Sanity Slippage with Joel’s using Sean for soccer practice, but I think it’s more badass, as Joel has not lost his mind. However, as an aside, Gabriel always takes a level up in badass with each story.
- Joel is a fan of Alan Cumming. Joel always has good taste.
- Gabriel has decided to have a beard for a change, but he’s the only one who likes it. In Two-Faced Woman, it’s mentioned that facial hair comes in heavy in Gabriel’s dark Irish skin, and makes him look a little crazed. Another thing people notice in this story–Gabriel’s refusal to dress any better than t-shirts and jeans, and his not-very-neatness.
- Joel used to draw orchids for his mom, who worked in a nursery. He and his mom like flowers and cats. Joel also used to cover for his mom’s bad housekeeping.
- Gabriel refers to his talent for juggling, first mentioned in The Hanged Man. He also mentions Nero Wolfe again. Gabriel isn’t a flowers person, but likes orchids because Nero was a horticulturist.
- “Looks like I picked the wrong time to quit smoking.” Gabriel likes to quote this line from Airplane. A lot. I plan to have it in every book from this one on.
- Archie behaves better with Joel than he does with Gabriel–Joel has cat karma, being one himself.
- At the end of Two-Faced Woman, Gabriel and Joel were planning a vacation, the first they ever had together. The vacation was in Australia. Some things that happened there may turn up again someday.
Joel’s loft apartment on Canal Street would be in a building like one of these.
The layout of Joel’s loft is like this.
- Gabriel finds that Alex needs his help. In Two-Faced Woman, Gabriel and Alex’s break-up was pretty vitriolic. We saw a side of Alex that was hinted at in The Hanged Man (where Alex tells Gabriel that his editors are warning him off the story). A bit snobbish after all–and on a quest to get Gabriel to better himself. But although Gabriel is irritated over Alex’s little stunt, he is vulnerable to being asked for help….
- At least until it comes out Alex tried to get Joel’s past publicized. And that scene is more of Joel’s mind working than Gabriel’s. I think Gabriel’s reaction is not surprising. Joel knew Gabriel would be furious at Alex, but ultimately something in Joel began that step of wanting to change–not wanting to instigate unnecessary trouble.
- Poor Clark. He likes Gabriel and Joel, and has gotten some good stories out of them. But Alex is his mentor. I think he pretends he doesn’t know what’s going on.
- A little note on Joel’s friend Iz. Turns out she has a bit of boundary problem. When you have experiences like Joel did (as will be detailed in the next chapter) boundaries get messed up. You let people do too much, or you draw them so tight that no one can ask anything. Joel lets Iz get away with a lot. Chris is similar, although doesn’t push the way Iz does. But as Gabriel observes, Joel has known them both for so long and in such extreme circumstances the cadence of their relationship is naturally strong.
- In addition to the flashback introduced in the Origin Story, the story now has another element. The dead person who appears and talks to the protagonist. Gabriel spoke to dead persons in TFW, but it was in dreams. As a matter of respect to characters who have passed, I like having ways of keeping them in the live world.
- Joel coming back to his parents’ doorstep is incredibly difficult. Why does he do it? No one has to confront people who were abusive, but it can be a step to saying “You no longer have control over me.” Even just saying it, writing it down, can help purge some of the dark feelings.
- Joel’s parents set him up in a way–from what happened in his youth to his problematic relationships and sense of self. The first cut in our psyche is usually from our caretakers, and it is the deepest. Taking the psychological step of pushing back at them is the hardest step.
- Otherwise…the past comes up again in the simple act of looking at photos. Photos are another version of Proust’s madeleine dipped in tea–evoking an era, a feeling, a relationship. Saving photos means something. Destroying photos means something.
- Joel finds Gabriel’s past intriguing, perhaps because he doesn’t have photos of childhood. (As mentioned in the excised scene from TBOJ). He can’t help wanting to see how he compares to Gabriel’s past relationships. We catch a glimpse of Henri, Gabriel’s former boyfriend who sent Gabriel a copy of Kickback from France (it was published in France before the US). Joel recognizes that some past relationships don’t have to be hidden because they ended okay and were generally positive. Gabriel isn’t sure about that.
- Gabriel compares his headaches to his father’s nasty hangovers. Also, Gabriel’s dislike of being on water. Gabriel likes looking at the ocean, but as Joel confirms, he will avoid being in any body of water or pool. Even ferries are uncomfortable for him. I can tell you that Joel has offered to teach Gabriel to swim many times, each offer being met with a resounding “No thanks.”
- Joel, being the practical businessperson, has set up a company to handle the commercial dealing of his art, Smoking Dharma. That was his email name in The Hanged Man when he first got back in touch with Gabriel.
- Note Gabriel and Bob’s past history of friendship involving sports–basketball, softball, and now pool. Naturally, they’re hustlers.
- Alex is a bit of a snoop. He is a journalist, so like with Gabriel being a private investigator, it comes with the territory. Like Gabriel, Alex is good at getting people to talk. We find out he had gotten Danny to spill the story on Gabriel and Joel’s initial break-up. This was in Two-Faced Woman (TFW), when Gabriel and Danny were angry with each other. For a moment, Gabriel feels the utter despair from the messiness of relationships.
- Alex also has boundary issues. Aside from going the extra mile to uncover Joel’s story, he has no problem asking Gabriel’s friends to help him out in getting Gabriel to talk to him. I like writing that kind of audacity.
- Gabriel and Joel’s respective histories in the Nineties at Willowbrook Mall were quite different. Joel excelled at schoolwork and so felt safe in playing hooky to go to the arcade. Gabriel (who would be just starting college at this time) went there with his older bad boy boyfriend who was looking for cars to steal.
- Henri looks like Idris Elba. Gabriel would be a fan of Luther. Gabriel alludes to the fact he isn’t on good terms with any past boyfriend outside of Henri. Gabriel brings the can of gasoline and the blowtorch to those relationship bridges.
- Joel loves cats. Especially at the circus, with big cats. Also, the beginning of Joel’s computer proficiency, hanging out at computer stores in Willowbrook.
- Gabriel’s acting upon his plan in TFW to begin to expose the Tertullian Society through YouTube videos (done anonymously). This also invokes Kent Varney, and his notes which tend to be the keystone of TS activities, as well as other major conspiracies in history.
Beyond the Pages:
- “You already knew. Come up to the lab and see what’s on the slab.” Gabriel’s a Rocky Horror Picture Show fan. The line is from Sweet Transvestite.
- “Back before you were all Rasputin.” Grigori Rasputin was a spiritual advisor to Czar Nicholas II’s wife, Alexandra. He had a very decrepit appearance, including a long scraggly beard.
- “Regan MacNeil” Linda Blair’s character in The Exorcist.
- “…doing an Annie Sprinkle kind of thing.” Annie, a former adult film actress, had a performance involving audience interaction and a speculum.
- The Tertullian Society had their Chthulu-like tentacles in the spray of assassinations, coups, torture, and civil unrest happening in that time period in Central and South America. Chthulu is a mythical monster-god created by H.P. Lovecraft. The activities that Gabriel describes are based upon the violence in Central and South America civil wars, coups, assassinations, and US intelligence-aided activities in the 1970s and 1980s. Examples include the Salvadoran Civil War (depicted fictionally in Oliver Stone’s Salvador), Iran-Contra, and Chile.
- “You told me you held Daniel Ellsberg, Wikileaks, Jeffrey Wigand in high regard.” Daniel Ellsberg exposed the Pentagon Papers detailing activities in the history of the US involvement in Vietnam. Jeffrey Wigand exposed Brown & Williamson knowledge and disregard of the health effects of tobacco (his story was depicted in The Insider). Gabriel would also admire Chelsea Manning (who had not yet gone public with her gender change, and therefore her dead name is used, not because of misgendering) and Ed Snowden (this story takes place before Snowden’s revelations). If you have Netflix, a good documentary is Silenced: The War on Whistleblowers. See an article here. Wikileaks was better thought of in 2011, when this story took place. After the shitshow of the 2016 election interference and Wikileaks’ Russian connections, Gabriel would no longer hold it or its creator in regard. However, such things weren’t news in 2011.
- Gabriel and Bob engage in Mystery Science Theater 3000-style kibitzing MST3k was a cult TV show on Comedy Central and Sci Fi Channel in the 1990s featuring terrible movies, constant riffing on said movies, and arcane references. New seasons are happily on Netflix.
- All of the experiments Gabriel describes regarding MK-Ultra, and also Project Artichoke and Project Stargate are true. The possible use of a device on brainwaves is not proved to have happened, but is rumored to be (most often in the Montauk Experiment). The CIA and other intel agencies spending billions in a ‘black’ budget–that is true as well. We don’t know what that budget is and we are not allowed to see it–but it’s huge. Think about that the next time someone complains about the cost of social safety net programs.
- “Majestic” level clearance that Gabriel mentions is a rumored thing as well–even Presidents don’t have this fabled level of security that would let one wander around Area 51 gawking at aliens and whatnot.
- “Gabriel and Bob seamlessly hustling a couple of Wall Street Patrick Bateman-types.” Patrick Bateman is the protagonist of American Psycho.
- “He jokes that he’d always Rosie Ruiz anything like that.” In 1980 Rosie famously faked completing the Boston Marathon.
- “…did manage some fast facts about Strayhorn and his connection to Dr. Martin Luther King.” See here and here for more on the incredible, underappreciated talent of the dedicated civil rights activist, musician and songwriter (Lush Life) who lived fairly openly as gay.
Question for Readers:
I have long considered whether confronting the past is useful or not. I don’t think any one answer exists. Blanket proclamations aren’t useful–depends upon the person, the situation, the pain. What do you think? When might it be helpful or hurtful?
David Bowie, Modern Love. My favorite Bowie song, this would fit the opening credits of a TV series Gabriel’s World Season Three so well. I don’t pretend to know what Bowie’s lyrics mean, I take my own meaning out of them–in modern love being terrifying but also calling a person to step up and have faith.
It’s not really work
It’s just the power to charm
I’m still standing in the wind
But I never wave bye bye
U2, Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of. This applies to the swimming scene. First there’s Joel in the beginning verser,
I’m not afraid of anything in this world/There’s nothing you can throw at me that I haven’t already heard
And then Jan gently prodding him in the alternate verse before the chorus,
I never thought you were a fool/But darling, look at you
Even the water reference later in the song applies…certainly for abuse victims, as alluded to in Joel’s thoughts, they are often stuck in a moment they can spend the rest of their lives trying to get out of, as if time and growth stopped then.
As a striking bit of trivia, Bono wrote this about Michael Hutchence’s suicide and structured the lyrics as his arguing with Hutchence to get out of his own head.
Playlist: The First Cut is the Deepest. I like both the Rod Stewart and Sheryl Crow versions. Cat Stevens wrote this song.
I find in some songs where the lyrics are probably meant for romantic relationships can also apply to family relationships.
I would have given you all of my heart/But there’s someone who’s torn it apart/And she’s taking almost all that I’ve got
That is Joel’s relationship with his mother–and she’s both the person who would be given his heart and the person who tore it apart. It can also apply to Joel in the first time he had a relationship with Gabriel. What happened to Joel in his youth injured him so deeply he had a hard time giving himself to anyone.
Bonus: Sweet Transvestite
Even in just a clip, Tim Curry is incredible. Look at his face and his expressions, and his owning wearing that outfit. He is a queer Bodhisattva.
Copyright 2016 Alex Fiano
Page last updated 3/9/2018