GW Recaps–The Book of Joel: Jennah, Chapters Nine, Ten
Previous: Grace, Chapter Seven, Eight
Jennah/The quote framing the chapter: Marcus Aurelius
“Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.” Marcus Aurelius was an Emperor of Rome, and also a writer/philosopher. Remember Richard Harris portrayed him in Gladiator. He is said to be part of the Stoic tradition, and Gladiator was a movie steeped in Stoicism. In a nutshell from one who used to teach ancient philosophy, Stoicism was a school of thought in accepting what one cannot change, and adapting how one reacts to it instead–aiming for dignity. Boethius was another philosopher who allegedly reflected Stoicism. His story at least showed dignity. Connection to the story: What happens in this era of life with Joel builds part of the weapons of reason with which he meets the future. It’s just that the present can be so damn bad.
It’s May 1994. Joel is still on the street and Grace has disappeared. Joel has been roughed up by some malevolent men searching for her. While outside the NYPL building, a young woman approaches him with kindness and empathy–enough for him to go home with her. It turns out the young lady is 17, has run away from her parents, is pregnant, abandoned by the baby’s father, and living in a squatters’ building in Brooklyn.
Joel ends up moving in with her. Although they have a somewhat contentious relationship–she doesn’t want him to hustle, and she wants him to do more with his art–they become inseparable. Jennah is fearful that her baby will be taken away if she goes for medical help, so Joel tries to take care of her as much as possible. Jennah cares for him as well, including tracking him down and saving his life from a trick who was beating and choking Joel in a cheap motel.
During this time, Joel meets Chris Szala at a hackers’ get-together. Chris is a bi GenderQueer person the same age as Joel. They immediately become close friends, and Joel lets him into his world more than almost anyone. Chris is there when Joel needs help after Jennah gives birth. The baby is fine, but Jennah is sick. Even worse, she dies suddenly, only a couple days after the baby is born. Chris and Joel arrange for Jennah to be found so that the other residents of the building don’t get in trouble, but leave with the baby so no one takes her.
When the baby develops a cold, Joel, still a teenager in over his head, is heartsick over what he must do–give her up. He finds a place to leave her–a fire company in Connecticut, outside the hellhole foster system of NYC. Chris goes with him to take her there, and to comfort him on the way back.
The story of Jennah has a “live for the moment” quality. While Jennah had some fantasies about the future, these aren’t realistic. Neither she nor Joel are looking much beyond survival, but perhaps Joel even more so is not. At least until the end when he has to make a difficult decision, one that requires him to take the future seriously into account.
Joel has a history of doomed love affairs. Joel is bereft from Grace’s disappearance, which was in part to protect him. The gods smile upon him with yet another slightly older fierce woman to watch out for him. No matter how street smart he feels, he still has a naïveté that would be charming in normal circumstances. Yet the same bravado that allows him to go into strange hotel rooms with dangerous men also allows him to take care of Jennah and the baby.
Chapter Nine/The quote that frames the chapter:
Edgar Allan Poe, “It is by no means an irrational fancy that, in a future existence, we shall look upon what we think our present existence, as a dream.” Connection to the story: Joel has had to be an adult so fast, that his past is a dream to him–a vivid, raw dream. His current fortune may make him feel dreamlike as well.
Walter Cleveland wants to help Gabriel. Joel accepts that offer, and Walter proceeds to publicize Gabriel’s plight in the Passaic County jail. Mankiewitz also adds to the publicity. Alex calls to give Joel some trouble, but at least Clark will also be on the story.
Meese is not happy with the publicity but feels he can still have things turn his way.
Joel helps his mother get some things from the house; he’s not receptive to John Dell’s attempts at conversation. He’s even less receptive to Gloria’s insistence on a decent funeral for Joel’s father–but he acquiesces.
Things look up when Gabriel calls from the Wayne jail. He’s all right, and back to quoting movies.
day of the funeral, Joel has friends surrounding him. Geneva, Veronica, Michaela, Bob and Chris. Gloria more or less runs the show. Joel is heartened to see his former swim coach, Jon Lane. But then Meese arrives, and Joel is thrown into mental turmoil. The others protect him, but Meese still approaches and tries to get Joel in conversation. Joel manages to walk away intact, although Meese creeps everyone out.
Then Joel is able to visit Gabriel at the jail. A relief for both of them to have face-to-face contact. What’s even better is to be free, and that comes with Michaela’s bail hearing. The judge speaks to her privately and ‘suggests’ she asks for home detention. After a quick arrangement with Bob, she proceeds to do so and to the prosecutor’s surprise the judge approves. Gabriel is now going to stay at Bob’s condo, with an ankle monitor.
Joel shows up at the condo later, having had to care for his mother. He and Gabriel are able to have a more intimate reunion. This includes remembering the first night they were together, and how it is now with the addition of the fact they love each other.
Chapter Ten/The quote that frames the chapter:
Frederick Douglass, We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and the future. Connection to the story–A wise proposition–being too much in the past can destroy us from making the most of the present.
Police and prosecution investigators search Gabriel’s apartment. Joel is watching over the process, being a smartass and again rebuffing Dell’s overtures to convince Joel to tell him anything that will help. Joel snaps that the problem is in Dell’s own department, meaning Meese. But he won’t elaborate. He does not trust any cop. But Dell has already developed an interest in Meese.
This incident reminds Joel he’s frustrated by Gabriel’s lack of moving forward in his exoneration. So he picks up Gabriel’s plan to interview people who worked with Ken McFadden.
Joel manages to sweettalk someone into giving him Carson Smith’s name–the man who was terrorized by Cody in the Prelude.
Carson ends up talking to Joel and telling him about that night and how he’s suffered from PTSD afterwards. Armed with the description of the intruder, Joel reaches out to people he knows to find someone who can give him inside information–on a hunch the intruder was a professional criminal. He gets lucky with that as well, and meets with a DOJ person who says the suspect is Stephen Cody, contract hit man for the Jersey mob. Cody is a piece of work who likes murders as bloody as possible, and likes to film them.
Meanwhile, Gabriel receives a surprise visit from his father. He’s completely taken aback when Jeffrey Ross offers support to Gabriel, and expresses admiration for how Gabriel has handled himself. Gabriel is suspicious and angry–holding a lifetime of resentment over how Jeffrey treated Gabriel…but some kind of truce is brokered, as Jeffrey is sincere. He’s also approving of Joel, when Joel shows up.
Joel is there to tell Gabriel about what he found regarding Cody. Gabriel is pleased with Joel’s information, but he’s not acting on it. He’s working on the paper trail to demonstrate Ken’s ties with Meese. Gabriel also doesn’t want Joel to pursue following Cody, either. This causes some friction with Joel–who’s game to get moving on this seriously. In his car, Joel speaks to Jan about how he learned to take care of business with Angela.
Between the Pages:
- Following up on his engineering capabilities mentioned in Meese, Joel earns his admittance to the squatters building by getting the electricity to run.
- It’s not explicitly stated, and Joel would have no way of knowing, but Jennah dies of an embolism. This is a genuine serious concern in pregnancy.
- Joel has a prescient ability to take care of business rises when needed. Even the savvy Chris can’t handle the difficult and ugly necessities of life as Joel can.
- Jennah was mentioned in Two-Faced Woman a couple times. First when Chris bluntly asks an almost pathologically-compartmentalizing Joel if he ever told Gabriel about Jennah. Joel is highly defensive about his refusal. Later, he does share the basics of his story in order to establish trust with an important witness. Gabriel presses for details, and Joel describes her rescue of him in the sleazy hotel, and where he left the baby. But both Grace and Jennah are too emotionally raw for him to share much.
- The description of the less touristy aspects of Manhattan in the Nineties is accurate. Every city has at least two or three or more different worlds within.
- Gabriel had a really unpleasant experience in the Passaic County jail. What happened to him, in being beat up by C/Os and the wrongful cavity search, does happen.
- All legal machinations of the motion, the home detention, bail and transfers have been vetted by my house NJ defense attorney as to plausibility.
- “Just like on Law & Order. You must be Wayne’s Bobby Goren.” A little snark from Joel, and an excuse to mention one of my favorite all time TV characters. Criminal Intent’s Bobby is truly a thinking man. He and Gabriel share some similarities in their being autodidacts. Catch the episode “Stress Position” where Bobby, Alex and Mike Logan look into deaths in a federal prison. It is chilling.
- Jeffrey has intelligence connections, and agrees to look into Aaron Comstock. Gabriel still feels some responsibility on that issue with Alex.
- Gabriel has mentioned Jeffrey in the last couple books–not pleasantly. He has expected zero from Jeffrey, and so is the definition of nonplussed here when Jeffrey turns out to have a complete turnaround in attitude. Gabriel is forced to see things a bit from Jeffrey’s perspective.
Beyond the Pages:
- Gabriel the cinema enthusiast, quoting from Marathon Man on the phone.
- And of course he’s watching a James Bond film in the flashback. As with any diehard Bond fan, he’ll watch them all whenever they are one.
- Bent. An incredibly affecting movie based upon a play. This scene is the one Gabriel speaks of. Try to watch it and not be affected. The concept is truly human, to reach beyond one’s circumstances to be intimate emotionally, much less sexually.
Question for Readers:
Naturally Gabriel and Joel have a conflict on how the investigation should proceed. Part of this is genuine concern–coming from the results of Gabriel’s previous risks. Part of it is Gabriel’s frustration at being under home detention, part from trying to use problem-solving to address the fear he carries. Joel bristles at the idea of being told what to do–and does what he wants. How might you understand when it’s time to make a better call?
Benny Mardones, Into the Night. It just has that fatalistic doomed quality.
If I could fly/I’d pick you up
I’d take you into the night/And show you a love/Like you’ve never seen – ever seen.
Sarah McLachlan, “Sweet Surrender.” I love Sarah so much. Once, my friend’s boyfriend appraised me as a Sarah McLachlan fan upon meeting me. Not sure what showed, but along with Erasure I’ll have Sarah’s stuff all over the playlist. This song in particular is one that invokes a sense of Rasa so well. The great thing about Gabriel and Joel’s love affair is that they are one and the same in terms of feeling, of falling into each other.
Take me in, no question’s asked/You strip away the ugliness that surrounds me
(Who are you?)/Are you an angel?
Symphony No. 3, Il Poco Allegretto by Brahms, for the last scene of intimacy. The haunting, rising emotionality of the scene. It has a sense of deepening emotionality to it, a build up that is faintly resonant of Bolero.
U2, “Original of the Species” This song is addressing a child, with an emotional wistfulness. In considering Jeffery’s reevaluation of his relationship with Gabriel, it feels appropriate.
And you feel like no-one before/You steal right under my door
And I kneel ’cause I want you some more
I want the lot of what you got
And I want nothing that you’re not
Copyright 2016 Alex Fiano
Page updated 3/9/2018