This chapter reminds me a lot of chapter 9. Only thankfully shorter. But what actually happens in the chapter should be brutally difficult to read. It should be emotionally engaging and tense. Instead it’s incredibly dull.
As you can guess by the title, the chapter starts with them out of food and water, exhausted, and realizing that they went in the wrong direction. As I said, this sounds like it should be a strong opening. But Wanderer spends a page and a half describing the landmark they were trying to find. It kind of diffuses the tension.
This is apparently day 5 of their journey. They drank the last of their water the night before and ate the last of the ‘mangled twinkies’ earlier in the morning. After walking a long time from the last landmark, Wanderer stopped for a break, turning to get the sun out of her face, and there, on the other side of the last landmark, was what they’d been looking for. They’d gone east when they should have gone west. But you know what? If they could see the landmark from where they are now, they should have been able to see it from the last landmark. So why the fuck did they go east?
The explanation in the book is that Wanderer noticed the pattern up to this point, that it was north, then east, then north, then east, etc. So they went east again. But they didn’t even look around?
After a few more pages of Melanie and Wanderer in panic mode over what to do next, they start walking towards the landmark despite knowing they can’t get there before they die of exposure and dehydration. I do not find this a stupid act and the exchange between them, while clunky, makes sense to me.
“We’re going to die,” I said. I was surprised that there was no fear in my rasping voice. This was just a fact like any other. The sun is hot. The desert is dry. We are going to die.
Yes. She was calm, too. This, death, was easier to accept than that our efforts had been guided by insanity.
“That doesn’t bother you?”
She thought for a moment before answering.
At least I died trying. And I won. I never gave them away. I never hurt them. I did my best to find them. I tried to keep my promise.… I die for them.
I said in the last chapter that Melanie’s life was already essentially forfeit so the fact that she does take comfort knowing that her death at this point guarantees she can never be used to find them is a good one. Were this chapter from the perspective of Melanie instead of Wanderer it would probably be a better chapter than it is as the stakes are so much more important to her. Wanderer isn’t afraid to die because she lived for nothing. She has already lived many unfulfilling lives with no friends or family to show for it, and she will now die with seemingly the only person she has ever bonded with. But her struggle and acceptance mean significantly less to the reader because they mean less to her.
I would like to point out though that she is continuing to speak out loud while trying to walk across a desert. When she can communicate all of this in her mind. She’s rasping and her throat is sore and she’s exhausted and thirsty, but she’s choosing to speak to the voice in her head out loud. For no reason at all.
“Then what am I dying for?” I wondered, the pricking feeling returning in my desiccated tear ducts. “I guess it’s because I lost, then, right? Is that why?”
Yes Wanderer. This was a zero sum game, you against Melanie. Totally wasn’t a collaborative process to find the people you chose to love and decided, on your own, that you couldn’t give up and let die.
No, she thought slowly. It doesn’t feel that way to me. I think… Well, I think that maybe… you’re dying to be human. There was almost a smile in her thought as she heard the silly double meaning to the phrase. After all the planets and all the hosts you’ve left behind, you’ve finally found the place and the body you’d die for. I think you’ve found your home, Wanderer.
I can’t tell if Melanie is just trying to make her feel better or if this is an indication that they’ve grown closer and become friends over the last few days that Meyer skipped over. Because last we saw them Wanderer was still being a pretty big bitch to Melanie. Nothing about Wanderer thus far has indicated any particular love of humanity. Or respect for them. The closest she comes is deciding she loves Jared and Jamie because Melanie forced her to see them through the nostalgia tinted goggles of her memories, making it difficult not to. She didn’t find a species she would die for, she found people she would die for. Specific people. Which is fine! I certainly wouldn’t die for a lot of people I know, but I’d die for the ones I care about and I see nothing wrong with that. This planet doesn’t have to be her home for her to have adopted these specific people into her family.
I didn’t have the energy to open my lips anymore. Too bad I didn’t get to stay here longer, then.
Why were you opening your lips in the first place?! This still makes no sense!
I wasn’t sure about her answer. Maybe she was trying to make me feel better. A sop for dragging her out here to die. She had won; she had never disappeared.
A ‘sop’, if you weren’t aware (I wasn’t), is a placation. Something said to sooth. Beyond the fact that that word hasn’t been common place in several decades, I don’t find it terribly appropriate. Why would you use it in this context? If Wanderer is saying she dragged Melanie out here to die, why would Melanie want to placate her? It’s a very awkward sentence. I don’t actually understand why Wanderer would be analyzing this at all. Why waste your energy thinking about anything other than either the people you care about or how you can find a way to not die?
My muscles screamed out to me for mercy, as if I had any means to soothe them.
This is what most of this chapter is. This is why I’m more than half way through this chapter and have barely talked about anything. This is the millionth time she has described how much her legs hurt, and it’s all as wordy and pointless as this mangled simile. This chapter is one of the most repetitive so far. Thankfully it’s also the shortest outside the prologue…
I could feel her now, not just in my head but in my limbs. My stride lengthened; the path I made was straighter. By sheer force of will, she dragged my half-dead carcass toward the impossible goal.
There was an unexpected joy to the pointless struggle. Just as I could feel her, she could feel my body.
Sorry, this just really bothers me. It is Melanie’s body. Melanie is a permanent part of this body. She is this body’s brain. You are a horrible hitchhiker holding a gun to her head and making her do what you want. You are a selfish, egotistical, entitled, willfully ignorant bitch and I wish that this story would end with Melanie’s family finding you, ripping you out of her skull, and bashing you against a rock.
I legitimately would like to know what it is about this character that fans actually like. So far all I’ve seen from Wanderer has been the type of person that I would never associate with. If I had to work with someone who behaved the way she does I would spend most of my days hoping she secretly got eaten by the copier. I have seen nothing about her worthy of respect. I have seen nothing about her that I would want to aspire to be. I have seen no signs of character growth or strength. Just hypocrisy and spite.
What do you think is out there? she asked me as we marched on toward the end. What will you see, after we’re dead?
Nothing. The word was empty and hard and sure. There’s a reason we call it the final death.
The souls have no belief in an afterlife?
We have so many lives. Anything more would be… too much to expect. We die a little death every time we leave a host. We live again in another. When I die here, that will be the end.
‘Too much to expect’. That implies that wishing for an afterlife is ‘greedy’. The reason they don’t believe in Heaven or Valhalla is not because they’re more technologically advanced and are all about proof not belief, it’s not because they don’t have a concept of faith as Wanderer mentioned in a previous chapter. It’s not even because they simply don’t fear death and thus have no need of trying to reassure themselves. It’s because they’re so good they don’t need a final ‘reward’. This is insulting. Wanting death not to be ‘the end’ isn’t about greed. It’s about fear. It’s about wanting the world to be ‘just’ and wanting to feel assured that there’s a reward for those who’ve suffered but remained good people despite that and a punishment for those who lived life as bad people and had the world on a platter their whole lives.
The concept of justice is so engrained in us that many of us feel there needs to be something more to serve out that justice. Many afterlives include a system of judgement of the dead. The Egyptians weighed your soul against the feather of truth, if you were a good person you were rewarded, but if you were an asshole your afterlife was suffering. Greeks and Romans had a court that would judge your life. You could go to the plains of asphodel if you were average, Elysium if you were extraordinarily pure/heroic, and the fields of punishment if you were a bad person. Christianity has heaven, hell and purgatory. Many beliefs about reincarnation have you coming back as various other life forms based on your behaviour, or suffering in your next life to atone for your last one.
The afterlife isn’t about greed, it’s about justice. Fairness. Meyer could have said that her species didn’t feel the need for a final reward after life, or a punishment, since they were all the same. She could have said they simply didn’t fear death since they lived for essentially however they wanted and didn’t die till they chose to in most cases. She could have said that it just wasn’t something that ever really occurred to them. But she chose to say that this species is better than us for not having religion. Considering Meyer herself is religious, I am left to wonder why she did this. Did it not occur to her what that statement implied?
What about you? I finally asked. Do you still believe in something more, even after all of this?
My thoughts raked over her memories of the end of the human world.
It seems like there are some things that can’t die.
In our mind, their faces were close and clear. The love we felt for Jared and Jamie did feel very permanent.
I’ve never understood this mentality. I know I just defended the idea of an afterlife, but I, personally, don’t believe there’s anything after death. I believe it’s not entirely impossible, I believe nothing is entirely impossible, but not terribly likely. So I have a difficult time understanding what this is supposed to mean. Does she mean that the love they feel for Jared and Jamie will live on even after their brain function ceases and the ability to even comprehend the concept of love is no longer there, just a little bubble of emotion in the desert? Or is this simply implying that there must be an afterlife, because her love is so strong it has to keep living into the next life by sheer force of will? I’ve seen this mentality before so I’m not picking on Meyer’s choice to include it, I simply don’t understand it myself.
In that moment, I wondered if death was strong enough to dissolve something so vital and sharp. Perhaps this love would live on with her, in some fairytale place with pearly gates. Not with me.
Would it be a relief to be free of it? I wasn’t sure. It felt like it was part of who I was now.
I didn’t just bring up that last bit so I could have a philosophical discussion about love and death. I brought it up because it conflicts with what she says immediately afterwards. She says the love ‘we’ felt in the last section. She then says that in death she would be free of it. But if the love ‘they’ felt, together, was strong enough to last after death, why would it not stay with her? More importantly though, how could it be a relief that she is free of the emotion if she’s saying right there that she’s not going to have an afterlife? She can’t feel relief if she’s dead and not living on somewhere in some form.
They spend another few pages talking about how much dying they’re doing. It’s incredibly boring. This is only chapter 12 of 60. There is no suspense or drama here. There’s no ‘oh my god what will happen to them?!’ we know what’s going to happen to them. We know they’re either going to stumble on some other plot convenient place like the abandoned desert cabin or someone’s going to find them who doesn’t automatically kill them. This is just repetitive and boring. I don’t even feel bad for them. After the 12th time she describes how hot and dry she is, you start to get desensitized to it and just want the fucking plot to happen! I was not exaggerating earlier, this is the shortest chapter so far by a couple of pages, and the entire thing with only a few minor escapes has her been describing her physical and emotional pain. WE GET THE FUCKING POINT!
The chapter ends with more terribly repetitive descriptions of how awful their continued existence is and then they get dragged off by Uncle Jeb who ends the chapter by repeating himself then saying this is a pickle after he gets them back to the land of the living.
I hate this chapter. Somehow this chapter is finding a way to be the same amount of awful in a smaller package. So much of this book is filler. I could get to the same point in this story’s plot in at most half the pages. I could improve the characterization and still get to the same point in the plot in less than 2/3rds of the pages. I don’t get why people like this book…
The next one is I think the longest chapter so far, but at least the plot should finally be happening a bit so maybe there will be something worth talking about. Even if it is just angry ranting, it’s at least more engaging. So until then, give The Invisible Man a read. It’s a sci fi novel with a protagonist you’re not really supposed to like, only it’s actually good. See you next time!
Don’t forget to read The Llama’s take on this chapter!