Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Storm Front, chapters twelve and thirteen, in which Dresden must endure women throwing themselves at him

I keep taking weeks off between Dresden posts, because I just cannot with him, but the downside is that it can feel like I'm taking forever to get anywhere in this book, and every page is more of the same: Dresden is insufferable and the people around him talk smack about him while making it glass-clear that he is Amazing and Dangerous and they don't really mind how terrible he is after all.

For fun reading, I'm currently halfway through the second Alloy of Law book by Brandon Sanderson, and while I have my issues with his philosophies and I think the protagonist is some kind of Boredom Singularity, at least Sanderson has the courtesy to surround his grim tough protagonist with a cast of vastly more entertaining people, even including multilayered nonsexualised women, people of colour, and--le gasp--people who might not be straight or cis.  And they criticise the hero for good reason, and he takes those criticisms to heart and tries to change his behaviour (slowly).  I could probably stomach Dresden more easily if this book included, for example, a scene where the Lord God Himself calls Dresden out for being such a misogynist tool.

Storm Front
Chapter Twelve: Tsundere and Lightning*

Let's just... get through this together.

Dresden awakens twenty minutes later in Murphy's office; she's cushioned his head and feet and is busily holding cold compresses on his forehead and throat but tragically not his mouth.  Dresden immediately takes the opportunity to 'joke' about his secret fantasy of Murphy in a nurse outfit.
"A pervert like you would.  Who hit your head?" she demanded. 
[....] Her hands were no less gentle with the cool cloth, though. 
[....] "If you didn't already have a concussion, I'd tie your heels to my car and drive through traffic."
The above three lines basically summarise all of Dresden's interactions with Murphy here: she makes it clear verbally that she has nothing but disdain, scorn, and animosity for Dresden, while also taking the utmost care to personally ensure his wellbeing.  Giving him first aid herself, okay, that makes some sense for a practical person like Murphy.  Then he tries to get up and hurls all over her office floor, so--without a word--she cleans off his face, gives him another cool cloth on the neck, and personally drives him back to his apartment.
But mostly I remember the way her hand felt on mine--cold with a little bit of nervousness to the soft fingers, small beneath my great gawking digits, and strong.  She scolded and threatened me the entire way back to the apartment.
The picture of Murphy this gives us is less 'complicated' than 'someone's very specific kink'.  She's tiny and soft and feminine and nervous, but cares for him like a nurse and scolds him like a mother.  I'm pretty sure there are women who get paid a very good hourly rate to deliver this precise fantasy of denigration/adoration to men, but do we need one of them in a cop outfit to be our ostensible female lead here?

Murphy hauls Dresden into his dark apartment (all the lightbulbs burnt out last week) and declares that she's putting him in bed after she lights some candles.  The phone rings, next to Dresden:
"Mister Dresden, this is Linda. Linda Randall. Do you remember me?" 
Heh. Do men remember the scene in the movie with Marilyn standing over the subway grating? I found myself remembering Linda Randall's eyes and wondering things a gentleman shouldn't. 
"Are you naked?" I said. It took me a minute to register what I'd said. Whoops.
Pictured: Agent Scully, praying for our deliverance from this creepy fucker.

Murphy, as part of her new 'service top' designation, goes to make Dresden's bed and give him phone privacy.  Linda has decided she does have a lead for Dresden after all, and wants to meet him tonight--Dresden has forgotten about the "date" that Susan Rodriguez "tricked" him into tonight, and agrees anyway.

Naturally, every sentence Linda speaks just overflows with seduction and implications of imminent nudity.  I won't quote them, because they're truly not worth inflicting on you, but it's important that you understand just how dedicated Butcher is to this AU where sex workers are literally compelled to hit on everyone all the time regardless of the subject matter.  They're talking about her friend's murder investigation, and she's no longer trying to distract him like she supposedly was last time--this is just who Butcher has decided she is.

Murphy is of course exasperated that Dresden has apparently made a date for tonight, and in response to his assertion that she's just jealous, snorts back:
"Please. I need more of a man than you to keep me happy." She started to get an arm beneath me to help me up. "You'd break like a dry stick, Dresden. You'd better get to bed before you get any more delusions."
I understand that we live in a dystopia where romcoms and bad subplots have cemented the notion that any form of woman-rejects-man can and will be used to foreshadow their eventual hookup.  From that, it's hard to find any way to legitimately shut that down in the text.  However, Murphy here has 1) interpreted "you're just jealous" not to mean "you can't get a date" but rather "you wish you could date me" and 2) rejected him on the basis of his supposed sexual inadequacy, which is the type of thing that gets treated as a flirtatious challenge ("why don't you try me?") that no Red-Blooded American Man like Dresden can truly allow to stand.  If there is any reliable way to cancel out sexual tension, it doesn't involve saying 'I've thought about sex with you and decided I am too sexually aggressive for it'.  Which is fine if you actually want to flirt, but supposedly Murphy does not, so what the hell.

She could have avoided all this by passing Dresden over to a police paramedic or getting a rookie constable to drive him home.

Dresden thinks he remembers what he's forgotten: he said he'd call Monica Sells.  Murphy resignedly helps him do so, grumbling about how "my first husband" was just as stubborn.  (I figured this meant he was dead, but a quick google informs me that they divorced and he's going to be a minor antagonist later on, because of course.)  A little kid answers Monica's phone, screams for mom, and wanders off.  Monica herself is in full Stepford mode and discreetly asks to "cancel my order", which Dresden thinks is weird but apparently not suspicious.
I thought I heard a voice in the background, somewhere, and then the sound went dead except for the static. For a moment, I thought I'd lost the connection entirely. Blasted unreliable phones. Usually, they messed up on my end, not on the receiving end.
I will completely break from form here to observe that, artistically speaking, Butcher is good at this: making innocuous statements that solidly imply information to the reader while keeping the character plausibly ignorant.  Here, for example, I would bet my own bone marrow that he's indicating that there is wizardry happening at Monica's house, messing with the phone, but Dresden never phones other wizards and he is generically Unwell, so he doesn't realise that this is literally the reverse of his usual problem.

There, I said something nice about Jim Butcher's writing skills.  Let it not be said I cannot be a kind and generous hater.

Murphy takes Dresden's temperature, checks his eyes with a penlight, and gets him some aspirin, continuing with her nurse deal.  I'm really confused about what's supposed to be wrong with him at this point: he's dazed because he got concussed yesterday, that makes sense, and that can mean all sorts of bad things, but why does she keep acting like he's feverish, covering him with cold cloths and such?  If you get a fever as a result of a head injury, I'm pretty sure you should see a doctor immediately.  Is Murphy taking care of Dresden so she can quietly end him?
I only remember two more things about that morning. One was Murphy stripping me out of my shirt, boots, and socks, and leaning down to kiss my forehead and ruffle my hair.
The rising level of mother subtext for Murphy, in addition to running against everything else about her character, is raising some uncomfortable questions about Dresden's fantasies.  ...Well.  Some further uncomfortable questions, anyway.

The second thing Dresden remembers is that the phone rings again, Murphy answers, and tells them they have the wrong number.  Not sure what that's about, but at least Dresden falls asleep and the chapter ends.

Chapter Thirteen: Title Drop

Dresden awakens that night as a thunderstorm rages outside.  Murphy folded his coat and left him some cash with a note that "You will pay me back"--because it's not like she likes him or anything!  (I've seen this anime.  We've all seen this anime.  It's every anime.)  Dresden puts his coat on in the dark, still shirtless, so now instead of a generic grim detective, he looks like a rejected model for the generic grim detective calendar.

Dresden mulls the way he can "feel the storm, in a way that a lot of people can't", because hearing how special he is hasn't gotten old yet.  I would be fine with him observing it, thinking about exactly the same stuff that he says here (how it's a huge knot of energy, all four classical elements in the wind and the rain and the lightning racing down to the earth), if he could maybe just say these things instead of emphasising how he FEELS SO MUCH MORE because he's just better than non-wizards.  More plot-relevantly, Dresden realises that a wizard with limited self-preservation instincts could tap into a storm to fuel the murder magic he had theorised about previously, and that there was a storm Wednesday night as well.  The mystery begins to unravel maybe!

But that's enough plot progression for now; time to pour on the filler.  Somebody knocks at the door; Dresden expects it to be Linda (silently thankful that, with her, it probably doesn't matter if he's disgustingly unshowered and such, uuuuugh) but of course it's Susan Rodriguez, here for their date.  Dresden lets her in and she shows off her form-fitting backless dress for a while before asking if he's working overtime on the magic murder and if he'd make a statement.
I winced.  She was still hunting for an angle for the Arcane.
Dresden.  That's literally her job and you knew from the start that was the point of this.  She dates people to get at their secrets.  That is the only conceivable reason anyone would date you, because you're terrible.  Dresden leaps into the shower and then leaps out again minutes later when he sees through the window that Linda has arrived:
I couldn't let Linda just come to the door and have Susan answer it. That would be the cattiest thing you've ever seen, and I would be the one to get all the scratches and bites, too.
Why am I inflicting this on you?  Because you have to know.  If I have to suffer through this mess, then by Eru Iluvatar you will all leave my blog knowing down to your deep tissues that this character is unequivocally a misogynist catastrophe (and his author's got a lot to answer for too).

Thankfully we get a break, because it's not really Linda at the door, but a demon that has just barely been holding together an illusion until now.  Susan of course screams uselessly as it hocks a shot of acid at Dresden, who dives behind the sofa and tells her to get back in the kitchen.

Awk.
"Susan!" I shouted. "Get back toward the kitchen! Don't get between it and me!" 
"What is it?" she screamed back at me. 
"A bad guy." [....] 
"Why isn't it coming in?" Susan asked from the far corner, near the door. Her back was pressed to the wall, and her eyes were wide and terrified. My God, I thought, just don't pass out on me, Susan.
This is the kind of objective female inferiority that makes it impossible to pass off all of the misogyny as being Dresden's bias creeping into the narration.  I mean, yes, Dresden judging her harshly for not handling it well when her lousy date gets interrupted by an acid frog monster, that could just be him.  But the decision that Rodriguez, composed investigator and magic-sleuth, should turn into a screaming wreck incapable of even running for safety at the first glance at a short demon, that was Butcher's doing.
"Can it get in?" she said. Her voice was thin, reedy. She was asking questions, gathering information, data, falling back on her ingrained career instincts--because, I suspected, her rational brain had short-circuited.
Pictured: Princess Bubblegum cutting someone off and sending them to jail.

No, Dresden, you colossal jackass, that is VITAL FUCKING TACTICAL INFORMATION at this moment.  She's not being a stupid drone; she's determining what's safe and not, since that will seriously impact how you two respond to this invasion.  Sigh.  Dresden shoves her down into the basement (with a brief interlude as Rodriguez notices that his towel has fallen off and he's naked) and then does battle with the demon, hurling a gale-force wind in its face and commanding it dramatically to get out.  It's too powerful even for naked Dresden and his mighty staff (which he summoned into his hand and now holds straight out from his body--everyone praise the ancestor of your choice that this book wasn't illustrated), so he tells Rodriguez to drink the escape potion from earlier (oh god, we saw this coming).  That fails to spirit her away, but she also finds Dresden's revolver, climbs back up the stairs, and unloads all six rounds, giving them time to... run back downstairs.  Well.  Classic horror movie mistake, but okay, at least Rodriguez tried.

And now, of course, it's time for the wacky shenanigans, because Dresden uncovers the copper circle he inlaid in the basement floor, pulls Susan into it with him, and erects an unbreakable anti-demon barrier (also acid-proof, apparently).  Demons can't remain summoned during the day, he explains, so they just have to stay in the circle for the next ten hours and they'll be fine.

It is at this point that Bob the Sex Offending Skull points out what we all realised would inevitably happen back in chapter eight: Susan didn't drink the escape potion; she drank the love potion and she will now disregard their safety in favour of trying to get Dresden to bang her on this concrete floor before they die.

Hang on a second here.

We all know love potions are fucked up; overriding someone's mind and consent is not cool under any circumstances.  But this isn't even a love potion--this is a fucking potion.  Rodriguez isn't suddenly filled with admiration for Dresden's (hypothetical) virtues, she doesn't weep for the family they will never get to make together, she doesn't suddenly ask if she can somehow save him by sacrificing herself.  She stops caring about anything (including her own life) except getting that pasty wizard D.  I'm all in favour of love and sex in whatever combination makes everyone happy, but there are only two conclusions that we can draw here:

Option 1: 'love potion' is a euphemism for 'elixir that causes the drinker to stop wanting anything except sex with one particular person'.  Evidence in favour: classically, love potions lead to sex in most stories, probably because they're introduced as an excuse to get two people to have sex in an unusual circumstance.  Evidence against: the brewing of this potion involved candlelight and love poetry and the sorts of things that are supposed to be associated with high-minded romance, with sex as a possible consequent rather than the entirety of the event.

Option 2: 'do me here and now' is the specific response of Susan Rodriguez to this love potion, because like most women in this book she is nothing more than a projection of lust and she cannot fathom any way to express affection other than sex.  Evidence in favour: look, you've all read as much of this book as I have; you know what it means for her to be pretty and female and brown.  Evidence against: ...

...

Maybe I'll have something by next time.  (Merciful spoiler: they don't have sex.)

---

*I suppose I should make a consistent note that these books don't have chapter titles and I'm just making them up for funsies, lest new readers be confused that the titles are so much more entertaining and thoughtful than the text.

1 comment:

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