Every time I think I’m ready for this book I find I’m not, that it has found or invented entirely new things to enrage me.
“Dr. Ashby told me this morning that you underwent the same procedure. He said that even though it wasn’t entirely of your own will, you did exceptionally well.”
Exceptionally well. How has Vaughn managed to convince my brother that all of this is okay?
Evidence suggests it was by telling him that you underwent the same procedure, and that even though it wasn’t entirely of your own will, you did exceptionally well. It’s likely that an additional factor is your refusal to say anything on the subject yourself. I can’t say whether your brother would give a fuck, but your failure to even try still disgusts me.
Worse still is that I’m starting to understand Vaughn’s methods. I’m starting to see a different side to things: a doctor who wants nothing more than to save the world, and the meddlesome daughter-in-law who foils his attempts and must be restrained, tracked, sedated if that’s what it takes, because the world hangs in the balance.
So the reason he was Evil Mad Scientist before was because he wasn’t actually evil enough. Back when he seemed to want to save the world and believe the girls were locked up for their own good, he was evil. Now that he’s made it clear he’s happy to murder people to steal their children and that if he can’t be the sole savior of the world he’ll burn it down personally, Rhine’s apologist sensors go off and he can join the hall of saints with the child rapist.
“He admitted that he may have been wrong to keep you in the dark about what he was doing.” Rowan is looking down as he speaks, and his tone is practical, but I know him and I know that he’s contrite.
At least Rhine has an excuse for how awful she is. She’s had to grow up with someone like this, had to “know” he was contrite and actually cared about her when everything he said and did were showing the opposite because what else was she supposed to do.
One of the things I keep thinking of is a passage from The Handmaid’s Tale, where she talks about how when the changes begun, she clung to her husband in fear because she needed him to protect her now. The changing world denying women rights forced its opponents into precisely the position it believed they should have.
When I was inspired to write spiteful fic of Wither, I kept thinking of the tension there. The women in this world need men for their own protection because men have all the power. But because men have all the power, anyone they go to for protection could mistreat them however he wanted and they couldn’t do anything to protect themselves. You can’t rely on the fact they’re your husband, or even your brother or son. The people out there you’re afraid of were all someone’s son, and many of them were someone’s brother, and it didn’t mean anything. And the very role of protector you need them to take means losing your autonomy, because how long can you expect someone you depend on utterly who hears everyone else in society that you’re mindless property to treat you as anything more than that?
And we have Rhine, who stayed with her brother.
She didn’t even mean to make the devil’s bargain but honestly loved him and wanted to stay with the only family she had left, and it meant she grew up letting him shoulder all the responsibility and make all the decisions while he belittled and dismissed her every thought.
And it was still better than a husband would have been. Population control has always been the woman’s consideration. It’s by improving women’s status and rights that the numbers of children drop. And what do we see in this world? Miserable, starving children. When Rhine’s a few years old there’s another little girl next door, one who only has a father left. Did her mother really think she wanted to bear a child when she might not even live to see it walk, that’d be left an orphan a few years later? Most of the children we see in this society are the products of rape. A few, like Cecily, were young and brainwashed enough to think they wanted to be pregnant. The rest…it probably didn’t involve much force. Just “if you really loved me” and “I’ll leave if you won’t”.
but I know him and I know that he’s contrite. is the sort of thing the women would say to themselves afterward. But I know he’s sorry, but I know he didn’t mean it, but I know but I know but I know. And it’s my fault really.
That’s who Rhine became. You can’t be mad at them. And you can’t hate them. They have too much power. So hate everyone else instead, and when you can’t hate them, close your eyes and keep repeating you don’t want to know what happened.
And after all that, now her brother says “I’ve always coddled you,” he says. “But I shouldn’t have. You’re no more a child than I am.” and we see what she’s always been trying to avoid.
When she was cute and naive and didn’t argue with her, she was coddled. But now she’s mouthy. She keeps saying the guy he says is good isn’t good. So he’s withdrawing the coddling even though we see he treats her with no less disdain. She’s still just as powerless but now the last powerful person who was concerned for her thinks he should just let nature take its course. The kidnapping and rape and torture are just how the world works and Rhine will be better off once she gets used to it.
Still, it means he shows her the notebooks. Rhine spends a while assuring us that her little girl brain can’t understand what they say, so she has to keep rereading a handful of pages before she understands her parents were keeping data on the first set of twins, who look exactly like them.
Rowan, she writes, is prone to violent tantrums. He’s three years old on this page; eventually they learned that his tantrums were the result of pain from persistent inner-ear infections. Rhine has difficulty distinguishing reality from fantasy. Lately she tells stories of children in the bedroom walls. Turned out to be mice that had found a way in through the vents.
It’s funny to see how deep the gendered division goes. They just accept the violent tantrums that only later they realize were from a cause, while Rhine being observant and clever is dismissed as being delusional – because the fact a three year old actually heard something in the walls and made a pretty reasonable guess as to what it was proves she can’t tell reality from fantasy.
and how dangerous it was for me to make friends with the little girl who lived in the house next door. I was too trusting, my mother wrote. I was cursed with her warm heart, she writes in parentheses, and that would have been a virtue a century ago.
So they probably murdered the kid or something. It was always weird that the girl just disappears when her dad died.
The notebooks also record that Rhine getting pneumonia as a kid was actually a matter of the same business as Rapist-chan, evil science experiments.
My brother developed a rash behind his neck, but nothing more serious than that. Males have the better immune systems. Something is superior in their genes as a result of this virus. It takes five years more for their systems to shut down.
My mother’s handwriting has gone furious here. She’s had a breakthrough.
Rhine can’t read it, so I’m going to assume it’s realizing she lives in a poorly constructed nonsense world where science is meaningless. This is some lovecraftian shit. I feel there have been stories like that, but I can’t think of anything that was specifically scientists investigating their world enough to find the cracks. You get the occasional OH GOD I’M A FICTIONAL CHARACTER, and some about how the nature of reality is just different, but not the idea the world’s underlying physics were created by a sloppy and sadistic god.
Well, Left Behind is like that unintentionally.
But anyway, that’s all the plot we get. Rhine decides to have a breakdown about how she was just a science experiment to her parents, which is quite justified and I just wish she’d gone straight from reading the notebooks to breakdown without the stopoffs about how her feeble girl eyes couldn’t read.
“I never stopped feeling like you were alive. I thought I must have been going crazy.”
I prop myself on my elbow to look at him. “But I’m here now,” I say. “You can stop destroying those labs. You can stop making people think there’s no hope. You don’t have to do everything Vaughn says anymore.”
He tries to smile, but it fades as his eyes move up and down the length of my face. “Let’s not talk about that now,” he says. “Let’s go back to the part where we’re both alive.”
In grudging defense to Rowan, he may not have started off a bad person. From the sound of it, their parents were already treating Rhine as a dumb child since before they can even remember, so she was, so he treated her like one, so she was even more, which only proved him further right in treating her like one. So now we have him telling Rhine that the lab destruction is a plot that had nothing much to do with her and she was just an excuse, and a little later Rhine telling him that she’s back now so he can stop doing it – still without giving any of her reasons for hating and fearing Evil Mad Scientist that underlie her objections. So if she can’t understand what he tells her, why should he take anything she says seriously? She’s exactly what they all wanted her to be, a dismissible child.
Rhine looks out over Hawaii.
It’s a world worth fighting for. Set fire to the broken pieces; start anew.
Perhaps this gets into why Rhine’s sense of morality is so bizarre and terrible. She’s so rarely in the position to make the decisions. Most of the time she’s just tugged along. She’s been objecting, but the other people around are fine with the plan, so she guesses they’re right.
“That girl seems to like you a lot,” I say.
“Bee? She clings.”
And perhaps we should say that Rhine is a lot better than she could be. Her ability to empathize with the other girls is inconsistent but at least it’s there. She was willing to look at the girl and see blind devotion. Her brother doesn’t even care that much.
At any rate, she takes the hint and says her marriage was annulled. She presumably wants to specify that this means she didn’t have sex so stop treating her like she did, but she can’t say the word. She also can’t explain anything else, because she’s not going to start explaining things after two and a half books of not.
“I ran away,” I say instead. “It wasn’t that he made me unhappy; it was just that I wanted to go
It’s a delicate line to walk – she can’t have liked him, or she won’t be her brother’s property any longer and he’ll reject her. But she can’t dislike him, because men are worth more than she is and she can’t be uppity. Her brother is mad enough she doesn’t like his new friend, and she’s made sure to remove that part of her motivation completely.
As it is, her brother sees through the important part she was trying to avoid:
“You made it all the way back home by yourself?”
I feel my cheeks burning as I gather my knees to my chest and look out at the clouds. “An attendant ran away with me.
She was interested in another boy. She is still a virgin, but there have been kisses and touches. She is stained.
Rhine starts crying and this makes her brother care about her again.
He never used to let me get away with crying like this, but now he allows it.
Her brother is horrifying in so many ways.
Rowan and I—Subject A and Subject B—were the results of in vitro fertilization. It was no accident that we were twins. Our parents needed a male and a female. So many of the notes are illegible, or just beyond my understanding. There are cross diagrams with notes in the margins about iridium.
And that’s probably the end of any explanation we’ll get. The author has exhausted her science words. Rhine emos a bit about how her parents were just like Evil Mad Scientist except for the murder and rape of little girls, but that’s just stuff happening to girls so it doesn’t count much one way or the other. Finally, they land at the mansion.
“This will be the first time our Rowan has seen the property,” Vaughn says. Our Rowan. I don’t
know what to do with the anger that causes in me.
It’s okay that she’s been “our Rhine” this whole time. She knows that’s what she is. But how terrible it is, how degrading, to hear a man referred to like that.
When my husband and sister wives and I were here, the head cook would be milling about preparing the day’s menu at this hour. By her third trimester Cecily had developed so many food aversions that on an especially bad day she might send back four untouched breakfast trays.
To move to a different horrible subject, this is why pregnant women don’t like being locked up and having food sent up. A major component of it is just smell, so being able to cook for themselves or just look over the ingredients can really help. But that would’ve gotten in the way of keeping Cecily locked up, and she’s more fun to blame for things anyway.
Evil Mad Scientist takes them to a floor Rhine’s never been to, which contains Rapist-chan’s room.
As we walk, Vaughn says, “The hallucinations that caused you to harm yourself were very interesting. Your brother did experience some nightmares—I’d asked him to keep a journal—but he was, for lack of a better word, sane. I can’t say the same thing for you.”
The gaslighting subtext is pretty minor, mostly because Rhine usually doesn’t care enough to challenge what people say and sometimes is the one doing it. But for some reason it’s going on here. I’m not sure if the book intends it or if the idea is Rhine cutting open her leg really was delusional.
“I’d like to try something different this time,” he says. “I’d like to let you have more freedom. It occurs to me that I’ve treated you like a caged animal. I’d like for you to travel with your brother and me while you receive your treatments. I think you’d enjoy yourself.”
I don’t know how to answer. I’m scared to admit to myself that I might be willing to do as he asks.
I do want to see what more is out there. I am starting to believe in the methods he’s using to find this cure.
Not that it really matters now. The more horrible he becomes, the less Rhine cares he’s evil. He even murdered girls for reasons that had nothing to do with a cure.
He says he wants Rhine to make his son and grandson return. Cecily is not included, but I’m sure she won’t be told to run for it, and he says he needs her convinced because he’s blaming Cecily for the other two being gone. Rhine says she can’t convince Linden and Cecily. He shows her Gabriel, who’s been in an induced coma every since she was brought back.
So. Rhine goes to tell her brother she has to leave to go talk to her former husband. She doesn’t tell him why, because the author feels enough shame to know that it’ll look bad when Rowan says he doesn’t care.