Wither Ch13

Last time on proof the world sucks, Rhine wakes up after trying to escape to hear evil mad scientist monologue at her while she emos about how because she tried to escape exactly once with no plan at the worst time and failed, she’ll never be able to escape.

While evil mad scientist may get that she ran, the rapist himself isn’t that bright. Or maybe he does know and he just isn’t making a big deal of it.

Jenna, as usual, was good and lied that Rhine was totally in the garden already and that window must have suffered an unrelated accident. She does want to know what the hell Rhine was doing.

“I don’t know,” I say. “Whatever it was, I failed.”
She looks like she wants to hug me

Jenna continues to be the more interesting choice for a protagonist. Why don’t we ever get nice protagonists? One of the reasons I started watching anime was how much more polite people were in comparison to the average American show, where it’s protagonist dickery and the dicks and doormats who surround them.

Also, she explains that the whole of the kitchen staff also lied about her being outside, because Rhine is sue.

and that you were trying to get back inside when you heard the alarm

So basically, their story is that Rhine is just so stupid that despite being close enough people inside the house could see her, she walked the wrong way.

On the other hand Rhine’s been there for months and all she’s accomplished is walking in circles, so she does have a supernaturally shitty sense of direction.

Then Rhine remembers love interest #2

His blue eyes stabbing through the frenzy. His arms opening up. I remember crashing into him. I remember feeling safe

That’s because you’re trapped in a shitty romance novel where you’re entirely dependent on men.

“Half the house went after you,” she says. “Even Governor Linden. He took a few hits from some flying branches.”
Linden. Bruised and sleeping at my side. There’s a little blood dribbling from the corner of his lips. I brush it away with my finger.

Yeah, he’s somehow still bleeding so we can all marvel about how much the rapist cares for his property.

Anyway, she was a mess when she came back and Cecily was upset.

it took three attendants to drag her up to her room. The Housemaster told her she was going to miscarry if she didn’t quiet down. But she’s fine, of course. You know how she gets.”

Jenna is a better person than most of the characters, but as you can see, even she’s awful toward Cecily. It still pales before everyone else, though. A thirteen year old is upset someone’s hurt? All that matters is the fetus and that the sound is bothering the real people.

Oh, also this whole conversation is going on while the rapist is “asleep” next to her.

Linden mumbles in his sleep, startling me. He nuzzles his face against my shoulder

It’s fine though, he’s breathing deeply and that’s totally impossible to fake, so he’s definitely asleep and hasn’t heard a word anyone said.

Jenna adds she doesn’t know what’s up with Gabriel either, but evil mad scientist has noticed so be careful.

And suddenly all I can think of is the fear that makes Gabriel go rigid when Vaughn is nearby. Is it because he’s been threatened?

Well, you go rigid with fear at the guy talking about fruit. The more likely explanation is that he’s scared of the guy the same way you just decided to be: irrationally on sight.

I think of what Vaughn said about casting her back into the water. I think about her sisters being shot in that van, and tears are filling my eyes and I can’t stop myself from sobbing

This is an interesting flash from the other version of this book that doesn’t suck. I assume it exists in another, better universe.

In that one, Rhine consistently cares about others, and not just when it’s a way to tell the reader evil mad scientist is evil.

I can’t say more than that, because Housemaster Vaughn might overhear. He already knows everything. He’s already everywhere, this awful man who controls us all.

But that is not this book.

I’m starting to think he’s my real captor, and that this man sleeping beside me is as much a prisoner as his own brides.

If by starting you mean you spent the entire book so far insisting that was true despite having no evidence, then sure.

You know, this is all very…what’s a nice word, how about intriguing. Yes. Intriguing in the context of the author’s own comments on the matter about it being something where it’s up to the reader.

I wore YA IS NOT SUBTLE into something of a mantra by the end of the Hunger Games. Whether or not this is an actual criticism is debatable – YA books are in theory meant to be for less experienced readers, so a degree of handholding makes sense, and they are in practice often read fast. And writing is about communication, so ultimately what’s important is if you got what you meant across to your intended audience.

But the point is, YA tends to rely on telling people what the right interpretation is. It doesn’t lay out the facts of the matter for a reader to decide. If there’s meant to be ambiguity, it’s marked off with highlighter: LOOK THE CHARACTER IS UNSURE, THIS IS A MORAL DILEMNA AND IS THERE REALLY ANY RIGHT ANSWER????????

And that’s not the same thing as leaving things up to the reader. That’s still imposing your own morality on things, you’re just including space for where you think the big questions are that don’t have real answers.

In the case of Wither, the author has made this space for the premise. She is asking the reader, and in the process proclaiming this to be a deep and hard to answer question, if what’s going on is really rape or really wrong. She is stacking up what she clearly views as reasonable justifications, and when you see what her idea of that is, and where she thinks the line gets fuzzy and you just can’t tell any more, you do, in fact, have a good idea of what her morals are, and what she’s saying to everyone else about right and wrong.

To put it more shortly, if you write a story where a girl wears a skirt and gets raped, you may have just written a story. If you write a story where the crux of it is “well, did she deserve it for the skirt?” you may not be saying you’re sure she deserved it. But you’re saying you think it’s possible. You’re saying that, if you were on a jury, you wouldn’t be able to say it was clearly rape, not beyond the shadow of a doubt, that the question of what she was wearing muddies the whole thing and you can’t really convict anyone of doing something wrong. Not if she was wearing a skirt.

When Rhine wakes up again, Cecily’s there. The rapist is still asleep.

Cecily has brought her lilies because she remembered Rhine’s story of her house. She wants to know if Rhine’s okay.

“You’re running a slight fever,” she says. She’s a little girl playing mother. Playing house. And maybe it’s all the painkillers in my system, but I just adore her.

Note the qualifiers here. Cecily is “playing” at this, not sincerely concerned. This passage is particularly disturbing because she’s about to be a mother (indeed, Rhine mentions she doesn’t look well, nothing but thin limbs and a huge belly). She’s being forced into an adult role, and if anything is making her act like this, it’s more likely her perception that she is an adult and relied on as one rather than that she thinks adult responsibilities are fun. And Rhine finds this adorable but probably only because she’s drugged.

Cecily screamed and cried when she was injured. She’s the only one who thought to try to bring her something to make her feel better, and she specifically sought out something she knew Rhine cared about. Rhine just belittles Cecily’s efforts by saying the dumb kid is amusing because Rhine’s loopy from drugs.

I suspect this is another manifestation of protagonist-centered morality, where Cecily’s motivations or effort isn’t important because Rhine automatically deserves those things for being Rhine. 

They hug, and we’re further told that Cecily’s extremely careful of her injuries.

“I was so scared,” she says. This mansion is her perfect dream house. Nobody is supposed to be hurt. Everything is happy ever after.

And that’s not a stupid way of looking at things.

Cecily isn’t Sansa here. There isn’t any sign she’s unaware of what’s going on or how dangerous things are. She just thinks that’s over with, which makes a lot of sense if you look at it from her viewpoint: She’s in one of the collections of girls who are either picked or die. But she’s picked. Everyone knows what gatherers do to the rejected girls, but everyone also knows the ones who are picked are safe. It’s really understandable that she’d feel like they’d paid their dues. In fact, her overreacting to the fact bad things still happen only really makes sense in this light.

Cecily asks if there’s anything she can do.

…Rhine tells her to start flirting with the rapist again.

I mean, okay.

It’s a nice compliment to Cecily that she is important and he cares about her to say that she can get the rapist’s attention off Rhine. And I can understand that Rhine wouldn’t want a rapist sleeping with her constantly – though really, she doesn’t seem to mind.

It’s just that – well, she’s pretty pregnant, maybe Rhine’s assuming that the rapist won’t do anything more to her until she gives birth? I just can’t imagine a world where you’re bothered by a pedophile hanging out with you so you tell the little kid to distract him and give you some breathing room. But Rhine doesn’t know much about sex, so maybe she thinks it’s all for procreation and Cecily’s safe for now.

I’m pretty sure it’s just no one cares.

Besides, she seizes any opportunity to have Linden’s undivided attention.

Hey, crazy asshole. She obviously doesn’t or else she would have been trying to pry him off you this whole time. Also, way to blame her.

By late morning she has convinced Linden that she’s starved for attention and if he doesn’t help her practice chess, she’s going to cry. He doesn’t want her to cry, because he thinks she’ll miscarry.

I think this is supposed to be “teehee! Linden-chan is such a pushover! The girls take advantage of how much he loves them!”

Except he doesn’t give a fuck about her crying except he thinks it might mess up his baby. Moreover, by implication? Cecily is not allowed to cry. Ever. About anything.

In a broader sense, this is a very old and toxic concept, the idea that women, or in this case thirteen year olds, have power because they can co-opt men’s power. It requires we buy into two assumptions, that men having a monopoly on power is natural, and that men will never just use this monopoly to ignore something a woman wants. The subtrope seen here is the idea girls don’t really cry because they’re upset, it’s just to manipulate you by pretending to be people with feelings.

With the rapist gone, the rapist’s employee shows up and takes my hand in both of his, and the security I feel is exactly like the moment I crashed into his arms.

You mean the thing where you broke half your bones? Yes, that is a good way of thinking about how safe you should feel around the rapist’s employee.

Anyway, turns out he gets her first kiss! Since it’s becoming clearer by the moment that sex and goodness are chained together, I guess at least this means the book understands that the rapist’s employee is better than the rapist. Though that may just be because the rapist is older and already has a true love.

and I put my arms around the back of his neck and I hold on to him. I hold on because you never know in this place when something good will be taken away.

That’s really not an issue of the place generally sucking. It’s an issue of the rapist viewing you as his property. There’s no sign random good things get snatched away. And it’s not going to get taken away by chance or something, it’s going to be that the rapist or his dad do something because of the property thing.

They hear a noise and Gabriel realizes that wow this is stupid and dangerous. They break apart and then once they stop panicking he tells her he brought something – an altas, to be specific. He shows her the rivers of Europe section.

“Rhine is a river,” he says.
Well, it was a river, before everything got destroyed.

My finger trails after Gabriel’s, along the vein of a river that no longer exists. But still I think it’s out there.
I think it has flooded over and freed itself into the ocean, somewhere beyond the pointed flower on the iron gate to freedom.

I once was reading a lot of Oregon-trail type books, I think for school. One of them, Beyond the Divide, was this crushingly depressing story where they’re leaving in the hope of a new life and they leave in this group and everyone’s friends except they’re not, really, as you find out each time something happens and they pull apart instead of together.

The other girl in the group is raped, although no one will talk about it. At one point after that she and the narrator are looking at fossils and she describes the fossil of some dead young animal trapped in stone as “free” and the narrator thinks that’s not the right word to be using. And then the girl commits suicide.

That’s what I think of when I read the idea the river has gotten “free” when the entire area has been blown up and there is no river there. It hasn’t flooded anything. There’s nothing to flood over, the whole world is covered in salt water. There’s something fundamentally unhealthy about this outlook on the world.

The difference is the other book knew this, while this one is presenting it as fine and twisting the facts to talk about it as if it’s still there. It’s admittedly a fitting portrayal for this story, to present as empowering the complete destruction of something and then act as if it was the thing’s own choice, but it’s hardly right.

“I had no idea,” I say. “I didn’t think my name meant anything.”

Let’s try to end on a less depressing note. I liked the idea the name was from rhinestones instead.

Rhinestones can be made of synthetic or naturally occurring materials. That’d give a bit more variety to the natural/unnatural talk than just always being about flowers. And they’re far less durable than the diamonds they imitate. Since apparently candy corn and Halloween no longer exist, you can even keep her not knowing what her name means – though I’m surprised in both cases she never just asked her parents.

Rhine. The river that, somewhere out there, has broken free

Or not. If this was a better written book this would be foreshadowing her deciding freedom meant jumping off the roof and letting gravity break her apart like the bombs broke apart her namesake.


  1. Niesse says:
    How far along is Cecily by this stage? I’m beginning to think it might be for the best if she miscarries.

    Actually I have been thinking this for some time.

    1. Veracs says:
       Sounds like it’s time to break out the prison hooch Jenna’s been fermenting inside her radiator and have a drunken belly-punching contest.
      1. Niesse says:
        By the logic the world apparently now works on, they just need to make her cry a bit.
    2. actonthat says:
      I was hoping she’d miscarry too, but considering the way the women are basically just baby incubators, if it seemed like she wasn’t capable of carrying to full term they’d probably just kill her.
      1. Farla says:
        I was about to argue that this doesn’t make sense, because there’s many reasons for miscarrying and miscarrying once at thirteen doesn’t mean you’ll keep miscarrying…

        But then I remembered this is a world where you kill the majority of the girls, so they probably kill at the drop of a hat.

    3. Farla says:
      Well, considering her stomach’s at the bulgy stage, she sounds relatively far along…but considering she can’t be more than five or so months, the fact she’s bulging means the kid is proportionally way too big.

      The only problem is if she doesn’t miscarry cleanly, they’ll probably try to keep it alive even if it kills her.

  2. starling-night says:
    Honestly, I just want to call her ‘Nose’.

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