The first thing we learn in this chapter is that, unlike me, Stiefvater really likes cars. She liked to talk about how different people drive different cars and what that says about them, except she often says it in a way that only people who also like cars understand. So here I am, reading a paragraph about the Gray Man strongly disliking a rental car because it doesn’t drive fast and also it keeps trying to bite him…?
I have an image in my head of Lightning McQueen going “kerchow” and then taking a bite out of the Gray Man in my head, and frankly, I want it gone. Let’s move on from this paragraph with only the understanding that the Gray Man wishes he’d rented a better car.
But, hooray! We move onto something I love! Aggressive suburbia. I don’t mean to always have heart eyes when I talk about cookie-cutter America, because it has a lot of problems, but it also has pizzerias and local diners and tiny public libraries that always carry the sequels and not the first book. It’s so charmingly ineffectual and easy to love. The Gray Man is not as easily swayed, but that’s a character trait I’m willing to forgive since he named his car the Champagne Monstrosity, which is a great name for a car that you love to hate. My very large minivan was called the White Whale, and it never did anything right and I cried when it got scrapped.
I just realized I haven’t said anything about the plot yet, so here we go: the Gray Man is looking for the Graywaren using electronic doodads procured by Colin Greenmantle, and because he hasn’t found anything he stopped for a tuna fish sandwich (tuna fish is the best lunch meat and I’ll fight you on that).
The power goes out while he’s eating and he’s curious, because he has the type of analytical mind that Barrington Whelk did not have. He’s like, hmm. I wonder what that could mean? And then the tuna fish lady tells him it means nothing, that the power goes out and comes back on all the time, but the Gray Man doesn’t believe her! Good sleuthing, Gray Man.
The tuna fish lady is very talkative, so we learn about how the Aglionby Boys shoot off probably illegal fireworks on the Fourth of July (which the Gray Man has to pull up a “mental calendar” to figure out… okay sir) and how she hates one boy in particular. You know, the one who drives a white Mistubishi and spends 95% of his time taking pills and harassing the very magical being the Gray Man is looking for. But the Gray Man doesn’t know that, so he finishes his tuna fish, keeps driving, and gets a very important call.
The phone rang only twice. Missed call. His brother had never intended for him to pick up; he merely wanted this: the Gray Man stopping the car, wondering if he was supposed to return the call. Wondering if his brother was going to call back. Untangling the wired threads in his gut.
Now, I don’t remember this next part, and I’ve read this book probably upwards of five times. In fact, the post-it note I placed last night in my overview chapter says, quote, “I don’t remember this part but it’s eerie and I do not like it.” Strap in, kids, it’s gonna get weird.
The electronic doodads are going crazy over something, and upon investigation we discover it’s because of this field of dead plants, at the center of which is a rose “growing itself to death.” Here’s the thing: I’ve been reading this same passage for like ten minutes, and I read it a bunch of times last night, and I can’t for the life of me picture what this is supposed to look like.
Above an ordinary green trunk, dozens of twisted shoots clawed from the old canes, contorting tightly around one another. Each mutated cane was tinged the florid red of new growth; it looked eerily as if blood ran through them. The new shoots bristled with malevolent red spines.
The ultimate result of this furious growth was apparent in the blackened knot of branches above. Dead. The rose was growing itself to death.
Do with that what you will.
He opens up a well, which is located behind the creepy death rose, and his electric doodads go absolutely insane and then fully quiet. It’s a pickle, but one that the Grey Man intends to solve. He heads back to the Champagne Monstrosity and gets the hell out of dodge.
Thoughts and Feelings:
I really do appreciate the Gray Man. He’s doing the sleuthing for me and letting me add my own information, whereas when it was Whelk I felt like I was doing all the detective work and he was just thinking about guacamole. I know he’s an assassin who’s hunting our favorite snake (who happens to be named Ronan Lynch and takes the shape of a cute Irish boy), but, I don’t know. We’ve all made some weird career choices. I know people I like very much who have jobs with Wall Street banking companies, and even though killing people isn’t the same thing as being a banker, I’m still finding redeeming qualities in the Gray Man.
Not the least of which is that he reminds me of Blue. I’d like to draw your attention to the adventures of the Gray Man and his tuna fish sandwich, at a restaurant which claims it has the best tuna in town.
The tuna fish was good. It was the only one he’d had since he arrived, however, so he couldn’t say whether it was the best in town.
Just a few pages ago, Blue was talking about the ethics of Nino’s proclamation that they have the best iced tea in town. Now, okay, I know it’s a stretch: a five-foot environmentally conscious teenager and an Old English professor turned hit man are not usually similar people. But if you can call “being skeptical about restaurants saying they have the best type of food or drink” a character trait, then they share at least one character trait.
I’m probably reading into it because I have nothing else to say about this chapter. I don’t know how any of it ties into the large plot because, like I mentioned, I don’t remember it happening. But next chapter, we get to hear from Adam, and I do remember that one. It’s a doozy! I can’t wait.
Best Character Moment:
The Gray Man was impressed with the deep wrongness of it.
Best Turn of Phrase:
Henrietta had considerable charms. The downtown was populated by daintily greasy sandwich shops and aggressively down-home junk shops, swaybacked porches and square columns, all of the buildings tired but tidy as library books. He peered through the car window as he passed by. Locals on chairs on porches peered back.
Action: A pretty good sandwich and a rose with a death wish… call it Fast and Furious 8: tuna fish drift. 5/10
Magic: Magic isn’t always benevolent! Even the most friendly-seeming magic can turn dark at any moment! Woohoo! 8/10
Comic Relief: The Gray Man’s internal monologue is funny, yeah, but without some outside intervention it’s getting a bit stale. 7/10