A Heart That Waits (2005)

     by Gabrina Garza

This fucking book. Finishing it felt like being rescued from a plane wreck in the desert.

 

This book is the author of my Great Disappointment, disappointment so heavy that it must be capitalized for importance. Garza almost does a lot of cool things - in fact, especially at the end of the novel, she suddenly decides to do a boatload of interesting stuff! - but always fails to follow through in favor of the most popular Olympic sport among Phantom sequel authors: worshiping a horrible douchebag of a hero.

 

Garza's dedication is as usual a clue to the sources to come; Erik is personally thanked as if he might be sitting in his Batcave hoping the author remembered his input, but Leroux is only mentioned in passing. Also thanked are some people referred to as the "NDBRs", which Google suggests stands for Normalized Difference Burn Ratio, which allowed me an entertaining few seconds of imagining Garza being cheered on by a team of controlled burn specialists. (More likely, it’s a writing group or messageboard, which is great. Support your fellow writers, y’all!)

 

Prologue

 

It's the first goddamn page and we already have prose like "even in my lightless hell," "such melancholy intertwined" and "a symphony twisted within my dying soul." It's sort of like a polite warning from Garza about what is going to be happening in this book, so you can bail out as a reader if you want to before the maudlin rhapsodizing begins in earnest. There are also some random tense hops here and there that will dash your hopes of this being a technically tight festival of cliched internal monologues.

 

It's definitely also a painful flaw of this book that the binding and margins are terrible - one or both is not cooperating so that every left-hand page disappears into the spine, forcing a reader to either yank on it, risking cracks or loose pages, or forever wonder what the last word of every line might have been. This was a self-published book and thus plagued by the challenge of people who are not layout artists trying to format their own work, so I feel the pain, but this kind of serious problem is what advance copies are for.

 

Unfortunately, the story setup is not a lot better than the technical execution. We will now head down into a spiraling dungeon of sadness from whence I feared I would never escape. It's obvious that Erik, here musing about things like his own tortured angst, definitely never experienced any redemption of any sort at the end of Leroux's novel, because it's now nine years later and he's planning to kidnap Christine when she shows up to sing at the World's Fair in Paris (the Exposition Universelle in 1889, one assumes - one of Garza’s strong points is attention to the historical setting). The plot sounds suspiciously similar to the 1999 Forsyth novel's, sans the move to New York; while I don't think that Garza's book is necessarily based on that one in any way, the general nastiness of its characters is depressingly similar.

 

Oh, and the Phantom had sex with Christine twice back in the day, so of course we can assume that there will be a Phantom-baby later. Because, as we have learned from all other self-published Phantom sequels, it is completely impossible for Erik's super-sperm not to impregnate any lady the first time he has sex with her. (By the way, these books never seem to acknowledge things like fertility cycles or menstruation. Like, what if he kidnapped her while she was menstruating? It’s not like she had time to PLAN.)

 

Chapter 1: Disapproving Eye

 

Tthere are WAY more chapters in this book than it needs and they mostly just serve to break up the text to insert artificial cliffhangers where they really don't belong. The chapter headings sometimes give you a clue as to the chapter's contents, but more often just serve as a gauge for how irritating it was going to be.

 

We have here an Erik who lives with Madeline (not Madeleine, because we're not that French) Giry and Meg, who is now married to a wheelchair-bound scholar named Charles Lowry, who lost his mobility after fighting in the recent war. There are a lot of awesome things happening here - Charles, in particular, is possibly the most interesting character in the novel, and the acknowledgment that the war actually happened is a beautiful gift from heaven after all the versions based on the 2004 film that somehow forgot about it entirely.

 

To my great dismay, however, Charles doesn't actually get to be a compelling character at all. His only functions are to provide a very pale echo of Erik's physical issues (and Garza hardly uses him for this purpose... which I suppose is not the worst choice she could have made, because I would just be sitting here wondering what Erik is whining about so much when there's another dude covered in battle-scars with no use of his legs right there) and to act as tutor for Erik's son Alexandre. He does most of this offscreen, thus dashing my hopes that any of the interesting background he came with was going to be utilized. I desperately (more and more desperately, as the book wore on) wished that Garza had written a book about Meg, Charles and the fallout from the war instead, because it would have been so much more interesting and had so much more potential than the rank, limping plot we were actually stuck with.

 

At the beginning of the book here, Erik has a nine-year-old son already, which is confusing for anyone who has noticed that there must have at some point been a pregnancy involved, but don't worry. We're going to hear way, way too much about Alexandre's origins for the next sixty or so chapters.

 

Chapter 2: Waiting Game

 

Oh, did I mention that the chapters are often a mere two pages long? Sigh.

 

It makes sense that Madame Giry has done all the primary nannying for this kid, because Erik certainly isn't a good choice for the job. Or so you would think, but the family also has a basset hound that Erik adopted at his son's request, because animals that act as shorthand to show Erik's true empathetic goodness are apparently a fucking requirement in all Phantom books ever.

 

At the end of the chapter, a throwaway line reveals that Alexandre recently found "a note from Christine" in Giry's pocket, something that I feel like everyone should be more concerned or at least detailed about, but whatever. I am at this point very intrigued by the kid's desire to know about his mother, whom Erik has refused to ever tell him anything about; it's a reversal of the usual Erik-wants-to-know-about-his-son plot that we see much more frequently.

 

Chapter 3: Alexandre

 

Unfortunately, much as I would like to enjoy Alexandre as a character, I can't. He's not believable as a nine-year-old; his behavior, speech patterns and temper are just smaller versions of his father's, which is of course meant to intentionally paint how similar he is to dear old dad. I can totally get behind him as mentally precocious, since we're following in his genius father's footsteps, but the kid also has a level of emotional maturity that doesn't make any sense (since, if anything, that'd probably be stunted as hell if we're using his father as the template here). He comes off as a twenty-year-old in a nine-year-old body, which is not only annoying but also robs the character of any of the childish innocence and wonder that Garza will attempt to use for him later.

 

The book reveals here that Christine turned up about nine months after the disaster at the opera house and gave the baby to Madame Giry before disappearing again. She is now married to Raoul and has two daughters with him, which caused me to make a note about what a trooper he must have been to wait out a mystery pregnancy like that. (Given what he probably thinks happened to his wife, I appreciate him for being sensitive and not punishing her for it. Thanks for doing the bare minimum for decency, bro.)

 

Alex very much does not come off as being a person to Erik; rather, he's a symbol of his missing mother and the possibility that she might still love Erik despite her long absence. Which is entirely appropriate for Erik's personality, I guess, if we assume that he didn’t learn a goddamn thing the first time around.

 

Oh, and this chapter was only one page long. Tiny, digestible chunks!

 

Chapter 4: Julia

 

We learn here from Erik that, at least in his opinion, Christine is "at fault" for Alexandre and his current situation; it was not a rape that conceived him but consensual sex, which Christine had with Erik twice before she ran away with Raoul. Upon discovering that she was pregnant with Erik's child she threatened to have it aborted in order to be able to marry her sweetheart and ignored all his pleas to the contrary (in fact, he didn't realize she'd actually carried the baby to term until she turned up to drop it off). It's also mentioned that she went on a "sabbatical" to her homeland in Sweden to have the baby so that Raoul would never know, and that she pricked herself with a needle to bleed on her wedding night, which makes sense as innocent Raoul, implied also to be a virgin, wouldn't know the difference.

 

You know, this backstory is supposed to make us hate Christine for being an manipulative asshole, but it doesn’t work. For one thing, Erik’s insistence on parsing the line between rape and consensual sex is seriously impacted by the fact that this is a woman he’s been stalking, terrorizing, and kidnapping; how much of this consent is coerced? How much of Christine consenting to sleep with him was because she feared for her life (or someone else’s, since he hasn’t been shy about threatening and killing other people)? Him arguing that she didn’t say no is not a good look here, especially since we don’t get any of this from Christine’s own perspective. 

 

And the attempt to make Christine seem evil by demonizing her for wanting an abortion (of a child that she may or may not feel was conceived against her will and that she certainly didn’t want to have right now) is pure puritanical bullshit, focusing not on her feelings - what she thinks about suddenly carrying this child, what it’ll do to her career, how it could potentially destroy her desire to be with the person she actually loves, not to mention the probable fear of disability - but on how horrified Erik is that she doesn’t want to give birth to it for his sake. The framing wants to suggest that she’s selfish, wanting to have her cake and eat it, too, sleeping with Erik but throwing his progeny away so she can “trade up” to her rich fiance instead, but that only works if we completely ignore Christine as a person and only care about how Erik feels about the situation. Holy shit.

 

Even if we assume Erik is being accurate - Christine did sleep with him because she wanted to, and then she wanted to get an abortion so she could go marry the man she prefers - that’s… that’s up to her, not you? Like yeah, Erik can be sad that her choice isn’t the one he wants, but the book’s narrative itself would like us to see Christine choosing who she wants to be with and what she wants her life to be like as wrong, because it made this other dude sad. Fuck her and her life, I guess.

 

Basically, this is fucking terrible and it made me ill to read about it.

 

So, yes, the book would like you to know that Christine is a manipulative assface whose career apparently centers solely on tormenting Erik and treating their relationship like dirt. He, the stalker and kidnapper and murderer who terrorized her mercilessly, is the abused party in this relationship.

 

It’s not that you couldn’t do that. It’d be an interesting book that did a thorough retcon of the events of Leroux’s novel, explaining how the way they were perceived or reported was inaccurate. Or, a book that did a ton of in-depth character work to explain how and why the characters’ personalities were actually wildly different from the way they appeared - or became different over time - would be really interest. But this is not that. Erik is an emotionally abused victim who just needs love, and Christine is the evil monster who took advantage of his blind love, it’s always been that way and you never noticed because you drank the Kool-Aid, keep up, y’all.

 

In other news, Erik has a mistress, the next-door neighbor Julia Seuratti, a widow with no explainable reason to want to bang him at all but who nevertheless entertains him for sexytimes once a week or so. Erik doesn't even offer a throwaway explanation - the best we get is an offhand, "oh, well, I don't even remember how that relationship started, but yeah, we're fuckbuddies now." Sigh. For extra bonus points, when he notes that he has a mistress, he adds, "Placée, the French call it." ...are you not French anymore, Erik? Are we not in freaking PARIS? Seriously?

 

More importantly, though, the plaçage system largely referred to the often coerced Native American and kidnapped African women who were forced to become unofficial “wives” - “placée” - in French-owned slaver colonies. That is NOT something you want to invoke when describing your character’s consensual casual sexual relationship with a white woman of equivalent standing - not just because it’s just absolutely not what the word means, but because it hideously minimizes the trauma done to countless non-European women by their oppressors and equates it with just being in comfortable consensual relationships with people who treated them as equals. How the FUCK did this get into this book? I mean, thank god we never hear it again, but we should never have heard about it in the first place.

 

(I… guess maybe this is meant to imply that Julia isn’t white? But let me tell you, that one hundred thousand percent DOES NOT MAKE IT BETTER. Christ.)

 

Erik, by the way, is apparently a totally normal dude when it comes to sex - he has no psychological or physiological problems from either his past or his condition, not even from the recent trauma of his relationship with Christine and definitely not from his lifetime of debasement and existence as a sexually untouchable creature. Nah. In case anyone was worried that he was not still an asshole, there is no hint of concern or sensitivity for Julia herself. She’s here to perform a service for him, pretty much.

 

Chapter 5: Madame Seuratti's Past

 

But hey, he was just kidding about not remembering how their relationship started apparently, because now it's time for flashbacks! Apparently Julia's husband, Louis Seuratti, was a drunken and abusive womanizer, because it is a Romance Novel Law that a heroine who has been previously married must never have had a joyous time in her previous marriage because there can't be any competition with her new relationship's awesomeness. Widows are not allowed to be happy in their previous relationships because then how could their new relationship be their One True Love? They’d be that kind of woman.

 

So anyway, Louis was a drunken, abusive womanizer, so naturally Erik murdered him. Ostensibly this was because he was irritated by the noise of Louis beating Julia always disturbing him while he was trying to compose (yes, always glad to know that domestic violence is only a problem when it inconveniences someone else), but of course it was really his feelings for her, or so he informs us while not in any way demonstrating this. Erik also feels the need during this time to assure us that he loves Julia's mind, not just her body, but since he in no way elaborates on that or gives us any indication that he has any knowledge of what's going on in her mind at all, we must assume he is blowing smoke up our collective asses. It’s just shorthand to tell you he’s not really just using her for sex because that’s only something a Bad Person would do, but like, in a way where we don’t have to actually care about her feelings or thoughts.

 

Also, even in his newer and supposedly more positive relationship, Erik still comes from a questionable position of power: he murdered this woman’s husband, which is a double whammy of her feeling indebted to him and also potentially fearing for her safety if she doesn’t do what he wants. Which is incredibly super shady.

 

Chapter 6: When All is Dark and Quiet

 

The house Erik owns was coincidentally built by Charles Garnier, just like the opera house, because the fact that he historically built no residential houses should not impede this novel's progress. Because it's a Garnier-designed house, it's of course full of secret passages and traps, because clearly Garnier himself was behind that decision? It’s super weird to attribute the many trapdoors and secret passages of the opera house to Garnier rather than to Erik himself; it takes some of his own reputation as the trap-door lover away and places it inexplicably in the hands of an otherwise uninvolved French architect. Why would Garnier bother? I mean, nobody was paying him to add secret passages beneath the building, and theoretically they'd be on the blueprints and therefore not nearly as secret as Erik would like, right? But apparently that's what happened, and Erik happened to discover the opera passages by accident while working there as a handyman. Which Erik even more of a parasitic squatter than he already was in the original story, because he doesn't even have the dubious claim of helping to create the place to justify his presence.

 

But, anyway, that's not going to be Erik's creepiest moment in this chapter, because Garza has preserved Lloyd Webber's creepy Real Doll version of Christine, which Erik has a habit of caressing and hugging in the dark. Oh my god. (If this book would just commit to Erik being FUCKING TERRIFYING a lot of these things wouldn’t be problems, but this is supposed to be our ROMANTIC LEAD. Wherever you are, Christine, I hope you never stopped running, and Julia, get outta town.)

 

Chapter 7: Concerns Without Voices

 

Apparently the Girys are originally from London, despite their violently French name? Your guess is as good as mine.

 

The only interesting part of this chapter, which abounds with Garza's characteristic tendency to navel-gaze for what feels like hours upon hours of excruciating inner monologue, is actually Erik reading the newspaper; Leather Apron (better known to us now as Jack the Ripper) is in the news, meaning that this must be taking place in 1888 (which would put the events of the previous story in approximately 1879). Leather Apron and his shenanigans turn up a few times and I kept hoping he would be a plot point (it was too much to hope for the 2005 Berman short story to come again, but I was constantly reminded of it), but of course he never was. I wonder if Garza was using him as a contrast to Erik intentionally - see, Erik's not so bad compared to Jack the Ripper! - but if so, it wasn't clear enough to have much impact.

 

Chapter 8: Secretly I Love and Mourn

 

It is revealed here that Christine and Raoul had another daughter who was lost to malaria as an infant when the family was in Africa as part of Christine’s performance tour. It's a sad realization and the chapter, which mostly depends on the sending of letters to get information across months behind the events, really helps solidify the nineteenth-century time period better than the book has done so far. Unfortunately for Garza, it just makes me want to read a book about them and their struggles instead of the one I’m actually reading.

 

Since Christine and Giry correspond semi-regularly, Erik always writes to her as well, though he does so in disappearing ink so nobody will see it but her, a nice, clever touch worthy of the Phantom. She does not write back, which you’d think would be a clue, bro.

 

Chapter 9: Unexpected Invitation

 

Apparently Erik only needs a half-face mask (i.e., he has the Lloyd Webber half-face deformity), but he often wears a full-face mask for no apparent reason. It's an attempt to meld the Leroux version with the Lloyd Webber one, but unfortunately it just leaves me confused about why Erik sometimes decides to cover up more of his face with an uncomfortable mask than he needs to.

 

Oddly enough, he also refers to his condition as "scars", which made me sit up and wonder what had happened to him if it wasn't a congenital condition. Since Garza never mentions it again, I have to assume that it was a mistake and she wasn't trying to change his backstory. 

 

As is starting to become distressingly normal in these books, Erik here gives us the by-now-commonplace diatribe on sex workers and how scornful he is of them, calling the idea that he would ever visit one "utterly ludicrous" and referring to them with pejoratives like "common prostitute" and "unrefined tart lurking in shadow". As usual, I'm struck by how incredibly hypocritical and out of character Erik is in this kind of behavior. He's a figure who is below human society, who can't even hope to join them; sex workers are part of the very society he's jealous of, not part of some lower social echelon than himself. The entire point of Erik is that there is no lower social echelon than Erik; for him to look down on anybody else as less than himself is to fundamentally change his personality and set him as part of an elite. This is a dude who suffers because society is shitty to him for no good reason, and I’m supposed to agree with him when his response is to be shitty to other people he thinks are below him the exact same way.

 

Or, as my notes say it much more succinctly: for fuck's sake. Like there isn’t enough whorephobia in the world already.

 

Chapter 10: At an End

 

Erik's not about to get any better here on page 41 when he discusses threatening Julia, who is irritating him when she dares get upset that he's planning on dumping her to recapture Christine:

 

"She was beside herself. I knew how her husband treated her and I didn't care. I hoped she was frightened so much so that she would never dare say such things again. I wanted her to remember each time Louis beat her in the middle of the night. She needed to remember her place. She was a placée, a mistress. She was little more than a body."

 

I just literally can’t even with this dude. (And sorry, y’all, apparently he IS going to bring up the plaçage system again, GREAT.) I don’t even know what to say. It’s exhausting to unpack all the ways this is hideous and disgusting and I don’t care if this dude realizes later that actually he loves her so he shouldn’t be mean to her anymore. (And remember what I said about how this relationship doesn’t seem healthy or fully consensual to me because BOY HOWDY.) This is a man who thinks women are things for him to own and use or abuse however it suits him. This is a man who is pissed off when they ruin his fantasy by being people who think or say (or, god forbid, DO) things he doesn’t like. This is a man who wants them to be terrorized and abused because it stops them from saying no and who only does “good” things in order to get currency for things he later wants. This is a man who thinks domestic violence is a good fucking thing because it stops women from resisting him.

 

Fuck this man. I don’t want to read a book about him. I don’t give a single shit if he figures out maybe he shouldn’t have done that later. I don’t want to watch him keep abusing people while the narrative talks about how he’s in so much pain and we should root for him to become a better person while not caring about the people he hurts. And I especially don’t want to read a ROMANCE where this man is the HERO, and don’t kid yourselves, friends, this is a romance and Erik and Julia are its hero and heroine, and everything else is window dressing.

 

Even if I wanted to suffer through this fucker abusing the living shit out of people until he’s RedeemedTM and we all learn a very important lesson about compassion, the book isn’t going to give me that. Garza will not do any kind of psychological work or present any interesting developments to change these peoples' outlooks or personalities to make them work as a love match. She'll just occasionally inject things into their internal monologues to let us know how sorry they are when they do boneheaded things, so obviously they're better people now and we aren’t allowed to think badly of them. She will not give us any good reason that Julia shouldn't stab Erik in his sleep with a kitchen knife (or why Christine didn’t, come to that).

 

And that's the greatest, most miserable thing about this novel: Erik is a romantic hero. Garza has done one thing I usually like - acknowledging Erik's psychological problems and rampant unacceptable misbehavior - but paired it with something that absolutely does not go along with it - Erik as a loving dude who is just misunderstood and everyone who doesn't pity and love him is being a jerk who doesn't appreciate his pain. It is the worst possible combination of elements for what she is trying to do.

 

At the end of this chapter, after bullying and terrifying Julia into agreeing to have sex with him (so, you know, I wasn’t exaggerating in my worries about Christine because Erik actually genuinely is a coercive rapist), Erik finally realizes that maybe that wasn’t cool of him and decides to break up with her. But he does all of this in his internal monologue, so unfortunately for Julia he just up and leaves after scaring the living daylights out of her, and of course he will never apologize for this reprehensible behavior. Again, Julia doesn’t fucking matter, apparently, so just Erik’s feelings about how he has manpain over how he just threatened, terrorized, and raped his girlfriend whom he repeatedly refers to in his inner monologue as a slave and/or thing and that’s all we get to read about, folks.

 

I want out. We're not even in triple-digit pages yet and I so, so, so want out.

 

Chapter 11: Her Face, Memorized

 

Oh, good, he's grown accustomed to her face. You know you're in trouble when Rex Harrison's Higgins is suddenly looking like the lesser asshole.

 

Instead of apologizing, Erik just shoves Julia out of the way and then practically runs her over in his haste to escape the house. Not a word out of him.

 

I know you’re terrified and confused, Julia, but this is your moment. I want you to get on a carriage and flee the country. Swim if you have to.

 

Chapter 12: Empty Letter

 

Well, what do you know, Christine finally writes back in order to tell Erik that she doesn't want to see him when she's in town. What a shocker! We should probably all be mortified and surprised and miserable about it for a chapter or two. (Miserable, certainly, since that’s all Erik is going to be doing and I’m trapped reading about him.)

 

Continuing his greatest hits of compassion parade, Erik recounts the only time Alexandre ever asked about his mask; when he was a toddler, he asked and reached for it, and Erik shoved him out of his lap, dropped him on the floor and left without a word. When Alex was three. Father of the fucking year here, everybody.

 

Chapter 13: Onanism and the Morning Paper

 

I would have forgiven everything if this chapter had just been one page of Erik masturbating over the morning paper. It'd have been hilarious. Alas, it was not to be.

 

Hey, Mark Twain's having lunch with Christine! Cool! Shut up, Erik, I'd rather have lunch with him than you, too. She’s living her best fucking life over there.

 

Instead of hilarious masturbation time, we get violent rage time, when Erik sees the photograph of Christine and Raoul together on the front page of the paper and enters a scarlet fugue-state of anger. Of course, he immediately resolves to murder him, because apparently that whole decision to spare him for Christine's sake was incredibly temporary. Along with his realization that he should let her go be happy instead of continuing to torture her, which we already knew because he’s just planning to kidnap her again like we’ve fallen into a time warp from ten years ago.

 

As usual, Erik's treatment of Christine is textbook objectification. He's not even mentally acknowledging her as a person, just as an object that he is determined to own. From viewing Raoul as having a "thief's grin" to statements like "Mine. She belonged to me," and "He would not have her much longer", he obviously views her as a thing in contention instead of a person who might have an opinion on what she wants to do. There's no consideration of her feelings or wants; there's no acknowledgment that she even has any. Which honestly isn’t any fucking surprise after the way he’s always treated her and Julia, too. SERIOUSLY, I REALLY HATE THIS GUY. CAN I HAVE LEROUX'S ERIK BACK, PLEASE? AT LEAST HE FIGURED OUT THAT OTHER PEOPLE HAVE FEELINGS BY THE END OF HIS STORY.

 

It's interesting that apparently Erik's perceived ownership of the opera house has since extended to all of Paris, since he's now ranting about how Raoul dares come to his city and invade his territory.

 

This book is giving me a legitimate migraine. I am going to have to drown myself in frozen Cool Whip to survive this monstrosity. Erik's obviously characterized as an evil piece of shit, but at the same time he's being constantly fellated by the author for being awesome, despite the fact that so far I have not seen him do a single selfless thing and all his "aweseomeness" appears to be predicated on the fact that he's had a hard life. I can't figure out what's supposed to be happening emotionally in this book; I'm trapped in the point of view of a nasty person that I don't like, but not in an interesting way, while the author keeps trying to tell me that things will get better.

 

Chapter 14: The Parlor Incident

 

Things do not get better.

 

Pages 53 and 54 are a magnificent soup of bitterness, jealousy and entitlement. Erik raves that Raoul doesn't love Christine like he does in his notes (of course he has no idea how Raoul loves Christine and doesn’t really care to find out), that he has never loved her like he does (because, of course, nobody could love with the same desperate passion Erik does), that Raoul is "ungrateful" because he was born privileged and deserves "pain" and "hate" because of it, and that he doesn't "deserve" Christine because he didn't suffer for her. Right. Because being stalked, threatened, terrified and nearly killed in his attempts to liberate her probably didn't entail any suffering.

 

It's just another moment in which Christine is reduced to a trophy the two men are competing for, and in which Erik is allowed to stew in his own bitterness, because apparently somehow having a shitty life entitles you to whatever you want, and having a good start in life means you're a shithead who deserves to be hurt. I can't imagine why I'm having such a hard time not wanting to kill this character with a nailgun.

 

Oh, and he works himself up so thoroughly that he goes into a round of frenziedly stabbing Raoul's picture in the newspaper with a letter opener while screaming and cutting himself, which his nine-year-old son walks in on. His belated realization that Alexandre might actually be afraid of him (what? afraid of his shrieking bleeding murderous father who threw him on the floor in childhood, won't talk to him and is stabbing inanimate objects? say it ain't so) is presented with vague regret but mostly bewilderment.

 

In a weird aside, Erik also decides to note here that Meg is pretty hot and she totally does whatever he tells her to, but he'd feel dirty taking advantage of that because of the elder Giry. (Not because Meg herself might not be interested in him or in cheating on her husband. Not even because of her wheelchair-bound husband, who again you’d think would be involved in this whole “if you have it hard people have to let you have what you want” shitty moral we’ve got here. Because other men have no right to bar him from whatever attractive lady he decides to set his sights on. I hope all the women in this book collectively drown Erik in the Seine.)

 

Chapter 15: Gift from a Father

 

I'm so tired of Erik's continual ranting about how much he wants to kill Raoul. "I should have done it years ago!" - then why DIDN'T you, Erik?! Seriously. Please tell me, because clearly it wasn't because you achieved redemption by finally understanding and accepting love and consideration. Did you just fumble or something?

 

We also get a little more backstory for Erik here, which is standard stock oh-pity-my-hard-life stuff, with an abusive father and a silent, sorrowful mother who never stood up for him. I can't concentrate on any manufactured feelings because Erik is LITERALLY THAT GUY NOW AND NO ONE THINKS THAT’S A PROBLEM INCLUDING THE AUTHOR.

 

Heart-wrenchingly, Alexandre vows to his father that he'll hate Raoul if Erik does, still trying to please and reach a desperately insensitive and inconsiderate father figure in the only way he knows how in this situation. It's a powerful idea that I appreciated, though Garza insists on spelling it out for us too much (which is kind of a hallmark of her style, really... she is not interested in reader-author trust).

 

Also, Alexandre claims he will hate Raoul because he's the one who "took her" away from them. Good fuck, Erik, what have you been telling this kid? If he thinks his mom was kidnapped and is kept away from the two of you, no wonder he keeps defying your orders to try to sneak off and see her. Nice way to blame Raoul for the crime you are literally guilty of and, need I remind you, is the REASON Christine doesn’t want anything to do with your horrific skeletal ass.

 

GOD.

 

Chapter 16: Everything Left Unsaid

 

Sadly, the title of this chapter is ironic because nothing is ever left unsaid in Erik's grindingly monotonous internal monologues, even when it should be.

 

The entire sum of action in this chapter is Alexandre asking Erik if he loves him, and Erik saying nothing and standing there in silence. Still gunning for that Worst Father Ever Recorded award, I see. Why is anyone letting this guy near any children? Where is Ye Olde Child Protective Services? I am legitimately so upset for every single person who has to deal with this living embodiment of the worst of humanity.

 

Chapter 17: Disgrace and Disappointment

 

Nothing happens here except for Alexandre being emotionally devastated. I’m sorry, little buddy. You absolutely got the short end of the stick in life here.

 

Chapter 18: Longing

 

Holy SHIT. Is there any chance Erik is ever going to stop being repugnant to poor Julia? Because if not, I will seriously start breaking things over here when their "happy ending" inevitably occurs at the end of the book.

 

In this chapter, he literally breaks down her door and chases her through her house when she refuses to let him in (she begs him to leave, but she "invited him over" by leaving her lights on so clearly she has no room to complain that he's here and that is his ACTUAL JUSTIFICATION), knocks her down, and then when she slaps him in self-defense pins her to the wall. THEN, while she's traumatized and freaking out and begging him not to make any more noise lest he wake her toddler daughter upstairs, he starts petting her and thinking about how much he'd like to have sex with her on the table. "She was a goddess with her hazel eyes glistened in the moonlight." THEY'RE GLISTENING BECAUSE SHE'S CRYING BECAUSE YOU BROKE INTO HER HOUSE, ASSAULTED HER, AND ARE THREATENING TO RAPE HER AND SHE’S AFRAID FOR NOT ONLY HER SAFETY BUT THAT OF HER DAUGHTER AND I WANT YOU DEAD IMMEDIATELY.

 

Oh, but guys, it's okay, because he sanctimoniously informs us that "I'd never hit a woman," which declaration I would like him to promptly shove up his ass. You're not going to punch her like her husband used to do? Great. That doesn't make all your other physical, emotional, and psychological violence against her okay. It certainly does not make you some kind of fucking good guy here, as if anything you do is permissible because it'll never be as bad as hitting her. You literally just assaulted her. You broke into her home. You threatened her and her child. You think it’s a good thing that her husband assaulted her because now you don’t have to hit her because she came pre-broken for your convenience. Sweet fucking Christ.

 

Every scene between them that doesn't end in Julia bisecting his face with a pizza roller makes me die inside a little more.

 

Chapter 19: A Stranger Inside and Out

 

It turns out here that Erik's Plan A for getting Christine to stay with him is to tell her that she has to or he'll never let her see her son. Awesome; I was just thinking that there wasn't enough emotional blackmail going on with him yet. I'm not too worried about how he actually thinks that will somehow lead to happiness and domestic bliss (because forcing her to stay with him with threats worked SO WELL last time, right?) because he is fucking irrational, but I am wondering why he thinks that this is a foolproof plan when we're talking about a son she threatened to abort and then handed off to an acquaintance at birth and has never visited or asked about. I mean, sure, maybe she’ll develop a maternal instinct when she sees the kid, but what about her daughters with Raoul (not to mention Raoul himself)? She has a family that she loves and chose for herself. Why do you think she’ll ditch them without a problem in favor of the child she doesn’t know?

 

Giry, at least, has her head screwed on straight for the moment, because she delivers a satisfying verbal beatdown to Erik the next time he tries to poor-me his way through a defense of his actions. As she points out, he's had plenty of chances to make something new out of his life and make different choices; Alexandre hasn't had any of those, and intentionally keeping him from making any choices now - like, say, the fact that he desperately wants to know his mother and always has - is monumentally selfish. Not that this will stop him, of course.

 

Chapter 20: Disappearance of Son and Sanity

 

In fact, he'll get all snitty about it now and say a lot of things like "her insolence would not be tolerated". Excuse me? Her insolence? This is a woman who is older than you, who took you in when you were a bedraggled child no one else would touch (we’ve got that 2004 movie backstory going here), who mothered you her entire life and who still takes care of your obnoxious, abusive ass in adulthood when it would probably be a lot less stressful for her to just live with her daughter and son-in-law. And you want to act like she's somehow beneath you in some way? You get your maladaptive ass on the floor and you start begging forgiveness, pal, because that's pretty much all the boo you get to say to her, especially since she's totally right about that asscrack you have masquerading as a head right now.

 

Alexandre goes missing in this chapter (one assumes because of Erik's previous bout of refusing to admit to loving him, which would certainly upset most children), prompting Erik to immediately assume that Christine must have stolen him, leading to a large amount of general panic and flailing in the household. In fine form, Erik switches gears halfway through his freaking out from "oh god Christine is taking my son away and I'll never see him again" to "Alexandre can't have Christine, she's mine". Somehow even this situation is about his jealousy and desire for Christine, and both she and their child are just objects that belong to him and that aren’t allowed to do things without his permission. Lovely.

 

At any rate, he decides to go to Christine's hotel room to demand the return of his son, and on the way out decides he needs to hide his head extra well because the "bone-white of leather" draws too much attention when it's dark. So... have you, genius Erik, ever considered masks that are, you know, LEATHER-COLORED? Or maybe SCARVES OR SOMETHING?

 

On the way out, he also muses about Leather Apron at random again, thus reminding me of both his similarity to a misogynist serial-killer and how much I'd rather be back in the Berman story than slogging through this mess.

 

When Erik nears the hotel, lo and behold, who should he espy returning home after a night on the town but Raoul, hanging out with a friend of his and obviously a little bit tipsy. Raoul has a generally unremarkable conversation in which he sounds pretty reasonable and inoffensive, with no hint of nastiness despite being drunk. Clearly, for this he must be put to death, of course.

 

Chapter 21: A Terrible Mistake

 

Hey, Christine's blonde! A point for Leroux after all!

 

Erik's busily deciding that Raoul clearly must be a drunk or a philanderer or an abuser, all of which is pretty well-done if the goal is to show him as a predator working hard to rationalize his behavior. Also obviously rationalized (but well-done on Garza's part, as it sounds like something this jackass would assume) is the idea that Christine will obviously be grateful to see him and that everything will be fine if he just busts on in there.

 

Unfortunately for Erik, Christine is of course not at all glad to see him, and furthermore she claims she never got any of the letters he sent her or wrote back. These are the most important features of the conversation for an incensed Erik for a while, but the more cogent point is this: that she never intended to give Alexandre to him, and in fact would not have left the baby with the Girys had she known he was living with them. 

 

This is super understandable. He’s a terrifying person who once terrorized and dominated her entire life and would not be good fathering material; of COURSE she didn’t want to leave her child, or probably any other child, in his power. (It’s neat that since Christine didn’t know Erik was even there, that means she gave birth to the child and did her best, even though she didn’t want to keep him, to give him a loving home with friends she trusted, which definitely doesn’t jibe with the book’s snide tone that she was wrong to “abandon” her child with the Phantom.) 

 

But it's still a terrible blow to a man who has spent almost a decade constructing an obsessive fantasy in which Christine still loves him and gave him their son to prove it, and that’s pretty well-done. It's one of the few moments in the novel that I really felt for Erik; horrible bastard or not, he's spent years lying to himself to cling to the vain hope that she loves him (which, of course, she never did, which everyone else knows), and it has to be shocking to have the truth so suddenly dropped in his lap that he can’t rationalize or avoid it. She rounds the destruction of his ego out by point-blank confirming that she only slept with him out of pity, not because she loved him, which motivates him to immediately move on to hating her (or so he says, but methinks the Phantom protests too much). (I have questions about “slept with him out of pity” when she was being kidnapped and terrorized all the time; honestly, it reads like Christine trying to find a way to deal with her trauma by convincing herself she did this on purpose instead of feeling she had no choice, although I doubt Garza intended it that way.)

 

This is all, of course, very obviously meant to give this previous relationship closure so we can move on to a budding romance with Julia (RUN JULIA RUN), but at least the other characters finally forced Erik to confront what has been blindingly obvious to everyone else since before the end of the last novel.

 

Chapter 22: Shattered Inside and Out

 

Following this, Raoul arrives, throws Erik out of the hotel suite where his wife and daughters are, and proceeds to beat the daylights out of him with his friends, which it is difficult to blame him for, circumstances being what they are. Erik is knocked unconscious and frankly, despite his later whinging about how evil and reprehensible and heartless attacking him was, it looks a lot to me like a case of a man defending his family (from someone he knows stalked, harassed, and assaulted his wife and nearly killed him, so like, I too would have zero time for him being near her or my children) and then charitably not turning in the known murderer to the local authorities.

 

Of course, Julia turns up to rescue him from the alley and drag him back to her house to be nursed back to health. Seriously, I do not understand why she keeps arriving to save him. He's been extremely, brutally clear that he considers her a sex object, not a love interest, and he's an abusive asshole to her to boot. But there she is, dithering away. Sigh.

 

Chapter 23: My Former Placée's Home

 

WHY CAN’T YOU STOP USING THAT WORD, OH MY GOD.

 

Conveniently, it turns out that Julia was a volunteer nurse in the war (hey! the war! That’s right!), so she's fully capable of stitching, setting, and medicating without pesky things like hospitals having to get involved.

 

Even now, swollen all to hell and severely immobilized, Erik’s only conscious thoughts are to drag his carcass back to Christine and ask her again if she's really happy (because she might not be! she might want to come live with him instead!). It’s actually a pretty good portrait of someone trying to hold onto an obsession that is falling apart, and a good characterization moment.

 

Not for long, though, because he uses the remaining time in this chapter to move back on to victim-blaming, starting with a rousing chorus of how he gave Christine so much and spent so much time and energy on her and how COULD she do this to him. Because, as we all know, if you give a lady presents and spend time with her, she is contractually obligated to love and sex you no matter what her feelings are on the situation. (I mean, I guess we can say that’s also pretty consistent characterization for Erik, but Garza doesn’t WANT us to hate him so much we wish he was being deconstituted by a thresher so it’s actually just more exhaustion.)

 

Chapter 24: No Longer a Mystery

 

Considering that Garza's Raoul has shown absolutely no inclination toward being dangerous or violent toward anyone but the abuser who severely traumatized him and his wife in the past, I must gratefully assume that Erik's assumption that he might now go after and punish Christine is just more of the bullshit Erik spends all his time spouting. Erik being a guy who considers the beating of women the best way to “keep them in their place”, I’m not surprised he defaults to thinking that must be what all men do when upset. And considering that Erik intentionally tried to make that happen by outing Christine as having slept with him before Raoul knocked him out, I'm not sure how the idea that if Raoul WERE violent about it he's at least partially responsible if Christine or her children end up hurt is so fucking lost on him. It's not until Julia points this out at the end of the chapter that he realizes that that might have been slightly the action of a huge tool. Well, it's Christine's own fault because she lied. THANKS, YOU NEVER STOP BEING THE WORST.

 

Erik has the expected hissy fit when Julia removes his mask to doctor his face, leaving me to facepalm at him. Dude, Julia is a wartime nurse. Your described affliction - bumps, visible veins, sagging flesh - is no picnic, but I can almost guarantee you that she's seen a lot worse. For the love of god, stop moping over your face to someone who has seen people missing most of theirs.

 

I sigh a whole fucking lot in this book.

 

Chapter 25: Arrangement

 

I'm tired of Erik. I'm tired of listening to him whine about how Raoul clearly tried to kill him but failed because he is a weak little boy, I'm tired of listening to him venomously declare how much Raoul and Christine deserve each other because they're both terrible people, and I'm tired in general of his total sociopathic inability to conceive of anyone who upsets or opposes him as anything but Evil.

 

And since he's in close proximity to Julia, we get to go back to Domestic Abuse Theatre, wherein first he accuses her of intentionally setting the whole situation up just to get a chance to unmask him, and then moves on to calling her a whore - except even worse, because he never had to pay her. Then he shouts that he never cared about her at all and generally finds as many ways to make an ass of himself as possible.

 

Oh, and I'm not just pissed off at this total jackhole I'm supposed to support as the hero - I'm getting progressively less fond of Garza as we go along, too. She keeps using Julia as a mouthpiece to explain why domestic violence is totally okay when it’s Erik who does it (but not anyone else), from this poor woman who has been terrorized and beaten most of her adult life. I'm totally unconvinced by her "I'd be so mad at you if you weren't in so much pain!" speech, because it’s just fucking excuse-making, and for once, Julia is NOT in a position where Erik has power over her and she has to be afraid of him. She didn’t have to rescue him, she doesn’t have to give him medical care, and at any point here she could have walked out.

 

To be clear, this isn’t Julia’s fault. She’s a character who has been severely abused; escaping an abusive intimate partner is hard, often impossible, and when she’s a lone single woman with little to no income besides her inheritance from her husband and has a toddler daughter to take care of, she doesn’t have a lot of options. It’s not her fault and if this book were about how what’s happening isn’t okay but she doesn’t know what to do about it, that would be fine. But instead, it’s about how this is a Destined Romance, and Garza is just making excuses for why it’s okay for Erik to repeatedly hurt Julia because she’s Healing Him with Love and, again, only he actually matters here.

 

Julia does have a very good line at the end of Erik's tirade, though, when he finally realizes he's been roundly abusing the person in charge of his pain medication and tries to be contrite by telling her that he'll regret what he said forever. She says, "Because it's only about how you feel in the end, isn't it, Erik?", which hits his behavior smack on the head: he didn't apologize because he doesn't really feel bad for hurting her. He's just upset that he's gone and upset himself and that he might have to suffer consequences for it.

 

And she does at least give his declaration of love for her (are you fucking kidding me?) as she's heading out the door the hearty fuck-you it deserves. Just keep walking, Julia. It’s killing me that the author isn’t going to let you escape this book.

 

Chapter 26: The Visitor in the Guest Room

 

One of the things Garza does here that I really do like is forcing Erik to share the room with Julia's deceased husband - that is, with the near-life-size portrait of Louis that hangs on the opposite wall. It's like having a perfect mirror of assholishness for him to look into all day while he's bedridden. A bedroom full of assholes. An assroom, if you will.

 

It's great that, whenever left to his own devices for a few hours, Erik usually manages to internal monologue his way to the understanding that he is a huge jackass. Unfortunately, he then keeps doing it, always. Forever. In fact, he's doing it again right now, by choosing to move on from that unsettling realization to whine some more about how this is all Christine's fault.

 

Here’s a fun fact, authors and everyone else: if your character realizes they’ve been wrong, they have to act on that fact to become better. They have to try to not do wrong anymore and address the consequences of the initial wrong. If they just say “that was wrong of me” but then continue doing the wrong thing, they’re just assholes who know they’re assholes.

 

Chapter 27: The Elephant in the Room

 

Great. Another monologue about how women are "irritating creatures, each and every one of them in their own magnificently deceptive ways." And he wonders why his love life is so fucking crummy. The irony of the master manipulator who ran Christine's life for years in a colossal attempt to maneuver her into being his wife complaining about how deceptive women are is like hotsauce on the already unbearable burning of this garbage burrito of a story.

 

Erik continues to be a whining pain in the ass over Julia not letting him try to drag his mask over his swollen, injured face; the idea of the mask as equivalent to masculinity/virility is clearer here than earlier, but unfortunately it's over-explained in Erik's overdramatic internal monologue. Surely if he's self-aware enough to realize that he just wants the thing as a security blanket, he could also stop being such an almighty poophead about it.

 

Delightfully, Julia here begins blaming Christine for Erik's current state as well. Because why shouldn't everyone get in on that party? Don’t do this to me, Julia.

 

Erik realizes here that his feelings for Julia are completely different from his feelings for Christine and that he is totally legitimately in love with her. Considering that his internal stream of consciousness is a neverending fanfare of unreliable douchebaggery, however, I'm afraid Garza's going to have to do a lot more work than that to convince me that he's right. Unfortunately, she really won't bother.

 

Chapter 28: Confessions

 

Julia here confesses that she knew that it was Erik who had killed her husband; in fact, she heard him break in, fled to the basement with her baby daughter and crouched there all night in terror, afraid that he was going to come kill them as well. Holy SHIT, that's a terrifying situation regardless of whether or not she wanted to escape her abusive spouse! And we don’t get a lot of introspection about her marriage, so whether or not she had mixed feelings about her husband’s murder in spite of the pain he inflicted on her is never addressed. Because, say it with me, we don’t care about Julia and her job is to be a magical vagina to heal Erik’s pain. 

 

But, of course, Erik's music that she heard from his window was just so beautiful that she decided to start sleeping with him later anyway, and see, he's proven that he would never hurt her or her daughter, because see, he didn't when she gave him all these magnificent opportunities to!

 

...WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU? You don't go testing for serial murderers by giving them the best opportunity you can think of to murder you (and your helpless daughter)! Because someone you have seen murder has not yet murdered you is not a good reason to assume he never will, especially when you know literally nothing else about him! THIS IS AN ENTIRE SYMPHONY OF BAD DECISIONS. THE STRING SECTION IS THE NONSENSICAL DECISION TO SLEEP WITH THE HOME INVADER WHO MURDERED YOUR HUSBAND OUT OF THE BLUE. THE HORN SECTION IS THE TERRIFYING PROSPECT OF HOW YOU WERE JUST SORT OF HOPING HE WASN’T GOING TO MURDER YOU, TOO, BUT WHAT CAN YOU DO. THE HARPIST IS PLAYING A SONG ABOUT HOW SOMEONE BEING A GOOD MUSICIAN IS NOT A GOOD REASON TO DECIDE TO RISK DEATH AND THE ENTIRE PERCUSSION SECTION WOULD LIKE YOU TO STOP DRAGGING YOUR HELPLESS CHILD INTO THIS.

 

Sweet fuck, and then she sets about soothing Erik and praising him for not murdering the two of them. Because when someone doesn't murder you for no reason, they deserve your fucking gratitude, am I right? And maybe a nice plate of cookies or something. Good job, Erik!

 

Chapter 29: Trap Door Opened

 

Why, yes, Erik, it probably would be insulting to the woman you ostensibly love if you suggested that she sleep in your bed with you because you miss your dog doing the same. Yes, she probably will poison your food. I certainly would (but that'd be for a lot of reasons at this point).

 

On page 140, Erik is deeply impressed by Alex's cleverness when the boy visits his convalescing father:

 

"'Madame Seuratti told me I had to stay in Lisette's room. I told her that you said I could stay here and she refused. I lay awake until I knew for sure that Madame was asleep.'

He had me both appalled and impressed. There was no question that he was my son."

 

Really? You're impressed by a stunt pulled by every kid, everywhere at every time? Oh, yeah, this child is obviously a genius of sneakery, all right.

 

Erik also has the extremely uncomfortable realization here that his nine-year-old son has found his way down into daddy's creepy cellars and is not sure what is up with all these dolls of some woman he's never seen before. Well, you have no one to blame but yourself for that one, Erik.

 

Chapter 30: Temptation and Impure Thoughts

 

Erik's interminable, eternal inner dialogue continues, oscillating seemingly randomly between "my naked unmasked face!!!!" and "I'm a bad person, I will angst!" and "Man, Julia's so hot, I'd like to do her." Deliver me. Oh, and I left out the ever-popular "I can probably still change Christine's mind so she'll love me!" This character is like a jail sentence.

 

I had to laugh, though, when Erik was mortified that Alexandre had turned up with a small statuette of Christine that he picked up in the underground cellars, because the paint had all been worn off on the statue's breasts and vulva. What a lovely obsessive phenomenon to try to explain to your child. It’s funny in that horrible, horrible way.

 

I did note that Garza pulls off a parallel to the original novel when Erik here begs Julia to kiss him (they have never kissed before, just had convenient sex); it's a callback to his mother refusing to kiss him in childhood (but unfortunately also a reminder that Christine kissing him apparently didn't mean anything particularly representationally special, because here Julia is to do the same song and dance number again).

 

During his rousing round of whining about being bedridden, Erik claims to have "read himself into boredom over Norse mythology". Someone obviously has no appreciation for the Sagas.

Chapter 31: A Kiss Denied

 

Thank god, Julia says no, because he hasn't earned it from her. I cheered her. Erik responded with pages of screaming, whining, and moaning, followed by sulking. Oh, yeah, this is a romance I cannot wait to see bloom.

 

Chapter 32: The Man in the Painting

 

Technical problems are getting more numerous now that we're in the thick of the book, as if they were hiding in its jungle to ambush the unwary traveler. Sentences are missing entire words, which makes reading them somewhat confusing, and who hyphenates "what-ever" like that?

 

Erik, who spends some of this particular day ranting at the painting of Louis across from him for being abusive to his wife, decides to make the crowning point of his argument the fact that "Julia is mine now", because nothing is as sexy as one abuser dominating the other into taking over the same victim. I'm so very glad he felt the need to perform that particular soliloquy to a painting, lest we miss out on any of his deeply objectifying and selfish tendencies.

 

One might think that the fact that he is not screaming at her as much now was hopeful, but considering that his internal thoughts are all about how she's irritating and doesn't listen to him but he won't say anything right now because, and I quote, "my comments thus far had done nothing to warm my bed," instead it's just a sign that he's trying a different tactic to get her to sleep with him while he’s too incapacitated to just outright force her. So goddamn charming.

 

In case anyone was wondering about the very un-French name, Julia is Italian, being originally a Falchetti and then married to another Italian, Seuratti. I know this from the awe-inspiringly lazy prose on page 158, when Erik says, "Exactly how I knew her maiden name was unclear. Perhaps Madeline had mentioned it at one time or another, but I had always known that Julia was a Falchetti, a Sicilian girl from a strict Catholic family." Oh, well, don't feel pressured to make a decision on OUR accounts, Garza.

 

Julia and Erik have another blame-Christine party, during which Erik also voices his intention to rip Raoul's head off his shoulders and Julia's only comment is, "A pleasant thought." Julia, you’ve never even met the dude and he’s the only major male character here who isn’t abusing you, and Erik, just shut the fuck up forever. I don't even know what's up with these characters anymore. Oh, and Julia's brother wants her to remarry instead of languishing in widowhood forever - it’s important that we spend some time talking about what a fucking cad HE is.

 

I hate everyone by the end of this chapter. Erik breaks the little statue of Christine, so Julia gives him that kiss after all. NO. That's not fucking “earning it” and I’m enraged that the author apparently thinks that it is. Choosing one woman over another is not equivalent to respecting (or, in this case, even failing to abuse) her! I want OUT, Garza! I WANT OUT.

 

Chapter 33: Kiss of Heaven, Hell at the Door

 

The raptures Erik goes into over Julia kissing his face would actually be great for the original Erik, but since this is a sequel and we've been there and done that and this is a woman he regularly SLEEPS WITH, they're mostly just annoyingly out of place here.

 

When he asks Julia why she decided to give him the kiss he'd begged for, she says, "This is the first time in five years you've cared about anything other than your own gratification." Excuse me while I just leave the damn room, because I did not see that happening in any dimension and I'm really so tired that I need a vacation. From a BOOK.

 

But no, Erik won't let me have any peace, instead choosing to wax on eloquently about how pure a kiss is and how "a whore would offer herself" but this is so much better. Right. Because that's not super fucking gross to sex workers everywhere, not to mention a lovely sentiment for all the previous nights that he's had sex with Julia. Worse, I still can't get past the fact that Christine already did all of these things and caused him to have all the exact same epiphanies. Does nobody remember that but me? Did Garza get hold of some tragically expurgated version of Leroux’s book?

 

Oh, and Erik also swears to himself here never to move out of Julia's house again even once he's recovered, whether or not she wants him to live there. Because fuck what she wants, really.

 

Chapter 34: The Grasshopper and the Scorpion

 

Whiny Erik is peeved that "The doorbell rang again, echoing through my ears, raging into my mind. Of all things, of all the times possible, it had to be at that exact moment, when I was so close to Julia, when redemption had seemed palpable for once." No, Erik. Not redemption, because you clearly don't have that and aren't even approaching it. You mean reward, because that's all you're getting at the moment: rewarded for your shitty behavior.

 

But oh, hey, it's Christine at the door, so he immediately abandons the idea of Julia and wants another chance with her! I hate him so much.

 

Christine is very interesting in this scene; she sounds panicked and terrified when she comes to the door and desperately warns Julia about Erik's manipulation and that he's dangerous and a murderer, all things that are quite true and legitimate concerns. Julia is having none of it, of course, because how dare this evil woman slander noble Erik!, and Erik himself is just hanging around being pissy about it in the upstairs hallway, because how dare she try to sabotage his relationship with Julia! It's a valiant effort, Christine, but it's too late for Julia; the author won’t let her go, and the only real reading is that she’s been too abused for too long to be able to leave.

 

I’m literally thinking about crying. Poor Christine came back here, risking herself against the most terrifying thing ever to happen to her, to try to save another woman who was in the same danger. She really tried.

 

Oh, and fuck you, Erik. 

"She would never have sung a single note had it not been for me. Christine would have been nothing more than another chorus girl, a dancer on the stage blending in with the rest of the little beauties. It was my work that had set her apart, my genius that had freed her, my life that had been exchanged for hers.

You ungrateful, sniveling brat, I mouthed at her, along with other words no gentleman should ever say to a lady."

 

Fuck. You. That’s the response from not only Erik but also the author to Christine, who was hounded, terrorized, and abused by this man who has only this week threatened her and her family again and most definitely has permanent trauma because of it: to tell her she’s ungrateful and selfish for not thanking him

 

The worst part is that I wish SO HARD that Garza were capable of doing something sympathetic or at least interesting with this unredeemable bastard of a character, but she apparently isn't. She never examines his potential mental problems or illness or horrible misanthropy and entitlement and violence issues. Not only does she never examine them, she never acknowledges them; while occasionally you get the sense that she's aware that he's being an unquenchable douche, it's always totally wiped away a few pages later because he's sorry and oh, remember what a hard life he's had?

 

No. Fuck. You. I sincerely and honestly hope that you die by the end of the book.

 

A powerful moment here, however, is when Erik rolls up his clothes in the hallway behind Julia in order to shame Christine by letting her see the bruises on him. Without missing a beat, she puts her arm up on the doorframe so that her sleeve falls down to expose a bruise of her own. Erik's immediate shock that someone would hurt her would be an example of his thoughtlessness if it made any sense, but it doesn’t, because he literally INTENTIONALLY TRIED TO PUT HER IN DANGER BY ENCOURAGING HER HUSBAND TO ABUSE HER so WHAT IN THE FUCK DID YOU EXPECT, BRO? But the parallel and the image of Christine getting that one moment to say, “Hey, fuck you, in fact your pain is not all that matters,” is possibly my favorite thing in the entire book. In fact, it makes her for a moment a far more admirable character - while Erik is stewing in his own bitterness and blaming everyone else for his misfortunes, she's come to Julia (a woman she doesn't know from Eve) to warn her about him despite knowing that there's not likely to be much of a welcome for her there.

 

Chapter 35: Pretty, But Not Ten Years of Waiting Pretty

 

Yeah, the chapter title refers to Julia being shitty about Christine, because apparently that's what we women do or something. I just want to hibernate until this book stop existing.

I AM SO INCREDIBLY TIRED OF LISTENING TO ERIK RANT ABOUT HOW IT'S CHRISTINE'S OWN FAULT THAT HE OBSESSED OVER HER FOR YEARS. And don't you love how often his feelings are so monumental that he simply must actually scream and yell about them, even though he knows that the kids can hear him upstairs and Julia repeatedly begs him to keep it down for their sakes? This is one classy dude.

 

Oh, and never one to pass up an opportunity to be horrible to his love interest, he also chooses to scream at Julia some more here about how he'll always love Christine and she couldn't hope to understand, so get off his back. Lovely.

 

This is not a character who is growing, changing, becoming better or bringing anything admirable to the table. This is a character who wants to keep doing exactly what he's been doing - obsessing over Christine (who wants nothing to do with him) and banging Julia (no matter what she might want in the situation). I want him doused in acid.

 

Chapter 36: Three Small Words

 

JULIA. You do not owe him an apology over that scene. I don't even understand what you think you're apologizing for (apparently for daring to say she understood his feelings or some bullshit). I am going to lock you in a suitcase and ship you to counseling. NO. You do not "know he's a good man", you know the opposite of that and the author is giving me an ANEURYSM.

 

Erik goes ahead and tells Julia the story of his relationship with Christine here. She, of course, doesn't think much of that evil, manipulative wench who didn’t do what he wanted and dared to want to love someone of her own choosing, and chooses this moment to declare her love for him.

 

I'm out. Seriously. Someone tag me out.

 

Chapter 37: The Note

 

Oh, hell, why waste all this righteous rage on any other hapless person to cross my path when Erik is right here? Let me add to his list a big fuck you to his huge excited epiphany that no one would ever say that they loved him to his face. You know who I bet would say that? YOUR SON. You know, the nine-year-old who you recently refused to tell you loved him. If you had ever bothered not being a horse's ass to him, that's a phrase I imagine you'd have heard more than once by now.

 

I... what... Julia on page 187...

 

"Because you've been good to me all these years. You've only come to me when I've asked for your company. Not once have you raised your hand to me, not even when I deserved it."

 

SERIOUSLY, THIS BOOK IS POSING A HEART HEALTH RISK TO ME. She goes on to continue to have apparent complete amnesia about his earlier behavior when he BROKE INTO HER HOUSE AND PHYSICALLY ABUSED HER WHILE SHE CRIED IN TERROR AND BEGGED HIM TO AT LEAST ABUSE HER MORE QUIETLY SO HER CHILD WOULDN’T HEAR, and cites that he brought her half a box of chocolates that one time, so clearly he's a gentleman. For extra squirm points, Erik even notes internally that he only did that to stop his son from eating any more of them, but of course he neglects to mention that since she's busy praising him for it.

 

Ah, yes, guys, of course Alexandre will soon be "developing a strong interest in Lisette" (Julia’s daughter). They are probably the only two children in Paris, after all.

 

Chapter 38: The Apple with the Snake Still Attached

 

Christine shows up again to ask if she can see her son. Erik flies into a massive rage and assumes that she will immediately confiscate the kid. Massive drama ensues, during which Erik manages to call Christine Delilah, Jezebel, Eve, Siren, Circe, and Medusa all in the space of three sentences. I don't know how I could possibly have gotten the idea that he was some kind of misogynist. Even worse, he eventually declares that he won't let Christine see Alexandre because she'd "hurt him in the manner she destroyed me," like she's some kind of male-oriented thresher.

 

Christine points out that, due to all the things happening at the time, she's not actually 100% sure that Erik is Alexandre's biological father, which of course causes Erik to flip out and endlessly obsess over this new idea. Not only does he immediately progress into weird entitlement issues again - Christine has other kids! So she's just being mean and greedy and selfish to want to meet this one! - but also some random Raoul insulting being hurled around, including referring to him as "part of the fairer sex as well" (ah, using femininity or perceived femininity as an insult - I can't IMAGINE where I got the idea that he was some kind of misogynist) and the determination that clearly Raoul can only father girls and therefore Christine only wants to steal Alexandre from him so she can have a son. This Erik has the compassion and spiritual beauty of a used pneumonia handkerchief, which would be annoying at this point even if Garza weren't constantly trying to tell me how awesome and romantic he is all the time.

 

To cap things off, Erik discovers red and blue stage makeup smears on the back of the letter from Christine... which could be combined to make purple... so obviously she must have faked the bruise that he saw! What a cunning wench! The leap of logic is so much of a reach (dude, you are aware that she's a stage performer, right? And why would the colors be on there separately instead of mixed as she would have done for the bruise?) that I actually didn't follow for a moment.

 

All this emphasis on Christine's evilly manipulative nature is supposed to make us, as the readers, hate her and root for Erik, but instead it makes me kind of admire her moxy (assuming any of his assumptions are true at all, of course). She's trying to rescue her son from a dangerous and abusive man whose clutches she never meant for him to fall into, and doing so with what few tools she has available. She’s the only character taking positive action in this mess - when she found out her child had been left with someone who was probably abusing him, she immediately started trying to rescue him, while everyone else spends all their time yelling at each other and navel-gazing. She’s literally the heroine here (which is ironic because she was in the original book, too, so at least Garza somehow carried that over).

 

And seriously, I can only listen to Erik moan about emotional manipulation for so long before I start drinking. Who do you think she learned that from, oh puppetmaster? This book is making me miss the clever interplay between the Erik and Christine of the Liu novel - that was an example of two cleverly manipulative people playing off one another. This is just sadness crammed onto poorly bound pages.

 

Chapter 39: From Orphan to Princess

 

Erik launches into another description of his relationship with Christine here, which is nauseating because of how obvious it makes his lack of regard for her feelings. He bought her lots of presents! He begged her to stick around! He visited her all the time! Did he mention that he bought her lots of presents? He says these things as if they mean she owes him something; he's not having a relationship here, he's trying unsuccessfully to buy her like an object and is pissed off that she keeps not giving him what he’s “owed” for his investment. Even his deception of her is apparently her own fault - it's glossed over in a sort of "oh, well, I had to lie or she'd never have talked to me," but her freaking out over discovering his lies is portrayed as merely angling for more gifts or the upper hand in the relationship.

 

And Julia, who is usually the reader's only hope for someone to call Erik on his bullshit, is of course in full agreement. This is not really the character's fault - Julia has been severely abused, Christine was Erik’s former flame and is probably reading as competition, and she only knows about her through Erik’s severely edited acocunts - but fuck.

 

Let me be clear: it's not that women in fiction can't be manipulative gold-digging jerks. They certainly can. But the fact that all this is happening to Christine's character purely from Erik's point of view precludes that; we have no idea what Christine was thinking or feeling unless we fall back on Leroux's novel, and the result is just that we're sitting through a horrible recitation by a horrible man about how horrible his ex was because she didn't do what he wanted. Worse, Garza is apparently unaware that her own writing treats Christine (and Julia, and Giry, and every other female in the book) as an object or at best a foreign creature, not as a person in her own right. The interactions in this book are about men finding the right formula to deal with these alienesque womenfolk and get them to behave the way they want; none of the women themselves have any power, self-determination or even real personality outside of the perceptions of the men around them.

 

I hope that Christine and Raoul manage to find Alexandre and run away with him, so they can all live happy lives away from this awful murderous asshat. I know it won't happen, but I can dream.

 

Julia does make a faint attempt to convince Erik that he might be jumping to conclusions when it comes to Christine's bruise, but she's easily ignored while the reader despairs that despite Erik's obvious unreliability as a narrator, Garza is clearly still expecting us to take his word at face value on this one. (Because, after all, nobody knows Christine like he does!)

 

Chapter 40: Madeline

 

Thank god for Madame Giry. She's adamant that Alexandre doesn't belong solely to Erik and that he should at least get to see his mother and she him. She also points out to a stubbornly resistant Erik that Christine could easily call down law enforcement on him if he doesn't cooperate, which would most likely end with his incarceration or death. Thank you, old lady who is only around when it's plot-convenient. I'll take what I can get.

 

Sadly, this leads to the tiresome idea that Buquet's death was an accident, something we see all too often in Phantom sequels that are seeking to absolve him of blame for his horrible misdeeds in order to make him more of a heroic figure. It's a pathetic attempt to avoid having to redeem the character for the bad things he's done, and it almost never works anyway, since I am not about to hand out a lot of sympathy for someone whose defense consists of "well, I only meant to strangle him into unconsciousness, not kill him! I can't be held accountable for that!" Oddly enough, Erik does admit to dropping the chandelier on the crowd, however, which presumably killed or injured a lot more than one person (they don't elaborate here). I'm not sure if it's included because it's more removed - i.e., it was an object killing those people, not Erik himself, so it doesn't have the same visceral punch as Buquet's murder - or if it's just that the grandstanding of dropping the chandelier was too cool for Garza to omit.

 

Erik finally agrees to let Christine see her son, but only because of the threat of the authorities coming down on him. It's not that you can't sympathize with him in this area - Garza writes a parent's irrationally strong fear of losing a child very ably - but rather that he's just such a horrible person and doesn't treat the kid very well that I'd be the first one leading the charge to save this poor kid myself.

 

Chapter 41: Gift from a Son to a Father

 

Erik rhapsodizes for pages here about how Christine can give Alexandre so much more than he can - wealth, a stable family life, travel around the world, etc. - but rather than pausing to consider what's best for his son, he instead whines that this is totally cruel and unfair to him. He views the situation as a competition between himself and Christine for Alexandre - AGAIN, a person in his life reduced to object to fight over - and rather than focusing on any of its other ramifications, he chooses to complain that it's not a fair fight, because Christine has advantages he doesn't have. It's the exact same situation as his whining about Raoul and how it wasn't fair that he got Christine - it's never a problem with Erik himself, just with others who are unfairly cheating to rob him of his prize.

 

I can handle parents in fiction who make the selfish or emotional decision; sometimes that's the best choice for a layered, interesting or emotionally compelling story. Issues surrounding parenthood are complicated and emotional, and believable characters often don’t do the best thing. Some characters (and people, for that matter) value parental love over comfort and genuinely believe (or convince themselves to believe) that their children will be better off with them than with someone who on the surface appears to be a better caregiver. But Erik is not doing any of those things; as usual, it's not about what's best for Alexandre at all. It's about what Erik feels and wants, and Alexandre is a very secondary variable in the equation.

 

And now, another annoying side foray about how much Erik loves his dog and the dog loves him. Oh, yes, that'll totally convince me that he's worthy of hero-worship again. It comes out here that apparently Alexandre got the dog for his father at age seven in an attempt to bond with him, which illustrates well Erik's tragic indifference to his kid (because he's way more forthcoming with affection for the stupid dog than for his son) and Alexandre's bewildering emotional precociousness (thanks to the heavy implications that he got the dog to teach Erik to love so some of that would spill over onto him, or something. At age seven).

 

Chapter 42: Fear Turned to Love

 

Bonding times. Alexandre is traumatized by everything that's happened lately and tearfully declares that he hates Christine and Raoul and never wants to meet them. Fine, whatever.

 

Chapter 43: Algerian Bazaar

 

This chapter is actually quite refreshing. It’s a recounting of the World's Fair and everything Alexandre did when he sneaked away to attend it against everyone's express orders. It's fun, it's historical, it's a breath of fresh air. Unfortunately, it has nothing to do with the plot of the book, but at this point that's really just a net win for everyone.

 

Chapter 44: Ten Years

 

I haven't been mentioning it much because it's giving me ulcers, but Erik, despite being an invalid with half his body beaten in, keeps trying to have sexytimes with Julia when she turns up to nurse him, usually accompanied by leering or what I suppose both he and Garza fondly think of as clever, witty, or hilarious innuendos. Julia keeps pointing out that there are kids in the next room and also he is currently ten kinds of injured, but unfortunately this does not stop it from continually recurring, so in this chapter his charming personality finally gets her into bed with him anyway.

 

At no point does anyone, least of all Erik, consider whether or not Julia’s repeated refusal and citations of Erik’s injuries are a soft no because she might not want to sleep with him.

 

I’m so sorry for Julia and her entire life.

 

Chapter 45: The First Time

 

Garza wields the "don't be deceived by appearances" moral in this book like a heavy Law & Order-style gavel. Louis was handsome but evil! Erik is ugly but good (HA)! Except, of course, that Erik is every bit as much of a horrible asshole as Louis (possibly more, because to my knowledge Louis never killed anyone, and Erik is right up there with him on the abuse scale). Apparently, ladies, your male options in this novel's world are A) abusive philanderer, B) abusive murderer, or C) <insert homophobic and/or transphobic slur against Raoul here>. I'm glad I don't live in this book's world, and that's not something most romance novels are aiming for readers to say.

 

On page 235: "There was a gentle ring of gold which surrounding the onyx ring of her eyes." I don't even want to read anymore. I'm done with books forever. Wheel me to a nunnery and I will spin.

 

Erik and Julia now have serviceable sex (it's not particularly titillating, but it's far from the worst I've ever read). I don't care because I hate this book too much.

 

Oh, and a big deal is made over how this is when Erik truly loses his virginity because he was making love this time instead of just having sex! There were feelings involved instead of just animal instinct! Dude, what would you call what you did with Christine - are you trying to tell me you weren't emotionally invested there? Never mind, I don't even care anymore. Tell yourself whatever you want if it gets me out of here faster.

 

Chapter 46: One Step Forward, Twelve Steps Back

 

Ah, the good old "man reads woman's diary on the sly to create emotional background without bothering to build any" approach. Of course, that's what we were missing in this book! She yells at him for his invasion of her privacy, but of course, who could stay mad at him for long? Gag me.

 

Erik does have a nice realization here that projecting Christine onto Julia is doing her a disservice, and that he's been doing it for a very long time now (recalling that he used to pretend it was Christine he was sleeping with, etc). It's not going to make him a nicer person because apparently God himself can’t do that, but it's always nice to see Garza, at least, letting us know that she understands these things.

 

Chapter 47: Tea and Crumpets

 

Oh, goodie - apparently (revealed in her diary) Julia knew that Erik was the Phantom all along, thanks to a convenient article in the paper and her own intuition! But of course, she immediately shoved that realization that he was a large-scale criminal, extortionist, terrorist, and murderer of other people besides her abusive husband aside and commenced immediately hoping he would sleep with her, because all that other stuff probably doesn't matter.

 

You can’t just say “she knew he was terrifying but that’s okay, she wants to bone him because Reasons, I can’t be bothered.” This book is SO BAD.

 

Chapter 48: Dark Fate

 

Nothing happens in this chapter. Except that Erik is still emo and everyone should stop being mean to him because of his hard, hard life.

 

Chapter 49: The Note

 

Yes, chapter 37 was also called The Note, but let's not bother this author with little quibbles that might make her stop and extend this book any longer.

 

Alexandre proceeds to go missing (AGAIN), leaving behind a note that just says "I apologize". Consternation and panic reign supreme, of course, and naturally Erik immediately assumes that he was kidnapped by Raoul and Christine, even though the kid left a note and he was utterly wrong in that assumption last time this happened. He makes immediate plans to go murder the couple, because, you know, that's how rational people solve problems.

 

Julia tries to point out that this is not a good first plan by saying, "You can't just kill them... it isn't right." He counters with "That's all a matter of perception," which is hilarious because of the noun misfire (I assume Garza probably meant perspective), but also exhausting because, ladies and gentlemen and folks who are both or neither, our hero.

 

Erik also has some kind of wild assumption that Raoul is going to hurt Alexandre going on, even though that makes no sense at all. When Julia points out that the idea doesn’t make sense because Christine thinks Alexandre might actually be Raoul's son and has presumably told him this, Erik just claims that Raoul "knows" this isn't true no matter what Christine says. Apparently Erik has a telepathic hotline directly to what Raoul does and doesn't know, and also Christine's much-ranted-about powers of manipulation don't extend to her husband. And also Erik knows magically that he is the father of Alexandre because y’all, I know this book wants to pretend this question of parentage is just an evil machination by Christine, but she has a POINT.

 

Chapter 50: Trust

 

Julia, still trying to dissuade Erik's current ridiculousness:

 

"'You would kill him in front of your own son?'

She earned a scowl from me. How galling that she had to make valid arguments! No wonder she wanted to come along! To make certain I had a conscious!" [sic]

 

Yeah, how dare she be a person and say things without his authorization and imply that maybe murdering someone (possibly his mother!!!) in front of his nine-year-old son is a bad idea.

 

Other than that, this chapter is just Julia eventually convincing Erik to let her ask at the front desk instead of storming in, lasso blazing. Riveting.

 

Chapter 51: The Wisteria Hotel

 

Not only do Christine and Raoul let Erik and Julia in to search, Christine immediately begins panicking at the idea that her son is missing (which, one has to admit, does not make Erik's bid as the more responsible parent look great since this is the second time in a week). Erik spends some time irritating me by consistently referring to Raoul as "the boy" (why do all self-published novels do that? Not only is Raoul in his thirties now, but Erik was presumably never that much older than him if we're setting this ten years later and he's still this spry), and then moves on to his typical asshole behavior by attempting to manhandle Christine into telling him what she and Alexandre talked about when the kid sneaked away to meet her. He stops when he realizes that one of Christine's toddler-aged daughters is watching with very large eyes indeed, but gets right back onto ranting as soon as the tot is packed off into the next room with a nanny.

 

Fuck this dude. Kill him with a chair or something, team. Raoul, you hold him so the ladies can explain their opinions to him.

 

Chapter 52: China Doll

 

Erik takes this opportunity to strangle Raoul when, feeling that his hospitality has been abused enough while this guy attacks his wife and traumatizes his children, Raoul demands that he leave now.

 

SOMEHOW I AM SUPPOSED TO BE ON ERIK’S SIDE?

 

Chapter 53: Two Bulls in the Same Pen

 

Because he is totally the better man in this situation, Erik now proceeds to beat and strangle Raoul for a while despite everyone's protests and panic, all the while calling him "darling" and sneering at his physical weakness in his internal monologue. And, heartbreakingly, all Raoul says when he finally gets a word out is, "Don't hurt my daughters," both a poignant moment showing us how much he cares about his family even in the throes of his own pain and humiliation, and a stark, unflattering comparison to Erik, who consistently fails to care about anyone, even the people he ostensibly loves the most, before himself (and who sure as fuck doesn’t care about anyone’s kids, including his own). 

 

The scene also highlights the fact that Erik has by this point totally forgotten that he's looking for Alexandre; his inner thoughts are all about getting revenge against Erik and Christine for slighting him, not of his missing son, who obviously isn't here and who might be in trouble somewhere else even now.

 

Julia has to be the one to stop Erik from killing Raoul and, once the battered man is able to talk some more, he continues to be moving in contrast to Erik's violent assholery, explaining that he has no idea who Alexandre's father is but that he would never hurt or insult him either way. His speech here, about having lived his life in fear because of the knowledge that Erik might be alive and that one day his wife might disappear or his children be hurt is absolutely heartrending, and all the more so because of how it both forces realization of Erik's inexcusable crimes and behavior in the previous story, and contrasts again with his continuing pattern of irredeemable bastardry in this one. When Erik threatens him again, a beaten, bleeding Raoul just says that he tried to save his family from him when he came last time by attacking him, and that he'll die to defend them now if he has to.

 

I'm not going to lie: I got confused here. Garza's portrayal of Raoul is gorgeous... but what is she trying to do with it? So far, it's just hammering home to me how very, very, VERY much I dislike Erik, and how much Raoul is still the romantic hero that he always was and that Erik could never be thanks to his violence and hatred. This romance with Julia is clearly meant to end in a happily ever after soon... so what gives? I just want her to run for the hills with the de Chagnys. Is that what she's going for here?

 

Erik develops grudging surprise and respect for Raoul here because of the courage he's showing, which I think is what all of us as readers were supposed to do. I guess?

 

More surprising and poignant developments occur here, when Raoul tells them that, after her first daughter died years ago in Africa, a grieving Christine would occasionally tell him that the little girl was with Madame Giry without explanation; she had obviously never forgotten Alexandre, nor stopped thinking of him as a child she lost, just like poor doomed Suzette. Oh, Christine. I’m so sorry for everyone in this book except for Erik.

 

Everyone decides that clearly the thing to do now is for both Raoul and Erik to go see Alexandre for maximum dramatic potential, even though there's no way that's going to firmly decide parentage anyway, and also they keep pointing out that Alexandre looks exactly like Christine and not his father, and oh, yeah, THE KID IS STILL MISSING, ERIK. MIGHT WANT TO GET ON THAT.

 

Chapter 54: True and Utter Madness

 

I really hope not because I can't even take any more madness.

 

Things do go off the rails here, though, in a way that is Garza's greatest curve ball and triumph for the novel. Christine, out of the blue, smashes a glass and starts threatening Julia with it, shrieking that she can't steal her son from her or replace her as his mother. Hysterical and obviously panicked, she continues menacing the other woman until Raoul manages to talk her down and attempt to physically restrain her; between his immediate attitude (not "oh god what's happening" but "oh no not now") and his begging her to take her medicine, it becomes suddenly clear that Christine is mentally ill, which makes a lot of her confusing behavior earlier suddenly make a lot more sense. (It also makes Erik, who was a moment ago ruminating on how she's such an evil liar and must have lied to Raoul to convince him there's a chance that Alexandre is his, look like even more of an asshammer than usual.)

 

The general air of panic and desperate mental stress motivates Erik to once more ruminate on how Christine's and Raoul's sufferings aren't really valid, because Erik has obviously suffered more than they have, so fuck 'em. They deserve to suffer a little bit because of all the physical attractiveness and money they have, because it's not like they're people, right?

Chapter 55: Laudanum Dreams

 

Erik isn't self-aware enough to find it ironic that he was just superiorly lording it over Raoul that he knows Christine better, but I will do it for him.

 

Christine is obviously in a full-blown psychotic break, screaming, terrified, and mortified by the fact that she left Alexandre with Erik by mistake, crying that she'd rather the baby had died than that she'd subjected him to growing up with the Phantom. Raoul has to physically hold her down and drug her to calm her down (oh, look at that, asshat, looks like her bruise was probably real after all), and then holds her touchingly on the floor while she murmurs and cries in his arms. The entire scene is horrible and touching at the same time. Erik brings his characteristic sensitivity to the proceedings by looking at her and thinking, "is this what we all wanted so much?", because even now she's not a person suffering, she's just a prize he's been after for a very long time that he's discovering isn't as nice as he thought it was.

 

I absolutely LOVE seeing an author examine Christine's post-Phantom issues, of which I have always assumed there must be many - being stalked, lied to, betrayed, Svengalied, physically abused, coerced into marriage, and barely escaping the clutches of someone who murders people around you when you don't do what he wants has to have extensive, long-reaching psychological effects (and Erik being physically terrifying doesn't help, either). The character goes through a pretty terrible ordeal in Leroux's novel and later versions based on it, and I've always wanted something to investigate what happens to her and how she copes with it afterward.

 

Which is why I got to the end of this novel and felt kind of cheated.This is awesome! This, and the stuff with Raoul - awesome! Why on earth didn't the author write a book about them instead of about this horrible abusive asshole whose happy ending I'm still going to have to sit through at some point? He's boring, he's cliched, he's insufferable and he's inexcusable - and worst of all, he's flatly refusing any character growth, while in a few chapters you've reintroduced these other two characters and given them all kinds of interesting dimensions and issues that you now have no time to explore!

 

It's like she fucking punked me.

 

Anyway, at the end of the chapter Erik does have a brief moment of wondering if he contributed to Christine's breakdown (mostly because he hears in her raving that she seems to be blaming him for Suzette's death), but in true Erik form he shrugs it off easily and never revisits any possibility of his own guilt again. He doesn’t give a single shit about Christine or her pain; he never did.

 

I want all the characters except for Erik rescued from this goddamn book.

 

Chapter 56: The Green Man

 

I do appreciate, however, that watching Raoul try to care for his half-insensate wife shocks Erik into realizing, at least for a moment, that his assumption that nobody could ever have suffered like he's suffered might not be entirely accurate. It's not enough to redeem the character or even make him vaguely likeable - it's far too little, far too late, and he'll wander away from it now anyway - but at least Garza tried.

 

Christine's half-lucid mutterings also reveal that she told Alexandre about the angel in the opera house who would come to him if he waited, presumably when she was not having one of her clearer days, so everyone mutually realizes that the kid must be in the ruin of the old place and they all charge over there en masse (after leaving Christine in the care of a maid who seems to know the routine as far as her mistress's problems go).

 

The opera house is a fire-burned wreck, which confirms that most of this book is based on the 2004 Schumacher/Butler film (which is not a surprise, considering Erik's characterization and description, not to mention the dedication). On the way there, Raoul explains (to Julia, because of course Erik doesn't give enough of a shit to ask) that Christine's father was also mentally unstable and that it's probably hereditary (considering her paranoia and delusions, possibly a form of schizophrenia), and that the condition was violently exacerbated by the events of Leroux's story. Garza works all kinds of cool details into this idea - for example, this is the reason Raoul didn't argue with Christine when she said she'd seen an angel, because he knew that she sometimes saw things or misremembered incidents due to her affliction and he knew that challenging her fantasies usually freaked her out and made it difficult for her to function. 

 

As an aside, for a character with mental problems who needs fantasy to survive, how much more horrifying must the reveal of Erik's true nature have been for this Christine? It would have been not just a revelation that her beloved teacher was a mere mortal, but a brutal shock that destroyed her comfortable illusions and rocked the foundation of her piecemeal world. Bad enough for anyone to be betrayed that way, but for Christine, it shredded the literal world around her. If the Angel of Music was really just a man, and one who frightened and hurt her at that, what could she possibly trust? What parts of reality were even real?

 

So Christine has been sick all along; Raoul explains that she knew something wasn't quite right and hid her condition as much as possible because she was afraid of being locked up (not an idle fear; nineteenth-century asylums were not a fun place to be, especially for women). Erik never realized and has spent the past decades consistently interpreting her behavior as evil, manipulative, stupid, or just spiteful, but because he never got to know her personality at all - because she was always just a symbol and an object to him, not a person - he had no idea she was ill. Garza will not address the towering horribleness of that fact, nor will Erik feel any remorse over it other than to be kind of upset that he didn't know her as well as he thought he did, and so another chance for him to partially redeem himself (at least internally) passes gently by.

Once again, Garza could have had a beautiful twist in this plot, but she squandered the opportunity for Erik to become a better person or for anyone to examine what the revelations about Christine's condition actually mean.

 

It is, however, a great moment when Erik realizes that Christine giving up Alexandre, which he has long viewed as her being a selfish, spiteful, unloving monster of a bad mother, might actually have been her way of trying to do the most responsible thing she could do for him.

 

Chapter 57: Snake Skin

 

Erik's backstory here, by the way, is a fusion version, in which the carnival is omitted but in which he runs away from home to arrive at the opera house and be taken in by Madame Giry. It's oddly late in the game to bring it up, but whatever. I can smell the end of this book finally coming my way.

 

Alexandre is recovered (not injured or anything despite wandering around alone in a dark, derelict building!), patiently waiting in the basement of the opera house for the angel (who of course shows up to save him, because that's Erik himself). Erik is too dense to fully draw the parallel between the mother he always hated for not loving him enough and Alexandre's nonexistent relationship with Christine (irreparable at this point), but he gets close and the reader can fill in the rest of the blanks.

It's a fucking tragedy that Alexandre is never going to get to know his mother - he'll probably go on hating her his entire life - and it's purely because of what a raging asshole his father is.

Chapter 58: A Ghost and a Shadow

 

Erik goes off into the Louis-Philippe room for a minute so he can finally reconcile with his mom, or something. It's a well-meant scene and the parallel is nice, but it's just more paragraphs of rampant navel-gazing, and I'm tired. If there is one person whose internal journey I could not care less about in this novel, it's Erik. I don’t give a shit if he makes peace with the memory of his mother. I don’t care about anything he does unless it’s a satisfying death by Catherine wheel.

 

Chapter 59: The Space Between

 

Oh, my god. Garza here mentions Erik as "the composure, E. M. Kire". Do I cry over the homophone (it's not even a real homophone! "Composer" and "composure" are not pronounced the same!) or over the fact that everyone thinks that Erik using his own name backwards as a surname is so goddamned clever? SIGH.

 

Raoul, because he is way too awesome for this book, points out that there's no way to determine Alexandre's parentage since he just looks like Christine, and both promises not to confiscate the kid but also asks Erik to let him leave him some of his inheritance, because Christine would want that and the boy deserves it. Erik actually tries to say no because he is a selfish dickface of a character, but Raoul persists (and even apologizes for beating Erik up earlier in the book, which is a hell of a lot more than he's ever gotten from Erik all the times he's been assaulted and nearly murdered) and eventually manages to convince him that it's a good thing to give his son a good education and some money to live on.

 

Chapter 60: The Egyptian Heart

 

What. Garza, seriously, you kept the casket from Leroux's novel? What a bizarre detail to include - it makes no sense at all for this Erik in this context. But hey, there it is.

 

For fuck's sake, Erik, could you stop referring to Raoul as "my little vicomte" or similar, please? For my sake, for all our sakes, try to pretend you have some vague respect for this guy who is way, way, WAY more worthwhile and admirable a person than you are. To add insult to injury, this is the only point in the book wherein Erik feels compelled to feel a twinge of sympathy for Raoul - but it's because the vicomte "stuck himself" with Christine, not because of, you know, his personal struggles or his nobly giving up a boy who might be his only son or all the horrible things that Erik himself has done to him.

 

That’s just twisting the knife about what a misogynistic and horrible monster Erik is. He’s learned that Christine suffers from a mental illness that severely impacts her life and causes her pain, and his response… is to feel bad for the person who has to put up with her, and to be glad it isn’t him. Fucking fuck this guy.

 

They're heading back up to go meet with Julia, whom they left behind in order to spelunk beneath the opera house, and all I can think of is how much I seriously do not want him to reconcile and live happily ever after with her. I genuinely do not. Fuck him.

 

Chapter 61: The Night's End

 

Erik decides to smirk a lot, which is something that a lot of bad sequels and rewrites. Why do people think smirking is attractive on Erik? Because it shows how superior he is to everyone else around him or something? Guys, smirking is not attractive. It is the expression of douchebags. Fuck your smirk, Erik. I may be being unreasonable by this point but I don't care anymore.

 

And then the novel ends on a happy hopeful note and Erik lets us all know that he'll propose to Julia tomorrow and yay, whee, it's the end! I'm so fucking tired I don't even know what to do with myself.

 

So, do you see what I was talking about, way back in that intro I don't even remember writing because of the waves of remembered rage and bile? The entire book is a tooth-grinding, migraine-inducing paean to misery until the very end, where it does five (5) minutes of interesting things and then makes me despair that that's all there was. It absolutely floored me with its few brilliant ideas buried in the muck of a massive, stinking midden of awfulness. It focused on Garza's most reprehensible characters and refused to allow them to change, grow, or develop in any meaningful way, and brought out her most interesting and compelling characters only to throw them away again. 

 

It is a cruel practical joke of a book.

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