Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Men of L'Engle #8: Zachary Gray

In the interest of full disclosure, I have to say that you have to have a much stronger belief than I do in the possibility of Zachary's reform to find him a likable character. Maybe I'm too black-and-white, but I don't see him as a complex character, just a slimy one.

But I do have a lot to say about him. So that's something.1

I'm almost surprised that L'Engle never made an explicit Holden Caulfield reference in her descriptions of Zachary, because there's a clear resemblance. "Phony" and "crumby" make frequent appearances in Zachary's conversation; he's a rich kid largely ignored by his parents; none of what happens is his fault.

Zachary makes his first appearance in The Moon by Night, just after one of his prep school expulsions. Choate once, Hotchkiss another time -- at least the guy gets thrown out of classy places.2 He pursues Vicky as the Austin family travels across the country, then turns up two years later to pursue her again.

After he (not much of a spoiler) makes a complete ass of himself, repeatedly puts Vicky in danger, and abandons her. Then he appears in A House Like a Lotus, where he pursues Polly, makes a complete ass of himself, puts Polly in danger, and abandons her. Anyone want to guess what happens in An Acceptable Time?

And then at the end, he's allegedly hit bottom, seen the error of his ways, and redeemed himself. Which I do not find one bit convincing. Because after abandoning Vicky, he appeared to have seen the error of his ways.

So I don't see Zachary as a flawed but ultimately decent character. He's a bundle of abuser warning signs. Perhaps he'll give someone else a chance to learn the lesson Polly didn't: If a boy thinks that "non-virgin status" = "reason to let him have his way" -- that's when you get up and walk out.

Leading characteristics:
  • Spoiled. And knows it. He's well aware of his ability to get anything he wants out of his parents. Or as he puts it: "When I don't get what I want I have hysterics. They're very effective."
  • Gorgeous. This is one point Vicky and Polly are both very clear on. The "Hamlet look," as Vicky calls it, works for him.
  • Manipulative. And utterly sleazy. (Sorry. Personal sentiment intruding there.) But just look at how he plays with Vicky and Polly's emotions. There is just no reason for a line like "If I had somebody like you around maybe I wouldn't go getting kicked out of schools all the time."
Pull quote(s):
  • "money and connections can do wonders"
  • "I've been in a filthy mood. Get me out of my mood."
  • "I'm a self-protective bastard."
  • "Polly, don't you understand? I needed you. I needed you terribly."
  • "I don't want to be a lawyer, as you so naively put it, but I intend to be one."

Where's Zachary now? Somewhere expensive, probably. Not a lawyer. And still not worth it.

1 Also, he's the excuse for Suzy to taunt Vicky with "Love is a little thing shaped like a lizard; it runs up and down and tickles your gizzard." Which is just lovely.2
2 Basically, he flunks out by choice. Or as Polly puts it, "He didn't do well in school because if he's not interested, he doesn't bother."
3 I mean that in a totally non-sarcastic way. (I know; it's not always easy to tell.)


Colleen said...

HATED HIM!!!! And I'm with Liz (via twitter). The guy was a vampire. TOTALLY. (Now there's a Quirk mashup waiting to be written.....)

Sarah Rettger said...

He does have that pale skin/dark hair thing going on. But if Zachary was sparkly then there'd really be nothing redeeming about him.

KKSorrell said...

I was dating a guy in college and at the time re-reading a L'Engle book with Gray in it (can't remember which book now) and I realized that my boyfriend was EXACTLY like Zachary Gray!! Needless to say, the relationship didn't last. Thank you, Madeleine L'Engle, for helping me out of that one!

By the way, I LOVE this "Men of L'Engle" series!!! What an awesome idea! She is my favorite author - my daughter is named Madeleine. :)

Sarah Rettger said...

Oy. What a way to figure out why the relationship didn't work!

I love that this has put me in touch with so many other L'Engle fans. She rocks.