The fourth chapter of Tithe remains mostly in the mundane world, but here we get a second look at Janet’s older brother, Corny. The reader was introduced to him at the end of the first chapter, where he’s downright threatening.
Then he would drive around, cruise past all the local rutting joints, imagining he had a semi-automatic rifle in the car and counting how many he could have gotten. ‘Pow,’ he’d say, softly, to rolled-up windows as a brown-haired boy with broad shoulders and a backwards baseball cap ran up to the giggling girls behind the window of a red truck. ‘Pow. Pow.’
This reads very differently for me in 2018 than it did in 2004, years after Columbine but before Virginia Tech. Because in my life then, shootings happened, but they happened somewhere else. They weren’t at my school, and they weren’t at my doorstep.
But now it seems like we can’t turn on the news without hearing another story about gun violence, to the point where it’s almost become white noise. I was more innocent the first time I opened Tithe, and Corny’s introduction just seemed creepy to me. But now he’d be the “lone wolf”, the potential threat. I don’t find that to be true to his character at all, which makes his opening sequence all the more off-putting. Though it makes me wonder: if not for Kaye’s arrival, would he have eventually gone through with it? That idea alone is far scarier to me than any of the magical dangers Kaye faces.
Kaye doesn’t know about Corny’s inner life, though, and stops by his trailer to see him while Janet’s at school. Fourteen-year-old me immediately warmed up to him after he and Kaye discuss comics, especially because Corny references shonen-ai, gay romance manga. This is also how Kaye discovers that Corny is gay.
This is a trope I’ve seen a couple times, where a character is outed as gay because they have gay porn. And, because I saw this in fiction, I used to think that this was the main way people came out. I’d seen it done in Tithe, obviously, and the film Saved!, so I was curious if this trope had been used elsewhere. However, a poorly worded Google search left me with some…interesting results, and I decided not to delve in further.
Corny does have a spectacularly nerdy coming out story, though.
It’s no big deal. One night at dinner I said, ‘Mom, you know the forbidden love that Spock has for Kirk? Well, me too.’ It was easier for her to understand that way.
I want to point out here that until 2009, this was the only thing I knew about Star Trek.
Once Janet arrives home, she and Kaye go to a diner to meet some friends. There Kaye is peppered with questions about her mom being in a band, and one character asks if her mother sleeps with her boyfriends. I’m curious is if this was meant to be foreshadowing for Valiant, the second novel in the Tithe universe, in which the protagonist runs away after discovering her mom is doing just that.
Janet’s boyfriend, Kenny, leaves to use the bathroom and Kaye follows. Here it’s revealed that Kaye has done something to him, and that he can’t stop thinking about her. Kaye doesn’t know what she’s done, if anything, and soon Kenny starts kissing her. It gets sexual very quickly, and Kaye can’t decide if she wants to push him away or keep going. I’d forgotten all about this scene, and most of the Kenny subplot. Which is to say it took me by surprise, and was really uncomfortable to read through.
I’m not sure if it gets better or worse when Roiben comes into the diner, shortly after Janet catches Kenny and Kaye together. Kaye’s conversation with Roiben is one of the most important scenes in the book, as it sets up a major plot point not just for the end of Tithe, but its sequel, Ironside.
Kaye learns that Roiben did kill her faerie friend Gristle, because he was ordered to do so by his mistress. She doesn’t find out exactly why his mistress would order him to do that, but does wind up with a far more important piece of information: Roiben’s full name. She doesn’t know why faeries don’t like to give out their true names, only that it would piss him off. That is, until she tells him, “Kiss my ass, Rath Roiben Rye.”
After which he proceeds to throw her on the floor of the diner and literally kiss her ass.
It’s a little funny, and a little scary, and Kaye’s friends don’t know what’s going on. All they saw was Kaye kissing Kenny, then her getting thrown around by a stranger. Janet and her friend Fatima take the rather startled Kaye outside. Janet is furious at Kaye, and has every right to be. It’s such a change from her trying to protect Kaye at the beginning of the book. Granted, she just saw her best friend making out with her boyfriend. Most people wouldn’t react calmly and rationally to that. If I had been in Janet’s shoes, at age 16, I know I’d be calling her a slut and probably a lot more.
The thing that bothers me is that I’d probably react the same, even now. I’d like to think that once the initial shock is over, I’d be able to handle it with some nuance.
But I also know I wouldn’t take, “sorry, I accidentally enchanted your boyfriend” as an excuse.