Until act 3, Charles makes very few appearances. In this theory, Charles stops actively wanting to bang Zade as soon as he reconciles with Dela, and since there are only a few instances where Charles appears prior to his trip to Tennessee, there aren’t too many moments that show anything inappropriate between Charles and his daughter. But they are there (if you squint). While it’s possible to read all of this as simply a father and daughter reconnecting, that’s certainly not the only way to read it.
A) Charles as “Charlie”:
As mentioned in Part One, we are introduced to Sofia and Charles at the same time in chapter 1. In this instance, it’s clear that Sofia is very insecure in her relationship, as she immediately lets Zade know that she is Charles’ girlfriend.
But that’s not what I’m getting at here.
We know that “Charlie” was Dela’s nickname for Charles, as she calls him this throughout chapters 15-18. While it’s not very creative, Charles allows no one else to call him this—until Zade shows up. In chapter 12, Zade’s use of the name “Charlie” incenses Sofia:
“Would you mind if I asked for you to sing something during the finale? The new illusion that Charlie and I are building, I would love to have-”
“Did you just call Charles, ‘Charlie’?”
I watched Sofia’s eyes bulge and her jaw drop. Her chin jutted forward and her perfect flowing hair with big curls fell ever so slightly towards her face.
“Yeah,” I paused for a moment to think about exactly what I had said, unsure of why I’d gotten such a strong reaction. “Why?”
“I did that once and he bit my head off.” She shrugged and the right side of her lip pulled up slightly as she raised her eyebrows. “And I was on top of him at the time.”
This lends credence to Charles using Zade as a Dela surrogate. Are we supposed to believe that Zade just started calling Charles “Charlie” of her own volition? It’s not as though she’s always heard Dela refer to him this way, and has therefore internalized this; we only ever see her refer to him as “Charles” in her inner monologue. There’s nothing to suggest why Zade started referring to Charles as “Charlie,” but to me, it seems unlikely to have happened organically. If I had to guess, I would imagine it happened at his request. And, to me, asking your daughter who looks exactly like her mother (who is the only woman you ever loved and whom you are still very much hung up on) to call you by the nickname she gave you is a little bit odd. Especially when that daughter is shown time and time again to be irresistible to straight men in general.
B) That time Charles got super weird about Zade and Mac:
When Charles spots Mac and Zade being all cute together during rehearsal, he does not appear to be amused. As soon as Zade leaves the area, Charles asks to talk with Mac alone, in his office. And he gets. . . inquisitive.
“It’s been brought to my attention that you and Zade have developed . . . a more personal relationship.”
“We’re friends, if that’s what you mean.” Mac realized he was wrong about this being about firing someone and now had no idea where he was going with this.
Charles smiled, finding it funny that Mac had tried to say they were just friends. “Maybe a little more, at least from what I’ve seen. If you don’t mind me prying, what are your intentions with her? Are you just having fun, or could this be something. . . serious?” (chapter 13)
The nonbeliever will doubtless explain this by saying that Charles is grilling Mac because Zade wants to use him as her magical anchor for the big illusion, and Charles wants to make sure that this is a safe idea. While that entire plan in itself is a bungled plot point, this explanation makes no sense at all: if Charles is really that concerned about Zade using Mac, why doesn’t he simply put his foot down? This is more theorizing that will have to wait for a different time, but Mac’s love for Zade is irrelevant as to whether he’ll be an effective anchor: there are tons of reasons why Mac may not be able to be present for every performance where Zade needs him that has nothing to do with their relationship: maybe he gets sick, or visits family, or something.
So this conversation must be about something more than if Mac is a suitable anchor. Yes, you could argue that Charles is doing the thing where he vets his daughter’s boyfriend, but by this point, Zade hasn’t decided that Mac is the one for her! Jackson is still very much in the picture, so why doesn’t Charles seem concerned about him? It’s because Charles is Jackson, duh.
C) That weird dinner:
When Charles takes everyone to dinner, Sofia is already sitting with him. When Charles sees Zade and Mac looking for a place to sit, he tells Sofia and Mac to go find another table. This makes both Sofia and Mac cranky.
So Zade takes Sofia’s spot. Mysteriously, Jackson is in the seat next to her, a fact that she hadn’t noticed mere seconds ago. Charles also seems to have not noticed Jackson there until this very moment:
Jackson, who happened to be in the seat that had been next to Sofia, nudged me. I glanced his way and smiled. Jackson had just started to say something when Charles cut him off as he also had just noticed that Jackson was there.
“Oh, good!” Charles said. “Jackson, my bandleader, I wanted you to be with us as well. Zade and I want to discuss intro music.” I shrugged at Jackson; I wasn’t really aware we needed to talk about intro music but, if Charles said so….
The official explanation is that Charles wanted to talk to Jackson about intro music. But Charles announces this request at the dinner table. If this was already established, why would he feel the need to announce it to Jackson, who would already know? Zade also notes that she’s not aware of any discussion about intro music that needs to happen, making this excuse seem even more questionable. And besides, if Charles and Zade are to be discussing music with him, it’s safe to say that the intro music being discussed is for their illusion. But Sofia is singing for this one (as Zade requested in chapter 12, and is shown happening in chapter 15), so since the discussion is about music, wouldn’t it make sense for her to be here too? As we just saw, though, Sofia was specifically sent away. I call bullshit.
My guess is that Jackson is stationed here to make Mac jealous. As we saw, Charles has identified Mac as a threat, and is trying to scare him away.
C1) Wait. How how can Charles be Jackson if they’re in the same room?
Something curious about this scene is that Zeb, who is Charles’ right-hand-man and enjoys company outings, isn’t present at this company dinner.
What I’m getting at is that in this scene, it’s Zeb himself who’s wearing the Jackson suit. Why else would Jackson sit down next to Sofia? In the one scene Jackson has interacted with Sofia, he’s antagonistic towards her, saying that she’s inferior to Zade in every way (chapter 6). He’s friends with his bandmates, but they’re not mentioned being here. He’s friends with Zeb, but again, Zeb isn’t here either.
The only possible answer is that Jackson is an invention of Zeb and Charles who exists purely to win Zade’s affections.
D) Mac’s observations:
The catalyst for Handbook’s climax is when Mac thinks he sees Charles and Zade making out when it’s really nothing but an innocent “kiss on the cheek”:
Mac walked up to the door to Charles’s office and watched Zade and Charles through a slight gap in the open door. He was about to knock when he noticed their long and loving hug. He wasn’t sure that he had ever seen Charles hug anyone and it struck him as being very odd. Instead of knocking, he decided to take a moment to see what was going on with them, since he had been noticing something a bit strange between them ever since he’d found those David Copperfield tickets and thought he might be able to answer his questions this way.
“It’s going to be the most amazing illusion the world has ever seen,” Zade exclaimed happily
.Charles pulled back and looked her right in the eye, his arms still around her. “I’m just being an old man, I guess. I love you more than life itself. It would kill me if something happened to you.”
Zade was smiling as she put her hands on his face. “I love you, too.” She leaned in to kiss him, her face beaming.
Mac was disgusted and devastated. How could Zade betray him like that? After everything they had together? Hadn’t he put up with enough with the whole Jackson situation? Angry and frustrated, he couldn’t bare to watch her kiss him.
Had he only watched just a moment or two longer he would have seen Zade kiss Charles-innocently on the cheek. Mac didn’t see that, though, because he looked away before he saw the truth and therefore in his head he had turned around right before he saw them make out with tongue. Furious and upset, he stormed down the hall. He needed to think before he did anything that he would regret. (chapter 14)
Zade’s thoughts about Sofia in chapter 1 (“even I knew that daughters don’t stand like that next to their fathers”) makes it clear that there are non-verbal signals that can communicate the relationship between two people. While Mac is already suspicious about Zade and Charles’ relationship, and this could skew his perception, I think it’s unlikely that he completely hallucinated Zade and Charles’ sexual chemistry. He manages to mistake seeing Zade (a woman with whom he’s done some intense kissing with himself) go to kiss Charles “innocently on the cheek,” but somehow imagines that Zade and Charles are about to exchange serious amounts of DNA. While it could be the case that Mac just imagined suggestive body language, it seems plausible that he was actually picking up on actual physical attraction on Charles’ part, especially once you take into consideration Charles’ history with and feelings toward Dela.
E) Zade and Charles’ Big Illusion:
When Zade and Charles perform their illusion (“Creation”), there is one explicitly incestuous bit.
“Creation” includes a part where a young man materializes from a magical tree. But his appearance was hardly selected at random:
Not many people realized it, but the boy looked just like what Charles had looked like when he was a teenager (chapter 15).
Charles Jr. goes on to chop down the magical tree, which then turns into a wardrobe after being hit by lightning. After a few random tricks, Zade materializes in the wardrobe. When she emerges, Zade takes a bite of an apple, and pretends to faint:
I then playfully took a bite of the apple, and “fainted.” [. . .] The boy caught me as I fell and kissed me, waking me from my “slumber.” I gave the boy my apple, and he took a bite. Suddenly, with a flash of light, he disappeared and the apple fell to the ground (chapter 15).
Charles literally has his younger doppelganger romantically catch his daughter after pretending to faint, and then the doppelganger must kiss her. While the kiss is fun and theatrical, I can think of no reason why the boy has been made to look like a young Charles. It’s not even supposed to be for the audiences’ benefit: Zade tells us outright that it wasn’t something that many people picked up on. While this would still be weird even if there were thematic significance, there is none. The best I can think of is that it’s meant to be a riff on Genesis 1, which has nothing to do with the rest of Handbook (but whatever, Biblical imagery doesn’t necessarily need to mean anything). But if that’s the case, then that means that Charles Jr. and Zade are paralleled with Adam and Eve. And those two sinned so hard that they doomed all of humanity.
So basically, if the act means nothing, then Charles has a young version of himself kiss his daughter for no reason at all. If it does mean something, then it shows Charles Jr. and Zade reenacting Original Sin, an act that represents going against God by giving into the temptation of “forbidden fruit.” So make of that what you will. There is no charitable way to read one.
Oh, and fun fact: Satan was the facilitator of Original Sin by tempting Eve to eat the apple. If we want to get all English Major, this casts Zeb (who Zade literally thought looked “evil” back in chapter 6) in the role of Satan, as he facilitates the unholy union of Charles and Zade by providing means of tempting Zade. Which is by making Charles look like Jackson. Is this reaching? Probably. But, I mean, the novel is set in Sin City.
F) Charles sure does seem defensive when Mac talks about seeing him kiss Zade.
After Zade’s performance goes horribly wrong, she falls unconscious. Once she wakes up, we’re told that she “reads people’s memories” in order to get every detail of what happened while she was out.
F1) How does memory pulling work?
Zade is kind enough to explain this for us when she pulls Mac’s Dela’s and Charles’ memories:
They all gave me permission, which is really the only way to do that easily. You can force memories out of someone but it’s a difficult process and some people can even block you so you can’t do it (chapter 20).
This seems to work a lot like a combination of Legilimency/Occlumency and the Pensieve, which are methods of mind-reading/memory sharing/memory blocking from the Harry Potter novels. In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, there is a point at which Harry gets a memory from his Potions instructor, Horace Slughorn. However, when he goes to look at the memory, he finds that it’s been tampered with so that it doesn’t depict events as Slughorn actually remembers them.
When Zade downloads people’s memories, she has access to their remembered thoughts and feelings, as well as what they remember happening around them. But because it’s made clear that it’s very hard to see memories that people don’t want you seeing, I think it’s safe to assume that they can also feed you false information about what they remember (as Slughorn did in Harry Potter), especially if their will is strong.
F2) What Zade sees:
When Zade is taken to the hospital after her accident, Mac and Charles go with her. At this point, Mac thinks that Charles and Zade have been playing some tonsil hockey, so when Charles tells Dr. Schmidt that Zade is his daughter, Mac is thrown for a loop.
“I saw you kiss her!” Mac protested. “What are you trying to imply?” Charles said, flabbergasted.
Just a note: by this point, Jackson and Zade have kissed numerous times.
Now, there are two ways to read this:
1) Charles doesn’t think he’s been making out with his daughter
2) Charles knows that he’s kissed Zade while disguised as Jackson, and is terrified that Mac can see through the glamour. And of course, he’s doctored his memory so that Zade won’t discover his secret.
Interpret this as you will. The confusion continues, though, as Mac still thinks he saw Zade and Charles get physical:
“I saw you kiss her, though.”
Charles cocked his head to the side before asking, “You did? Are you sure?” Charles looked directly at Mac with his eyebrow raised. He was trying to figure out for himself what Mac could have seen that looked like they had made out, because he positively had not made out with his daughter. Of that he was certain.
Of course, with the first (and most obvious) interpretation, Charles is genuinely baffled. But really, there’s no reason that Charles should be this confused: he knows that the relationship between himself and Zade is a secret, and he also must know that his favoritism of Zade could potentially come off as being sexual in nature. Zade and Charles are pretty affectionate towards each other, so if I were Charles, I would quickly figure out that Mac must have misinterpreted something. Alternatively, maybe Mac is one of the people who knows that Charles Jr. is modelled on Teenage Charles, and the kiss during the performance is what he’s talking about. Either way, there are explanations.
Charles, though, protests too much. In his memory, the fact that he has never kissed Zade is stressed to the point that it’s almost like he’s trying too hard to make this clear. Almost as though he knew someone would be privy to his most private thoughts.
“Well….” Mac thought through what he had actually seen, sort of thinking out loud. “Well, no. I saw you lean into…what I thought was to… make-out with her, and then I couldn’t bear to watch, so, I turned away. It was when you were in the office earlier, and you both were saying how you loved each other.”
Charles nodded and smiled; he knew exactly the time frame Mac was speaking about.
Charles relaxes once he realizes that the “time frame” Mac is speaking about was when Charles was definitely in Charles-form. He deduced this because Zade and Jackson have never declared love for one another. Charles is relieved that his secret is safe. Notice how he doesn’t even need to edit his memory here.
Fortunately, Dela arrives on the scene in the next chapter, so Zade is safe from Charles’ interest. He and Dela quickly reconcile, and in the space of a single month, the two are engaged, and everyone lives happily ever after. . .OR DO THEY???
And once again, I have written far too much. In the grand finale of Charles = Jackson series, I’ll talk about Jackson himself, his resemblances to Charles, and everything that’s weird there.