Summary and Analysis
This chapter shifts to the perspective of Steve, Ronnie's father. As it begins, he waits for his children's arrival while playing the piano.
There is not much in the house where Steve now lives. Steve's life has changed a lot since his father died — he quit his job, divorced his wife, and toured the country, attempting to earn a living as a professional musician. The former owner of the house, an artist, had left it to the church when he died, and Steve is living there rent-free until the church is ready to sell it.
While he is waiting, Steve reflects on his life, feeling like an observer rather than a participant. Thinking back on his decisions, he does not fix the blame on anyone but himself. He also desires a relationship with God, though he is unsure whether God still desires a relationship with him.
The town Steve lives in now is actually the one he grew up in. Steve passes the time until the time his children arrive reflecting on his past and thinking about his hopes for the summer. When they do arrive, Jonah is excited to see his father, but Ronnie is less than thrilled.
Kim reveals a number of things to her ex-husband, including her impending marriage to Brian. Kim also says that, although Ronnie ignores her curfew and refuses to speak to her mother, she also sometimes helps her brother with his math when he struggles. Ronnie was arrested for shoplifting recently — an arrest that Ronnie claims is unwarranted, although she had shoplifted in the past. Although Steve expresses unwavering confidence in his daughter's innocence, Kim is not as certain.
Kim leaves to return to New York even though neither she nor Steve knows exactly where Ronnie is, and then Jonah and Steve go off to explore the workshop. Steve tells Jonah about the stained-glass window that he is building for the church to replace the one that was destroyed in the fire. Steve and his son reconnect as Jonah reveals details about his life with Brian, his mother, and his sister. At this time in Jonah's life, everything is "awesome."
Playing the piano is part of Steve's identity, an identity he is willing to give up for his daughter. This is the beginning of the development of the piano as a symbol — for Steve, for Ronnie, and for their complex relationship.
The pictures on Steve's piano are significant because they represent what is truly important to him — his family — even though he hasn't been around recently. Steve's life has not turned out the way he planned. The empty house is symbolic of the emptiness that Steve feels — out of place and alone.
The pain in Steve's stomach foreshadows his illness and indicates the nervousness he is feeling. In another seemingly throwaway line, readers learn that Steve knows in the upcoming fall, his breath "would come out in little puffs." On a first read, the information is practically meaningless; however, looking back, readers, like Ronnie, realize the significance of these signs.
What happened in Steve's marriage is revealed but not why it happened. This is important for plot development as well as the development of Steve's character. Stylistically, information is being withheld from the reader in the same manner in which it is being withheld from Ronnie.
Steve's introspection is that of a man who is facing his own mortality and realizes that the thing he thought was most important in his life — his music — was not. Now he knows the most important thing is his relationship with his children, a relationship he wants to repair before he dies.
Steve's description of his daughter exists to paint a picture for the reader as well as himself. Ronnie's first words to her father reveal that she believes he defines their relationship solely through the piano.
The incident with the shoplifting is a case of the boy who cried wolf. Her mother clearly does not believe her, yet her father does. Steve is quite understanding about Ronnie's words and actions. It could be because he is essentially an outsider, but it could also be because of his unconditional love for his daughter.
This chapter is important for the development of Jonah's, Steve's, and Ronnie's characters. Each one of them is an individual with a somewhat vested interest in the others. Their characters are developed not only through their own words and actions but through what other characters say about them.
Juilliard one of the most prestigious performing arts conservatories in the world, located in New York City
Tchaikovsky Russian composer of the Romantic era
Are you the type of parent that Steve is?
Not at all. Steve is a passive character, I tend to be more active. Steve has more patience than I do, especially when it comes to putting up with an angry daughter. I suppose if we're similar at all, it would have to do with the fact that he loves his children as much as I love my own.
But as I said, he's passive. When he learns that his wife is having an affair — and literally sees them out together — his response wasn't to confront them. It was to walk away and pretend it never happened. I can't say that I would have responded in the same way. At the same time, Steve admits that he sometimes feels more like an "observer" than a "participant" in life. For me, life is all about participation: the things we do, the emotions we show, etc.