Summary and Analysis
April 1982 (II)
David walks outside in Pittsburgh, where he went to college. He flashes back to receiving the college acceptance letter in which his real last name, McCallister, had been omitted. The David Henry he is today, severed from his poor family, had in some sense been created the day he received that letter. He takes a bus to the West Virginia house where he grew up.
At the house, David finds it occupied by a squatter who’s gone for the moment. Intricate paper snowflakes hang from the walls. New memories about growing up there come to David, including memories about his dead sister, June.
David falls asleep on a bed and wakes to find himself tied up. A 16-year-old girl named Rosemary gives David water but won’t free him. He’s reminded of June and guesses that Rosemary is pregnant and her family kicked her out. Trying to get her to free him, David eventually shows her the pictures of Phoebe in his breast pocket. After some questioning, David cries and confesses everything—about June and about Phoebe—in a “river” of speech. Rosemary unties him and says he’s free.
Like Caroline in the previous chapter, David spends this entire chapter finding freedom from his past by traveling back in time. David first meets Caroline, who represents the night he gave Phoebe away, at his lecture, then walks into the city where he went to college, and then travels to the house where he was born. At the house and tied to the bed, he’s helpless and unable even to take a drink of water by himself. The man who has practiced control his entire adult life is finally put in a position of absolute dependency and vulnerability. Rosemary’s honest listening enables him to purge himself of his secrets and finally come to terms with his sister’s death.
It’s tempting to think of Rosemary as a replacement for Phoebe, the daughter David never raised. But it would be more accurate to think of Rosemary as a replacement for June, the sister David never got to protect. David finds Rosemary living in the house that June lived in and thinks of how June used to eat eggs the way he sees Rosemary eating them. That David’s most character-defining moment came with June’s death rather than at Phoebe’s birth to some extent lessens his guilt about giving his daughter away. He didn’t give Phoebe away without reason: He was acting in response to his painful past.
Phoebe is the first female in the novel to practice an art form, and Rosemary is the second. Her snowflakes are a major symbol in David’s life. Until now, snow has represented David’s control and coldness in his relationships. What Rosemary does is turn snow into something beautiful. She cuts a snowflake as he confesses to her and uses the scissors to cut him free. Her listening allows David to let out a “river” of talk and to cry—to enter the world of water and compassion.