Summary and Analysis
August 1977 (II)
Paul and his friend Duke walk along train tracks as a train approaches and intentionally leap off just before they’re run over. Paul likes the rush this gives him because he’s having a hard time processing his pent-up feelings about his mother’s adultery and his father’s distance. They go to Paul’s house, smoke marijuana, and play music, Duke on piano and Paul on guitar.
Norah calls to say that she has to stay late at work to entertain clients. Paul asks her if the clients like flamingos, a veiled reference to the swimsuit he saw on the sand outside of Howard’s house in Aruba. He hangs up.
Later, other older boys arrive and they smoke more marijuana. Paul gets depressed and retreats into the darkroom. Still in the house, the boys go through David’s photos and throw them onto the floor, smash a bottle, and graffiti the walls. Paul comes back into the house once they’re gone and finds a picture of David when he was Paul’s age. He falls asleep while looking at it.
At dawn, David returns and is furious when he sees the damage. He demands that Paul clean up everything. He explains the old picture that Paul was looking at and tells him about June and his family’s money troubles. Paul loves this moment of intimacy with his father and doesn’t want to ruin it, but he says he won’t quit music.
In this first chapter told from Paul’s perspective, Paul tries to understand his parents. Long passages describe his complex and chaotic inner life, but all of his dialogue with Duke is limited to short sentences about eating or playing basketball. When Norah calls, he manages to bring up her affair but only in a quick and snarky way. Playing the guitar is the only way he feels he can express himself, but he does so while lost in a high that isolates him from other people. Like his father, he can process his emotions only through an art form. Like his mother, he turns to substances to dull the pain he feels.
Paul’s emotional confusion is reflected in a jarring mixture of the symbolic imagery from previous chapters. When Paul and Duke get high the first time, it begins to rain as they play music. Paul thinks of the music as “waves riding” and “rising to a crest”—the theme of connection and intimacy associated with water and music imagery. But when he gets high the second time, he fears his father’s anger “shattering over them like waves.” Water has suddenly become an agent of destruction rather than intimacy. In his father’s darkroom, he fixates on a note that reads “brain coral bones,” which links water imagery with bones imagery. The symbols of closeness mix with the symbols of distance and control.