Summary and Analysis
July 1, 1989
In David’s photography studio, Norah starts going through his photos to choose the ones she’d like to keep and the ones she’ll give to museums interested in them. She finds a box of photos of girls of all ages and a box of photos of Paul at all ages.
Caroline shows up at the house. She and a surprised Norah sit in the kitchen, where Caroline tells her that David gave Phoebe away at birth, that Caroline took her, and that Phoebe has been happy and loved. Caroline says that she always thought of herself as an innocent hero but admits that she also wanted a child. She gives her address to Norah and leaves.
Norah is distraught. Back in David’s studio, she pushes box after box of photos out of the window and into the yard. She sleeps fitfully, then wakes and starts burning many photos, though not the ones of Paul. She thinks the museum curators will say she’s destroying history, but to her mind, she’s reclaiming it.
The past several chapters have been leading up to an ending. Paul seems bound for marriage, Phoebe seems bound for marriage, Norah seems bound for marriage, and Bree is already married. But in this climactic chapter, Caroline Gill blows the story off course. The ending that seemed to be coming would have been based on a lie, but now that Caroline has told Norah that Phoebe is living with her, the story will end on a note of truth.
The theme of how women treat other women is highlighted in this chapter. When Caroline arrives at Norah’s house, Norah instinctively invites her into the kitchen “from force of habit” and gets them a glass of ice water. These actions are characteristically female, and the conversation takes place in a gendered space: the kitchen. Caroline confesses to her mixed motives: She wanted to be a mother and she loved David. Norah has been subjected to numerous innuendos and unspoken judgments from other women; Caroline’s straight talk is mercifully straightforward and honest.
Norah’s burning of David’s photographs introduces the symbol of fire. She uses fire to “reclaim” history, to burn up the secret-concealing photographs that represent David’s controlling lies. Whereas water is a symbol of connection and snow a symbol of control and separation, fire serves to cleanse. The final words of the chapter echo the words at Phoebe’s confirmation service: “Ashes to ashes. Dust, at last, to dust.” Caroline’s revelation makes it possible for Norah to put her past to rest.