Summary and Analysis
July 1988 (II)
Norah and Bree are in Paris waiting to meet Paul. He’s late, and Norah wonders if he’s forgotten about their meeting because he’s fallen in love with a flautist named Michelle.
Bree is now married to a minister, and Norah has been seeing a man named Frederic, who wants to marry her. David recently died from a massive heart attack. Norah went to his funeral and cried more than she expected to. She comments that Paul and David never resolved their differences; Bree points out that David and Norah never did either.
Paul arrives, Bree leaves, and Norah tells Paul that his father is dead. Paul wonders if David ever loved him. Seeing an elderly couple in the park, Norah regrets that she and David didn’t get to grow old together; she teases herself for having old-fashioned hopes for her life. She decides that she’s happy with her life.
Michelle shows up, and she and Paul walk Norah to the train. As it arrives, Norah shouts to Paul over the rising noise that David loved him. Back at where she’s staying, Frederic arrives. After they eat dinner, Norah is full of both grief and joy and loses herself in the sound of a nearby river.
If the last chapter showed the crumbling of the Henry family, this chapter shows a future for Norah, Paul, and Bree. Bree has married a minister, of all people; Norah is likely to marry Frederic, who is very unlike David; and it appears that Paul is ready to start his own family with Michelle. When Paul arrives to meet Norah and Bree, Norah says, “Paul’s here!” and when Michelle arrives, Paul says twice, “It’s Michelle.” The similarity in their responses suggests that Paul is thinking of his attachment to Michelle in the same way that Norah thinks of her attachment to Paul—as a natural family bond.
Though Norah has spent 20 years stifling them, her traditional tendencies arise in this chapter as she thinks about her relationship with David and with Paul. The older couple she sees stirs up her longing for a classic romance. Norah’s resurgent traditionalism emphasizes once again that the world places contradictory expectations on women, expectations that never seem to lose their pull.
Norah’s final words to Paul at the train station recall the earlier chapter in which Paul and his friend Duke dodged a train in Lexington. In that chapter, Paul had been wondering if his father truly loved him. In this chapter, he hears from his mother that David certainly did love him. But this chapter gives a false sense of closure and finality. Each character seems poised to start a new life, but an old secret still waits to be revealed.