Summary and Analysis
July 2-4, 1989
In Cincinnati, Paul and Michelle argue, and Paul leaves knowing that their relationship is over. He drives to the old Lexington house to sort through his father’s photographs with his mom.
At the house, it seems to have been snowing, but the snow is ash from the one box of photographs Norah burned in the back yard before she stopped. Norah tells Paul about Caroline’s visit and about Phoebe being alive. Paul feels shocked, hurt, and mad at David.
On July 4, Norah and Paul drive to Caroline and Phoebe’s house in Pittsburgh. They watch Caroline work in her garden, and then they see Phoebe. When Paul approaches the house, Phoebe is transfixed; she touches Paul’s face. They go inside, where Phoebe is weaving a scarf using Norah’s favorite colors. Norah tells Phoebe that she’s her mother, but Phoebe doesn’t understand: Caroline is her mother. Phoebe takes Paul upstairs to her bedroom to listen to music.
Facing his sister for the first time, Paul experiences compassion and sensitivity that he’s never felt before. Phoebe is the thematic opposite to David, the father Paul could never connect to. David was a highly trained professional, able to exercise control over everything but people. Phoebe is an intellectually disabled person, but she’s able to feel people’s emotions and shower them with love.
As Phoebe and Paul go upstairs to her room, Phoebe turns to look him in the face, and Paul feels that she’s invading his personal space. But in this moment of closeness, Phoebe rightly observes that Paul is sad about Michelle. In Phoebe’s bedroom, brother and sister enjoy listening to Phoebe’s music, Paul’s emotional language. Ultimately Phoebe’s love overwhelms Paul’s confusion.
Though Phoebe connects to Paul, she doesn’t immediately warm up to Norah. That Phoebe has randomly chosen Norah’s favorite colors to weave into a scarf shows that some innate connection exists between the two. Nevertheless, Phoebe doesn’t want to live with this new mother. Like Paul, she wants to live by herself, with Robert. However, Phoebe’s identifying Caroline, not Norah, as her mother, plus her acceptance of Paul, opens an opportunity for an extended family structure. Rather than being handed off from one family to another, Phoebe weaves the two families together.