Summary and Analysis
Caroline and Phoebe now live in Pittsburgh in Doro March’s basement apartment. Caroline takes care of Doro’s father, Leo, a retired academic physicist with dementia. Caroline and Doro have been building a friendship based on their care for those less able.
Sandra and her son Tim, who has Down syndrome, visit Caroline and Phoebe. Sandra and Caroline met in the library looking up official information about Down syndrome and now meet weekly. They begin to ask why they can’t just reject the world’s standards and raise their children like other children.
After Sandra leaves, Caroline realizes that Leo has fled the house. Eventually she finds him at the bottom of an outdoor stairwell. He runs to her and tells her offhandedly that she is smart, which encourages her.
When Caroline and Leo reach home, Al shows up after having searched all over to find out where Caroline lives. Caroline is elated. Al shows Phoebe a medallion he got while on a trucking run. Phoebe reaches for it and grabs it, overcoming a limitation that Caroline had worried about earlier. Caroline is filled with hope and longing for the child to grow.
Caroline manages through mutual compassion and care to build a community that does not accept society’s rules. She’s made two friendships built on caring for a person with an intellectual disability. Significantly, both friendships are between women who are not blood-related. While Norah’s strained familial relationships with her husband and sister boast an outward show of stability, Caroline’s makeshift connections to Sandra and Doro look unorthodox from the outside but are strengthened by a bond of mutual care and respect. Norah and David suffer from a compulsive need for control, whereas Caroline’s, Doro’s, and Sandra’s circumstances have made control impossible. They rely on close companionship for their stability.
Supported by these friendships, Caroline learns to oppose societal expectations for Phoebe. Sandra and Caroline are unhappy with how medical “authorities” discuss people like Phoebe and Tim, so they decide to throw out the script that society has given them. They ask a daring question: What if we included people with disabilities in how we imagine a good and just society? When Caroline receives Leo’s compliment as a meaningful compliment, not as the babbling of a demented old man, her joy is a glimpse of the kind of society that she and Sandra dream about.