Summary and Analysis
While hiking with Norah and Paul to a natural stone bridge, David struggles with memories of his sister, June, who died of heart complications. He also struggles with the guilt he felt when he recently read a letter from Caroline updating him on Phoebe’s life.
When they reach the bridge, David scolds Norah for walking dangerously close to the edge. They lay out a picnic blanket on some grass, and David and Norah talk about Paul’s future. He wants Paul to have a better life than he did growing up. Internally, he is wracked with bad memories of his parent’s poverty and his sister’s illness, remembering how these situations consumed their lives. He comes very close to confessing that he gave Phoebe away, but does not.
Norah says that she wants another baby. David is reluctant because he fears upsetting the peace of their lives right now. Norah walks away. David loses himself in memories of wrangling snakes with his father to raise money to pay for school. Norah calls his name, and he snaps back to reality and fears that she is being attacked by a snake. He runs to the rescue but finds that Norah is just excited about some flowers she’s seen. Annoyed by his reaction, Norah says that she hates his protectiveness.
In the previous chapter, Phoebe’s future was threatened by a host of external obstacles but possibly secured by virtue of a makeshift community of love. In this chapter, David and Norah discuss Paul’s future without understanding that it’s threatened by David’s internal trauma and guilt.
On the one hand, David’s experience of poverty during his childhood makes him desperate to avoid the same hardships ever being experienced by his own family. On the other hand, the trauma of his sister’s death has so convinced him of life’s fragility that he longs to keep everything in place for the sake of safety, to account for every possible threat. His compulsive need for control places a great strain on his relationship with Norah now—and will do the same in his relationship with Paul later.
David struggles also under the weight of a certain idea of masculinity that hinders his ability to process his emotions. Because his understanding of manhood centers on the control of money and people, all his efforts to help his grieving wife and growing son are compromised by a lack of genuine compassion. He discharges all the duties of a “normal” father, those of material provision and physical protection, but his inability to emotionally connect with his wife and son makes him unable to be present in the way his family needs him most. Rather than returning Norah’s affection, he can only be protective in a way that makes her resent him.