Summary and Analysis
May 1970 (II)
The day after Norah takes down the wasp nest, David is developing pictures in his darkroom behind their house. He’s still been getting mail from Caroline Gill. When the letters first began to arrive, he spent a few days tracking down Caroline in Cleveland but failed and came home. Just as the pictures are developing, Paul bursts into the darkroom, shedding light on the photos and ruining them. David shouts at Paul and immediately apologizes. Paul shows his dad some fossils he found. David looks at the fossils with genuine awe.
Norah has prepared a party for Paul. David notes that parties are a lot of work and suggests that she have them catered, but Norah thinks that he really means that she can’t do things by herself.
Bree and Mark arrive. David and Mark discover that they have a similar heritage: Both are from West Virginia. Envying Norah and Bree’s connection and longing to get away from Mark, who reminds him of his past, David starts taking pictures. Norah tells him to put the camera away. Meanwhile, Paul climbs a tree, falls, and breaks his arm.
David and Norah rush Paul to the emergency room for an X-ray. The bones’ structure revealed in the X-rays mesmerizes David. Norah blames the tension in their home for Paul’s broken arm. She also tells David about getting the travel agency job, which David feels is a criticism of him. Later at home, David reads a book to Paul that includes pictures of dogwood petals.
The imagery in this chapter helps to flesh out David’s worldview: Stability and order equal security and happiness. He takes pleasure in the fossils Paul shows him because they have managed to survive millennia of flooding and wear and tear. He marvels at the scans of Paul’s broken arm because the bones have the mysterious ability to mend themselves, to regain structure after being broken. He feels “both comforted and troubled” by the dogwood petals, which look like hard snow. Finally, he longs to catch in photos those “rare moments where the world seemed unified, coherent.” All of these symbols bring comfort and satisfaction to David because they counteract what he perceives as life’s tendency to fall apart and upset established plans.
David’s interest in control and stability doesn’t mean that he’s not interested in personal intimacy and fellowship. But he struggles to be with people. Paul asks to look up his fossils in a reference book so that he and his dad will have something to do together, but David is so trapped in his own thoughts and desires that he forgets to follow through on Paul’s request.
David tries to participate in the party by taking photos of the beautiful things he sees, but Norah argues that staying behind the camera distances him from the guests and hinders his ability to interact with them. Though he committed an act of injustice in the novel’s first chapter by telling Caroline to take Phoebe to an institution because she has Down syndrome and telling Norah that their daughter died, David is a sympathetic character. His conscience doesn’t rest easy knowing that he gave away his newborn daughter and lied to his wife. He tried to help his family heal, but his mind-set, always so focused on control, keeps him from realizing his own vulnerability.