Summary and Analysis
September 1, 1989
After Norah and Frederic’s wedding ceremony, Paul and Phoebe talk about how Norah is going to live in France and they’re going to visit her soon. Again Phoebe tells Paul that she and Robert are getting married—but only after they save some money.
Norah and Paul talk about David, and each speaks about being able to forgive him and accept the past. Paul tells her that he’s going to take a job in Pittsburgh to be close to Phoebe.
Paul drives with Phoebe to David’s grave. Paul thinks that, for David, everything Paul did was a reminder of Phoebe. At the grave, Phoebe sings a hymn, and Paul is struck by her selfless love toward the world. After Phoebe stops singing, they head home.
This final chapter, told from Paul’s perspective, emphasizes the novel’s central theme: compassion versus control. As Paul gets to know Phoebe, he admires her “direct and guileless love” because it so contrasts with his father’s approach to life and relationships. David always tried to control the world from a distance, but Phoebe chooses close compassion—even with the father she never knew.
Phoebe puts into practice what Norah said to Paul earlier: You can’t change the past so don’t get bogged down in it. Accepting the changing world rather than trying to control it is the central lesson that the characters have been learning all along. And though uncertainties remain—about Phoebe’s future with Robert, about Paul’s future—Norah and Paul do seem to have learned the community-creating, change-receiving power of love.