Sal, both enthusiastic and personally reflective as a storyteller, narrates Walk Two Moons. She layers her narrative with a complexity that reflects the complexity of human experience and consciousness. Sal tells the story of events immediately preceding her trip to Idaho during the trip itself, and she intersperses both of these narratives with stories. This structure reflects Sal's struggle to come to terms with a painful event in her past, namely the loss of her mother. She can reconcile herself with this tragic loss only gradually, by reliving it through the lives of others, by reflecting on it, by retelling it, and by reliving it through her own present experiences. The complex emotions resulting from her mother's death—guilt, anger, grief, a sense of abandonment, fear—cause Sal to withdraw, and to a small extent, to live within a fantasy world. Sal spends little time with her father and often treats him with suspicion and resentment, and she hides her complicated past, or neglects to share it, with her closest friends. Moreover, she decides to visit Idaho on the basis of a vain hope that her mother is not really dead, or that by wishing hard enough, Sal can bring her back to life. Throughout the novel, however, Sal faces and meets a number of challenges. For example, she attends school and makes new friends, she helps Phoebe understand and solve the "mystery" of Mrs. Winterbottom's disappearance, she reconciles herself to her father's new friend, Margaret Cadaver, she makes a perilous trek down a mountainside to visit her mother's grave, and she stands by her grandfather when her grandmother dies. By the end of the novel, Sal has accepted the fact of her mother's sadness and confusion prior to her departure, and, more importantly, has accepted her death. This acceptance allows Sal to move forward toward new experiences, realizing that grief and loss do not contradict beauty and love, but rather enhance them and, in a way, make them possible.
Sal's best friend is a small, nervous girl with a propensity to spin tall tales from the inconsequential events of her everyday life. At the outset of Walk Two Moons, Phoebe is both uptight and inconsiderate: she snaps at her mother's expressions of affection, she refuses to eat food at a friend's house, she suspects the people around her are malevolent and dangerous beings. Her mother's unexpected disappearance and Sal's friendship help Phoebe move beyond her limited and limiting perception of the world. Phoebe tries desperately to explain her mother's disappearance by insisting that she has been kidnapped. She goes so far as to construct an elaborate narrative of conspiracy around her mother's disappearance, naming suspects and gathering clues. However, Sal, who has also experienced the pain and confusion engendered by a mother's inexplicable disappearance, understands Phoebe is using her fantastical tale to hide from the possibility that her mother does not love her, or that her mother's departure had something to do with her. She understands that Phoebe is afraid to confront her own inconsiderate behavior toward Mrs. Winterbottom. When Mrs. Winterbottom reappears, Phoebe is shocked by the news she brings, but despite her initial revulsion, resolves to work harder to understand and accept her mother for who she really is.
Mr. Hiddle, Gram and Gramp's one remaining son, is a devoted father and husband who loves the outdoors and an uncomplicated life. He lives closely attuned to the simple pleasures of every day and regularly presents his wife and daughter with small gifts that reflect his perfect understanding of what makes them happy. Sal's father accepts the tragedies and challenges of life uncomplainingly and without bitterness, although he is devastated by the death of his wife. His wife's death, in fact, necessitates his departure from the farm, as he feels haunted and saddened by her memory. Even while trying to lessen the intensity of his longing for her, he clings to memories of her, as demonstrated by his attachment to Margaret Cadaver, who rightly sees his interest in her springing from the fact that she shared his wife's last days alive. Sal's father is incapacitated by his grief and is at a loss as to how he can help Sal deal with hers. Consequently, he allows Sal to withdraw from him and express her rebelliousness, although he responds lovingly and patiently to her questions and ideas. By the close of the novel, Sal's father has agreed to return to the farm. The memories of his wife, though present, no longer cause him such intense suffering.
The woman whose disappearance and death drives the entire novel, Sal's mother is a loving but deeply troubled wife and mother. Sal, who experiences a deep emotional bond with her mother, delights in her smiles, stories, and unpremeditated acts of joy and love. Even so, Sal's mother feels a sense of competition with her husband, and is plagued by the sense that she is not as "perfect" as he. Like her husband, she wants to have a house full of children, and consequently is crushed by her miscarriage and resulting hysterectomy. Confused and saddened by this loss, she feels as though she has become alienated from the person she was before her marriage and experiences a growing desire to reconnect with her old self. When she leaves on her journey, she cannot even bring herself to say goodbye to Sal because a spoken goodbye would feel too permanent. The novel never fully discloses what happened to Sal's mother during the course of her journey. She sends Sal postcard upon postcard, all of which declare her love and longing for Sal. The accident, of course, curtails any transformation and recovery, and Sal must reconcile herself not only with the loss of her mother, but also with the sadness that motivated her departure. Sal's mother is torn between her undeniable love for her husband and daughter and her unrelenting confusion and sadness.
It is "You can't keep the birds of SADNESS from flying overhead, but you can keep them from nesting in your hair,"
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