Chapters Sixteen & Seventeen

Summary: Chapter Sixteen 

The morning after the party, Lucy avoids David, who reluctantly helps Petrus lay pipes from the dam to the site of Petrus’s new house. David’s anger increases as Petrus says nothing about the party or the boy who raped Lucy. Petrus only mentions that the insurance company will give David a new car. As David presses Petrus on needing to bring the criminals to justice, Petrus only says Lucy is safe now, that he’ll protect her, and that David can leave the farm. Petrus eventually admits he knows that Lucy was raped but insists that the youth from the party is innocent. 

David confides to Bev at the animal clinic that he’s considering returning to Cape Town but is afraid for Lucy. Bev says Petrus will protect her, but David repeats his suspicions that Petrus wants her land. Bev then challenges David’s assertion that he understands what Lucy went through during the attack. On Sundays, David and Bev euthanize unwanted dogs, which leads David to cry during a drive home and realize he’s no longer indifferent to animals. He sympathizes with dogs in the clinic yards, believing they can smell death inside and know their time has come. David also transports the corpses to an incinerator, taking care to load them himself. 

Summary: Chapter Seventeen

Bev wonders to David if he misses having women friends, which leads to a discussion about his affair with Melanie. Bev tells him not to be hard on Melanie, then asks if he regrets the affair and if it was difficult for him to give up his position at the University. David tells her he didn’t regret the affair in the act, which causes Bev to blush. David tells Bev that here in the country he’s now out of the way of temptation, but then touches Bev’s lips in a sexual way. Bev and David have sex the next day at the clinic. David doesn’t find sex with Bev, whom he sees as unattractive, pleasing. He thinks that Bev should feel especially pleased to have had him for a lover but laments that he has sunken to a new low. 

Analysis: Chapters Sixteen & Seventeen

Petrus is now on the rise. No longer Lucy’s assistant, or the “dog-man,” he now owns his own land where he is building a new house, a sign not only of increasing wealth and social status, but also of permanence. Petrus’s ascent is significant given South Africa’s racial history, as is the fact that David, one day after the party, is helping Petrus lay the infrastructure of Petrus’s increasing estate. Conversely, David, at present exiled without a career and in a state of disgrace, has become a “dog-man” himself while volunteering at Bev’s animal clinic. David’s new position doesn’t only speak to his downfall and a transfer of power, however. It also sheds light on how he’s gained the compassion he once sorely lacked. After helping Bev euthanize old, wounded, and unwanted dogs, David is brought to tears on his drive home. He also makes a concerted effort to treat their corpses with dignity, opting to go out of his way to load them into the incinerator himself. Although it’s safe to assume that David has changed as a person, he remains a complex character who appears angered and cynical about his growth.

Petrus’s refusal to truly confront the youth at his party, identified both by Lucy and David as one of Lucy’s three rapists, sheds light on the complexities of racial perspectives and dynamics in post-Apartheid South Africa. David (who is white), believes Petrus (who is Black) is lying, and merely trying to protect the youth from harm, despite the harm the youth has caused. Petrus’s exchange with the youth in Xhosa at the party is especially telling: It’s a language, readers learned in Chapter Nine as David watched soccer on TV, that David doesn’t understand. Did Petrus plan the attack in a scheme to instill fear in Lucy and gain access to the rest of her land? Was Petrus simply away at the time of the attack and believes that the youth has been wrongly accused? Or was Petrus away during the attack and now knows the boy is guilty but feel he must shield him from a legal system that’s rooted in a racist past? They’re difficult and yet unresolvable questions, as Petrus’s mind and motives remain unclear to readers. What is clear, though, is how fraught the country’s racial situation is, and how race can often shape perspectives and influence decisions.

David’s statement to Bev that he’s now out of temptation’s way and his subsequent touching of her lips reveals added complexities of his character. It’s possible that, with his heightened sense of compassion and understanding, he felt remorse for his comment and tried to make up for it with his touch. It’s possible, too, that as a vain man, David felt he was doing Bev, whom he feels is unattractive, a favor. Either way, that David should feel he’s sunken to a new low after having sex with Bev shows that he stills equates a woman’s worth with her physical appearance, which can be seen as a shame given how much Bev has taught him about compassion, kindness, and decency. After years of having sex with colleagues’ wives, it’s also striking that David would have sex with Bev after the kindness and humanity that her husband, Bill, extended. The more David changes, it seems, the more David stays the same.