Summary: Chapter 34: The Substance of Things

When she gets home, Tara tells her father that Shawn has threatened Audrey, and that she suspects Audrey has confronted Shawn about his abusive past. Gene is unwilling to accept Tara's statements about Shawn without proof. Tara expects her mother to take her side, but is horrified when she realizes that Faye is not going to stand up for her. Tara flees in tears, and comes back to learn that her father has told Shawn to come to the house.

When Shawn arrives, he threatens Tara and hands her a bloody knife. Tara has a disembodied experience wherein she renounces her claims, insisting that she has never accused Shawn of anything. Gene's droning lecture focuses on the need for feminine obedience, and Shawn leaves calmly, feeling justified. After Shawn leaves, Tara phones Drew, who urges her to leave. So as not to disrupt the fragile calm, Tara waits until the morning, and then drives away. Passing her brother's trailer, she sees blood in the snow outside. She will later learn that after Shawn received the phone call from their father, he killed his pet dog with a knife.

Looking back on the traumatic events, Tara understands that despite the online conversation with her mother, Faye had never spoke with Gene or confronted Shawn.

Summary: Chapter 35: West of the Sun

Tara returns to Cambridge and waits in fear for the confrontation when Shawn will come to understand that she had deliberately told her parents about what he did to her. In early March, Shawn reaches out to her and threatens her life. Tara tells her parents what is happening, but they do little to help her. Eventually Shawn cuts Tara out of his life entirely. Her mother also disagrees with the account of what happened the night of the confrontation.

That summer, Tara goes to Paris with Drew. While there, she receives an email from Audrey. Audrey tells her that their father is insisting that Tara and Audrey forgive Shawn. Audrey has decided to forgive Shawn, and now she blames Tara for having corrupted her and given her evil ideas. She is cutting ties with Tara as well. Tara realizes that her relationship with her family is likely damaged beyond repair. She also, however, begins to question her own memory and even her own sanity. Desperate, Tara contacts Erin, a woman whom Shawn used to date. Erin confirms that everything Tara claims also happened to her.

Tara never fully feels certain of her memories until years later when she runs into a man in Utah who recognizes her last name and mentions Shawn. He says that he witnessed Shawn assaulting a young woman, and Tara takes this as confirmation that everything she remembers about Shawn is true.

Summary: Chapter 36: Four Long Arms Whirling

Tara arrives at Harvard and begins her studies there. She is shocked to learn that her parents are going to visit her in Boston. Shortly before the visit, Tara gets in contact with Charles, who suggests that Tara should just sever ties with her family. Tara's parents are desperate to convert her back to the faith, and she wishes she could just fall back on her old beliefs.

Tara travels with her parents to visit several important Mormon sites, and her father tells her she has fallen prey to Satan. Tara goes with her parents to Niagara Falls and has a moment of happiness with them. Before her parents leave, her father offers to give her a blessing. Tara refuses. Her father predicts that she is going to suffer, and will need the support of God and her family. Still, Tara stands her ground. Her parents leave almost immediately afterward.

Analysis: Chapters 34–36

Tara's attempt to reveal what Shawn has done to her ends with her being betrayed by the female family members in whom she placed her trust. When Tara's mother first told her that she believes Tara's account of the abuse and will intervene, Tara did not hesitate to trust Faye. This innocent faith makes the crushing betrayal of learning Faye did nothing—and will not defend Tara—so much worse. Tara has always feared abandonment and having her family turn their back on her, and now this fear comes to pass. First her mother, and then Audrey, decide that it is more important to preserve their relationships with Gene and Shawn. These women do not have access to the same independence that Tara does, and they fear the unknown. Tara becomes the scapegoat.

The lack of familial support creates additional trauma by making Tara question her sanity. With the very real fear that Shawn might attack and kill her, Tara makes a choice of self-preservation, and pretends she never accused Shawn of abuse. While this action keeps her physically safe, it takes a huge psychological toll since Tara effectively betrays herself. The decision is even more traumatic because everyone around Tara accuses her of either lying or being delusional, and she goes along with these claims. Tara is in very real danger of losing her own conviction in her sanity, and giving in to the idea that nothing has happened to her, and she has just been overreacting all along.

Shawn's violence and anger confirm that there is no hope of resurrecting a relationship with him. Shawn has shown moments of possibly having some lingering kindness and humanity, but once Tara starts to talk openly about the abuse, his rage is too far gone. Shawn is determined to protect his reputation and his relationship with the family at all costs. He is prepared to drive Tara away, or worse. Although Tara has suffered so much, she has never been willing to cut Shawn out of her life, and knowing that her brother will always hate and despise her is excruciating. Tara hoped that speaking the truth would somehow heal her family, but in the short term, it seems only to cost her.

Read more about the bloody knife as a symbol.

Knowing that her family has completely failed to protect and nurture her, Tara finally finds the courage to fully defy them. Tara has gradually been taking steps toward independence, but she has never fully relinquished her relationship with her family. She still treats Buck's Peak like the home she will invariably return to, and she at least maintains outward expectations of loving and honoring her parents. When her parents side with Shawn, Tara realizes they have never done any of the things parents are supposed to do for their children, and this makes her question why she needs to keep behaving like an obedient daughter. While it is painful, this final betrayal gives Tara clarity and freedom. By refusing her father's blessing, Tara draws a boundary for the first time in her adult life. She will never stop loving her parents, but she also needs to live according to her own standards and beliefs.

Read more about an important quote that occurs in Chapter 36.