Summary: Chapter 3: Cream Shoes

Tara dives deeper into her mother's history. Faye grew up in a middle-class Mormon family where outer appearances and social conventions were highly valued. She rebelled by marrying Tara's father, Gene. Gene grew up with an abusive father and a mother who was often busy working. His rugged, independent life was initially very appealing to Faye. Faye's family disapproved of the marriage, and during Tara's childhood, relations with her mother's family were always strained. Gene was twenty-one at the time of the marriage, and initially seemed merely rebellious and unconventional. As he aged, and the couple had more and more children, Gene became more and more radical, taking actions like refusing to send his children to school or have a phone line. Tara recollects that later in life, she learned about bipolar disorder and notes that the typical timeline associated with the appearance of symptoms seems to line up with her father's gradual descent into paranoid and controlling behavior.

Summary: Chapter 4: Apache Women

Tara recollects a car accident which takes place when the family goes on a trip during her childhood, when she is about ten. Noticing signs of depression in her husband, Faye takes the whole family on a trip to Arizona to visit her in-laws. However, Gene spends most of the visit getting in heated arguments with his mother. Fed up, Gene insists they begin driving home, and they end up in a serious car accident while Tyler is driving. Despite the injuries, no one receives medical attention, and Faye experiences a brain injury which leads to confusion and migraines.

Summary: Chapter 5: Honest Dirt

A month after the car accident, Tyler announces that he wants to go to college. This news is especially disruptive because Tony and Shawn have also recently left home, and Gene is highly dependent on Tyler's help. Tyler has always been studious and methodical, which is uncommon in a family where most of the children receive a very haphazard education. Tara's maternal grandparents applaud this decision, but at the time, Tara doesn't understand why her brother would want to go to school. Her interactions with her grandparents from this time period reveal that Tara sees the world's from her father's perspective, and takes pride in being different.

Summary: Chapter 6: Shield and Buckler

As Tara and her siblings grow older, the family dynamic continues to shift. Audrey begins to work, and uses her earnings to fuel her own independence. Richard and Tara also become more involved in helping their father with his job working with scrap metal. This is dangerous, fast-paced work, and Tara realizes that she is going to be in physical peril for as long as she does it. In the meantime, Faye is still suffering from the effects of her brain injury, and it makes her question her abilities as a midwife. She shifts away from working as a midwife to concocting blends of essential oils which she believes have healing properties. Faye also seems to be moving away from a formerly scientific and rational perspective toward one where she relies on intuition and spiritual claims.

Tara's knowledge that Tyler has chosen to go away to attend school makes her more curious about education, and she finds herself daydreaming about possibly going to school herself. Richard also seems to be displaying similar tendencies, sneaking off to read and study by himself. Toward spring, Tara is involved in a dangerous accident while scrapping with her father. Her mother treats her injuries at home rather than taking her to a doctor. A short time later, Tara tells her father that she wants to go to school, but she backs down when she sees his disapproval.

Analysis: Chapters 3–6

Because Tara is writing the memoir as an adult, she can look back and see how information like the symptoms of mental illness may have impacted her childhood. When Tara was very young, she assumed her family was normal because they were the only family dynamic she had ever been exposed to. This experience is typical for most children, and because Tara's life was so isolated, the effect was even more dramatic. Tara's knowledge of the symptoms and typical progression of bipolar disorder is an example of how her education gives her new understanding and clarity about her early life. If she had not eventually gone away to college, she might never have learned about mental illness, and she might have always assumed that her father was right about the way he saw the world. While Gene seems very unique and different from other people, his symptoms are such textbook examples of a disorder that Tara can immediately see the connection as soon as she learns about the disease. The context of mental illness is also very important because it helps to explain why Tara does not present her father as a bad person. Instead, she shows him as someone who was suffering and could not get help, because everyone around him was too isolated and ignorant to know what was happening.

Read more about the power of knowledge as a theme.

Faye's injury in the car accident reflects how Gene's reckless behavior has serious, long-term consequences for his family members. Gene's impatience and bad temper lead to the family starting their drive at an unsafe time, and Tyler is a young and inexperienced driver. Part of why Gene is such a dangerous character is because he combines absolute authority with reckless and impulsive decisions. He insists on everything within the family being done according to his will, but he does not have good judgement. Faye's head injury seems to have both physiological and psychological consequences, since it robs her of the confidence to practice a profession which gave her some amount of autonomy and self-confidence. Without her work as a midwife, she reverts into being more submissive to her husband, and less able to think for herself. Part of how this change manifests is that she becomes reliant on her intuition and faith-based healing. Previously, Faye's work as a midwife made use of scientifically sound medical techniques, and she was not afraid to take a client to the hospital if the situation became dangerous. Perhaps because she knew she was using her skills as best she could, Faye's work as a midwife also seemed to increase her independence and assertiveness. Once she begins to work more with herbs, Faye's focus is much less scientific.

Read more about injuries as a motif.

Tyler's decision to pursue an education represents a moment where Gene starts to lose control over his children, and sets events into motion which will eventually lead to Tara pursuing her own studies. When his children are very young, Gene uses his authority to make them live according to what he wants. As they grow older, all the children seek independence in different ways. For Audrey, Tony, and Shawn, this means looking for work beyond the family business and trying to become financially independent, but Tyler chooses a different path. He values intellectual freedom, not just financial freedom, and he knows that the only way he can gain a more complex understanding of the world is by leaving Buck's Peak and seeking out an education. Tyler's decision makes him a new type of role model to Tara: for the first time, she sees someone making choices motivated by values of curiosity and a desire to learn. Although she is not yet strong enough to strike out on her own, Tara's own sense of curiosity and independence is activated by watching her older brother. Tyler has always been studious, so the decision to go to college is a natural extension of his personality, but it marks a more distinctive departure point for Tara.

Read more about the conflict between identities as a theme.