Chapters eight & nine

Summary: Chapter eight, Part 1

The story returns to after Lydia’s death. Pretending to teach a canceled summer class, James finds comfort with Louisa. At home, he continues to be hard on Nathan, and the two get in a fight. Officer Fiske delivers the news that the police have ruled Lydia’s death a suicide and have closed the investigation. Marilyn believes the police have given up because Lydia is non-white. James thinks Marilyn’s comments mean Marilyn regrets their marriage. James tells Louisa he should have married her, someone more like him. 

Nathan secretly calls the police to share his suspicions about Jack, but the police dismiss his concerns. Marilyn hides out in Lydia’s room and Nathan in his room. Hannah looks through the small items she has stolen from her family in the hopes they will come looking for them. Hannah thinks Nathan is wrong about Jack, and she recalls an event at the lake the previous summer when Jack sat down to talk to Lydia. Nathan got out of the water and sat between them to protect Lydia. When a droplet of water fell from Nathan’s head onto Jack’s hand, Hannah observed Jack quietly touch his tongue to the droplet. This made her understand that Jack is in love with Nathan.

Summary: Chapter eight, Part 2

In Lydia’s room, Marilyn thinks about her conversation with James. She realizes that on their wedding day, James must have overheard Marilyn tell someone that her mother thought she should marry someone more like her. Marilyn wants to tell James she would marry him again and that Lydia’s death is not his fault. But that night James doesn’t come home. The next day Marilyn goes looking for him at his office and finds he’s not there. The following day when James still hasn’t returned home, Nathan suggests she check with Louisa. Marilyn drives to Louisa’s apartment, and Louisa pretends James is not there. However, Marilyn knows better and asks Louisa to tell her husband that she will see him at home.

Summary: Chapter nine, Part 1

In the time leading up to her death, Lydia spends time with Jack, just talking. She tells Jack about her life, and Jack asks questions about Nathan. He also starts teaching Lydia to drive. Nathan continues to monitor Lydia’s activities, sure that Jack is taking advantage of her. But the siblings never talk about Lydia’s new friendship. At home, Lydia’s parents continue to put pressure on her to study and be social. When Nathan receives another letter from Harvard, Lydia tries to keep it from him by ripping it in half. Nathan catches her doing this and tells her angrily that he can’t wait to leave home. 

Sensing Lydia’s sadness, James gives Lydia an early birthday present of a heart locket that Louisa helped him pick out. At first, Lydia feels happy to get a real present. But her happiness disappears when she sees the photos inside of herself dressed up for a ninth-grade school dance. James hopes the photos will remind Lydia of the importance of friendship and love, but the photos only serve to put more pressure on Lydia to fit in when she doesn’t.

Summary: Chapter nine, Part 2

James and Louisa take Lydia to get her driver’s permit. In the car, Lydia notices the affectionate way that Louisa touches James and concludes that Louisa is sleeping with her father, which makes her angry. Upset, Lydia fails her driver’s permit test. Lydia worries she will never be able to get away from her parents. At home, Hannah happily helps Marilyn decorate a birthday cake for Lydia that is also meant to celebrate Lydia getting her driver’s permit. When Lydia gets home, she announces that she failed her test. Hannah knows the reason Lydia failed is that she didn’t study. Hannah had stolen Lydia’s driver’s handbook a while back, and Lydia never came looking for it. In her room, an angry Lydia yanks off her new locket and hides it under her bed. But during the birthday dinner, Lydia smiles. No one notices the smile is fake except Hannah, who is aware of her sister’s dangerous transformation.

Analysis: Chapters eight & nine

These chapters demonstrate Lydia’s desperation to expand her life beyond the suffocating walls of the Lee family home. Lydia tries to do so with Jack, who is similar to her in that everyone believes they know him, but no one truly does. Jack's attempts to teach Lydia how to drive are unsuccessful, symbolizing the difficulty she faces when trying to break free of the limitations her parents have set for her. If being able to drive represents Lydia’s chance for freedom, then failing her permit test represents being stuck in a role that is slowly crushing her. Her friendship with Jack, and his willingness to simply listen to what Lydia has to say, is worth more than any of the guidance that her parents have given her. In a story where silences form walls between characters, their friendship is like an open gate, albeit one that Lydia cannot fully pass through. 

James's relationship with Louisa is another example of a character grasping at something that cannot be found within the confines of the Lee family. In sleeping with Louisa, James takes a step away from the idealized American life that he has always craved. Louisa provides James with a temporary respite from a belief that haunts him: that Lydia's life, and its attendant tragic ending, would not have occurred if he hadn't been so intent on marrying a white woman. James finds a kind of safety with Louisa, but that safety doesn't solve his problems or assuage his guilt. Like Marilyn's sojourn, it is a retreat from the life he has created for himself, but that life still exists. The draw of family, as fraught as it is, is inexorable. Both James and Marilyn feel the need to step away from their lives for a while and consider what other paths they might have taken, before coming back to their painful reality.