Summary: Chapter Twenty-Three

Lily comes home after spending time with the baby to find Ryle standing in the dark in the kitchen, holding the Boston magnet that Atlas gave her for her 16th birthday. He seems strange, and Lily can’t tell if he’s upset or wants to have sex. He asks her about the magnet, and she says she can’t remember where she got it because she’s afraid the truth will upset him. He begins to kiss her and touch her. Then he stops, asking her again where she got the magnet. He pulls her hair, and she tells him he’s hurting her. He insists she take her shirt off and read the article in the newspaper about the best businesses in Boston. Bib’s, Atlas’s restaurant, is in the article, too, and Ryle has her read the paragraphs about it. Atlas says that the name stands for “better in Boston,” and says that the phrase is connected to a woman who means a lot to him. 

Lily tells Ryle to stop and goes into the bedroom. She finds her journal on the bed. He has read about her relationship with Atlas. He comes up behind her and bites down hard on the heart tattoo she got of Atlas’s drawing. He demands to know why Atlas is still such a part of her life and apartment and body. Lily is terrified and tries to get him to walk away until he’s more calm. He refuses, saying he’s not angry and that he just has to prove how much more he loves Lily than Atlas does. He tries to rape Lily and when she bites his tongue, he headbutts her. She loses consciousness. 

She falls in and out of consciousness while Ryle apologizes, and then falls asleep. She’s bleeding from her forehead, and it’s difficult for her to see. She can’t find her keys. She doesn’t know who to call. Then, she realizes that Atlas is the only person she can call. She admits deep down she knew that she would need his number at some point, so she memorized it. She hates herself for calling Atlas. Atlas comes and tries to get at Ryle, but Lily insists that they leave. When she gets too dizzy to walk, he picks her up and carries her to the car. They head to a hospital and Lily insists that they don’t go to Mass General because that’s where Ryle works, and she still wants to protect his career. This makes her hate herself.

Summary: Chapter Twenty-Four

Atlas stays in the exam room with Lily. The nurse asks Lily if she was raped, and she insists she wasn’t. Lily finds out that she’s pregnant, and she can hardly process this information. In the moment, she feels like her mother. 

Atlas takes her to his house, which she thinks is lovely. He lives alone. Lily thinks about how people always ask why women don’t leave abusive men but never why the men abuse women. 

Summary: Chapter Twenty-Five

When Lily wakes up, she smells toast and thinks for a moment that Ryle is cooking for her. She feels happy before she opens her eyes and remembers where she is and what happened. Atlas has made her breakfast, and she thinks it’s one of the most delicious things she’s ever tasted. They talk for a bit about how he started cooking, and Lily says she remembers the cookies he made for her when they were teenagers. He has to go to work, but he says he will be back as soon as possible and asks Lily not to leave. When he’s gone, she sees he’s left a note for her that has his home and work addresses and phone numbers. The note also tells her to just keep swimming. She writes her first entry to Ellen as an adult. She writes about how she’s married to someone, and it isn’t Atlas and how shocking that is. She also writes about how much she’s struggling with the fact that she’s still in love with someone who physically hurts her. 

Summary: Chapter Twenty-Six

At moments, Lily is able to feel her joy at being pregnant, but it’s often overshadowed by all her feelings about Ryle, which makes her resent Ryle. Atlas and Lily spend some time together; he feeds her, and they watch a week’s worth of episodes of the Ellen show. They cuddle on the couch and Lily feels guilty but also relieved to be with Atlas. Atlas says he has to work the next day. Lily thinks he wants her to leave, but he clarifies that he’d prefer it if she stayed. She feels relieved because she needs more time to recover from all that happened with Ryle.

Analysis: Chapters Twenty-Three–Twenty-Six

The motif of Ellen returns in these chapters, as Lily needs a safe place to express her struggles. Lily stopped writing to Ellen in her diary after she lost Atlas the first time. She finds herself in a space that’s remarkably similar in some ways to the day Atlas left. As a teenager, she found love with Atlas, and it was disrupted by her father’s violence. As an adult, her love is once again disrupted by violence, and she once again finds solace with Atlas. She turns to Ellen in this moment when she feels like she can’t truly turn to anyone else. In her entry to Ellen, Lily explores her new realizations about her situation and articulates how difficult it is for her to stop loving Ryle just because he hurt her. In a sense, Lily returns to Ellen as the caretaking figure she created when she was a traumatized teenager. But this time, instead of imagining Ellen’s advice or opinion, Lily articulates her own truth as nakedly as possible. She discovers that though she loves Ryle, she will not continue to tolerate his abuse. Though she can’t fully commit to leaving him, on the pages of her journal to Ellen, she’s first able to fully reject the marriage that has caused her so much pain.

This section explores the most painful aspects of Lily’s love and Ryle’s abuse. Lily articulates clearly in her journal that she used to believe that it was very simple and that her mother should have left her father. But, by experiencing it firsthand, she now finds a more complex thicket of emotions. She is unable to cut off her feelings of love for Ryle and finds it difficult and painful not to continuously forgive him. Because her love for herself and her love for Ryle are in opposition to each other, loving Ryle makes her turn against herself, and in moments she truly hates herself for staying with him. She feels especially filled with self-loathing when she protects him and lies for him, as when she tells Atlas not to take her to Ryle’s hospital to treat the wounds he gave her. Conversely, when Lily feels love or protection for herself, the hatred she feels for Ryle is overwhelming, too, and in the aftermath of their worst altercation, Lily can find no peace, and every aspect of her reality is painful and filled with conflict.

Throughout this section, imagery associated with the ocean and the mantra “Just keep swimming” repeat, highlighting both Lily’s sense that she is drowning and her determination to keep moving forward in the face of turmoil. The ocean takes on positive and negative connotations, emphasizing that more than anything at this point in her narrative, Lily feels at sea. For example, when she sees Atlas’s kitchen, the blues evoke the Caribbean Sea for her, and she feels as though Atlas has “kept swimming” all the way to a beautiful, rich, successful life filled with the calming colors of a warm sea. However, when she’s alone in Atlas’s guest room, she feels as though she’s adrift on the sea, alone on a raft, and she’s overwhelmed with waves of grief, sadness, and rage. This adds new dimensions to Atlas and Lily’s mantra to just keep swimming. She feels the ocean is inside her during her grief over Ryle, and at times, it’s hard for her to keep moving forward, as she even doesn’t know what moving forward looks like.