Summary: Chapters 9-12

Chapter 9

Even though the lights stay on and everyone acts rationally, Clay imagines Ruth and Amanda screaming in terror, and how he will reason with and comfort them. Amanda, still skeptical of Ruth and G.H.’s story asks why they traveled so far from Manhattan during a blackout, and Ruth replies that they planned to stay at the house. Clay says he understands, but Amanda continues to resist, in part because she doesn’t believe them. G.H. offers them a refund and says he and Ruth will stay in the in-law suite downstairs, while Amanda opens her laptop to look at the conditions of the lease but there’s no WiFi. She rejects Clay’s attempt to help her, not wanting to look as if she hasn’t mastered technology. Ruth mentions that they heard the emergency broadcast system and it wasn’t a test. G.H. unlocks a kitchen drawer and offers to pay a thousand dollars in cash for the night. Amanda suggests that she and Clay talk privately., and G.H. asks permission to have a drink, then uses his own keys to unlock a cabinet.

Chapter 10

In the master bedroom, Amanda suggests the strangers might murder them, or that G.H. might sneak into Rose’s room. She doubts the couple owns the house and when Clay reminds her that G.H. has keys, says that he could be the handyman and Ruth the maid. Though ashamed of the thought, she doesn’t think they look like the owners of such a beautiful house. Amanda doesn’t believe that there was an emergency broadcast, and Clay turns on the TV, but the screen is blank. Amanda insists that she’s seen G.H. before and Clay acknowledges to himself that he isn’t good with Black faces. He thinks science has proven that people are better at recognizing people of their own race. Clay says he’ll talk to them again and declares that he and Amanda are going to be Good Samaritans, choosing not to mention the thousand dollars. The omniscient narrator says that no one in the house heard the first planes dispatched to the coast, “per protocol in that situation.” 

Chapter 11

Clay accepts a drink from G. H.’s private stock, while Amanda pours herself wine from their own bottle. She makes small talk, hoping to catch G.H. in a lie. He tells them that he and Ruth live on the Upper East Side, which surprises Clay because it is such an expensive, upscale neighborhood.  Clay says they live in Brooklyn and Amanda explains it’s Cobble Hill, which she considers to be a more respectable neighborhood. Ruth switches on the TV in the living room and the screen reads “emergency broadcast system.” Clay reasons that they already know that the blackout is causing the problems, but Amanda is skeptical and wonders if they should fill the bathtub. Ruth points out that the blackout could be a symptom of something bigger that is happening.

When G.H. mentions that he and Ruth haven’t eaten, Clay heats up the leftover pasta. Ruth compliments the food and Amanda explains her recipe, feeling embarrassed to serve such a simple meal. Ruth offers to wash the dishes and G.H. refills the drinks, while Clay suggests that things will be better in the morning. Ruth mentions North Korea and thinks about the false missile alarm in Hawaii. Privately, G.H. thinks that Iran or Putin have launched an attack. Clay recognizes how little he knows, but thinks that true intelligence involves accepting how limited one's intelligence is. He automatically consults his phone, but the there is still no internet, leading him to think about how dependent he is on it. “Still nothing,” he says, which answers a question they were all thinking, and everyone goes to bed. 

Chapter 12

On their way downstairs, Ruth states that this is her house and G. H. responds that he can’t throw the others out because they paid to stay there. He feels burdened by his foreknowledge of impending disaster, which he gleaned from the yield curve, a financial graph that G. H. believes can predict all kinds of disasters. Ruth reflects that she’s getting old and remembers holding her twin grandbabies without saying anything about the fact that they have two moms. G. H. inspects his emergency stores of non-perishables And Ruth muses that they spent too much money on remodeling because G. H. was charmed by Danny, the contractor. G. H. imagines funny news in the morning about raccoons breaking into a substation, or some other explanation for the blackout. Ruth is afraid because their normal routine has been disrupted, so G. H. reassures her, and she showers and changes. G. H. tries the TV again, but it doesn’t work. In bed, Ruth asks G. H. what he thinks has happened, and he says that he thinks they’ll laugh about it tomorrow, but he suspects a serious disaster is unfolding and he wonders what the scientists in the space station saw from above as New York went dark.  


In Chapters 9 and 10, Clay and Amanda reveal the nature of their racism. Amanda distrusts G. H. and Ruth, in part, because she associates Black people with criminality, but the real source of her unease is the disconnect that exists in her mind between luxury property ownership and Black people. While she excuses her distrust as natural maternal protectiveness, she has the self-awareness to be ashamed when she supposes that G. H. is a handyman and Ruth is a maid. She can’t disguise this thought as anything other than racism. To justify her thinking, she points to the plot of a well-known movie, unaware of the irony in using fiction to support her claims. Clay’s racism takes a different form. While his instincts tell him that the visitors are harmless, he’s disturbed by Amanda’s sudden assertion that she has seen G. H. before. Clay is aware that he has difficulty recognizing Black faces, but he is eager to explain this away in some manner that leaves him morally blameless. Therefore, he invokes “actual, biological, scientific evidence” that supposedly supports the idea that people are better at recognizing others of their own race. Clay and Amanda both believe themselves to be good people, and this forces them to justify the racism inherent in their thought processes.

Making small talk with the unexpected visitors, Clay and Amanda find themselves in uncharted territory, torn between the opposing forces of racism and classism. Based on race, Amanda mentally consigns G.H. and Ruth to working-class status, easily imagining them as the help. As she begins to accept them as the owners of the coveted house, she becomes confused. She subconsciously believes that she should treat Black people with suspicion or disdain, and treat rich people with respect and envy. But she has no idea how to treat rich Black people.  While Clay is happy to accept G. H.’s largesse in the form of a drink from his private reserve, Amanda pointedly sticks to drinking her own wine. And when G. H. reveals his fancy address on the Upper East Side, Amanda specifies that they live in Cobble Hill, a more desirable Brooklyn neighborhood than Carroll Gardens, which Clay first names. Her embarrassment at serving such simple food is a signal that she is beginning to see the visitors as rich people rather than as Black people. The confusion Amanda and Clay both feel about the appropriate way to interact with G.H. and Ruth reflects the tension between racism and classism.  

The mysterious impending disaster unfolds slowly against a backdrop of overindulgence in both food and drink. Amanda and Clay have already had dinner and drinks by the time their unexpected guests arrive, but Clay is immediately grateful to be offered a drink from G. H.’s locked cabinet, and Amanda wastes no time in helping herself to more wine. All of them turn to alcohol as a sedative in the face of fear of the unknown, and when G. H. hints that he and Ruth are hungry, both Amanda and Clay indulge in a second round of pasta, Amanda reflecting that sensual pleasures remind you that you’re alive. There’s a sense of “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die” in the air, which Ruth adds to with her speculation about bombs, missiles, and terror attacks. Despite their differences, both couples share the reflex to distract themselves from the emergency with the small indulgences.  

Although these two couples, brought together by chance, assume they have little in common with each other, they are more similar than they realize. Clay and G. H. both play out “manly” roles that they believe are dictated to them by their gender and age. When the lights flicker in Chapter 9, Clay is shaken and afraid. Nevertheless, he believes that, because he is male, his role is to comfort the women, who are not screaming as he imagines they would. G. H., in his role as husband, feels a duty to reassure Ruth with the lie that a funny news story will explain the blackout in the morning. Clay and G. H. both privately nurture a sense of superior intelligence, although this presents itself in different ways. Clay thinks he is unusually clever because he has the sense to realize how limited anyone’s intelligence really is. Meanwhile, G. H. believes he can tell the future because his job requires him to predict trends by studying the yield curve.  

As G. H. and Clay have more in common than they would have initially expected, Amanda and Ruth also share a few fundamental attributes. As mothers, they share a worry about the welfare of their children. Their different ages highlight the challenges of protecting children at different ages. While Rose and Archie are in the house, Amanda cannot protect them from the harshness of the disaster, but she can try to control what they hear about it. Meanwhile, Maya is several states away, making it impossible for Ruth to protect or communicate with her at all. Ruth and Amanda also share an uneasiness with the idea that they are being judged negatively by the younger generation. Amanda’s insecurity is rooted in her knowledge about technology, while Ruth feels she should  mask having any reaction to the fact that her daughter is a lesbian, raising two happy children with her wife. These two couples, so different on the surface, are bound by the common experience of their generational and gender roles in wider society.