Summary: Chapters 29-32

Chapter 29

While having sex with Clay, Amanda lets herself have sexual fantasies, including one involving G. H. Afterward, Clay is out of breath afterward and imagines he has lung cancer, which leads him to think of Ruth’s earlier worry and Swan Lake, which he vows to listen to. He says he loves Amanda, thinking that as long as you love, you endure. They talk about what they will do when they get back home, as though everything is normal. Amanda imagines prolonging their vacation at a hotel in Hoboken or having a staycation, while Clay thinks of summer in the city and realizes he doesn’t need the luxuries of this house. But worries quickly resurface, as Amanda worries about Rose and Clay’s health. She gets up, for a moment feeling perfect in her own body. Clay suggests having a cigarette, and goes outside without caring that they’re naked, even though Amanda feels embarrassed. When he opens the door, she notices the crack in the pane and realizes that it was caused by the noise. 

Chapter 30

Naked, Clay goes to get them drinks, while Amanda gets into the hot tub. When G. H. comes out in a swimsuit and joins her, he admits he’s glad not to be alone. Amanda admits she didn’t trust G. H. at first and says that she knows something bad is happening. He replies that his the information he studies about the market told him a disaster was inevitable. Clay returns with their drinks, pretending it’s normal to be naked with a stranger, and G. H. keeps talking about the yield curve and its ability to predict the future. Suddenly, they hear a loud splash and G. H. turns on the lights in the pool area, where they see a flamingo splashing elegantly. Several more land in the water and on the lawn, and Clay sees this as an omen that their planned trip home is a bad idea. The flamingos fly away and the three of them sit silent, filled with an almost religious sense of awe. 

Chapter 31

Back inside, G. H. lays food out on the counter, while Amanda puts on a robe. Clay, wearing swim trunks and Archie’s T-shirt, gives him a drink and the group speculates about where the flamingos came from. When Ruth arrives, she notices Amanda’s robe is open, and G. H. recounts the story of the flamingos, even mentioning Amanda’s nakedness matter of factly. Amanda wonders if the birds were blown off their migratory path by the hurricane that was in one of the last emergency notifications that appeared on her phone. G. H. points out that none of them knows anything about birds, the blackout, or how to fix broken technology, so their speculation isn’t helpful. Echoing Clay, Ruth says the flamingos are a sign that Clay and Amanda shouldn’t leave, and G. H. agrees. As Clay offers to trade rooms and give Ruth and G. H. their bedroom back, the noise comes again, cracking the windows. It’s the sound of American planes heading off to do terrible things. Everyone screams and, when the children arrive, and Amanda tries to cover their ears but has only two hands. The noise comes again, then the insects go silent and bats fall from the sky.

Chapter 32

Amanda and Clay huddle in bed with their children, and Clay almost invites G. H. and Ruth to join them. Clay broods over the fact that G. H.’s generation is responsible for the environmental problems of the world, while he considers himself blameless. He muses that a parent’s only task is to protect his child, and that Amanda and Clay have deluded themselves that the world is safe, despite daily reminders from their phones about how bad things have become. The two of them discuss whether to leave in the morning, and they agree they need to get Archie to a doctor. Amanda worries that Rose may also be ill, but Clay knows Rose is strong. Thinking of G. H. and Ruth’s offer, Clay wants to stay at the house, where they have everything they need, including one another.


The theme of sensual indulgence as a distraction from catastrophe continues in these chapters. Amanda and Clay use sex as escapism and all four adults continue with the excessive consumption of food and drink. But beneath the desire for distraction is a strong instinct for survival. Amanda indulges in sexual fantasies in the midst of intimacy with her husband, but she also thinks that the two of them could have conceived an army of babies with the intensity of their encounter. It’s as if their survival instincts are taking over, urging them to do what they can to protect their species from extinction at a time when the end of the world seems probable. The frenetic urgency of Amanda and Clay’s lovemaking is mirrored by G. H.’s “insane” hunger after they see the flamingos. This is shared by all the adults, who should still be full after the large meal they ate hours earlier. Even Ruth, an orderly and self-disciplined person, wants another drink and something sweet. The adults seek comfort in food, drink, and human touch, but there is more to it than that. Fear for their lives has made them want to binge on the things that sustain and create life.

The willingness of Amanda and Clay to be naked in front of G. H. symbolizes a stripping down of their defenses and a new ability to be vulnerable in front of others. Although they have all been drinking at this point, they are still sober enough to talk and act rationally. Amanda makes no move to cover her nakedness when G. H. approaches the hot tub, showing that, for now, she has overcome her racist distrust of him and any feelings of shame. G. H.’s usual ways of thinking have also been changed by the crisis, and he feels unsurprised by Amanda’s nakedness. Fear of the unknown makes him glad to have company. Boundaries and social norms are shifting in response to the crisis, and human connection has become more important than privacy. When Amanda sits in the kitchen, her robe only partially covers her nakedness, Ruth’s acceptance of the situation highlights how the disaster has upended social norms. The relationship between these two families has moved from distrust to tolerance to intimacy, and Amanda’s lack of self-consciousness underlines this development.

The inexplicable arrival of flamingos in the pool is beautiful, but also signals that something has gone extremely wrong in the world. Ironically, in her shock and disbelief, Amanda wonders if she, Clay, and G. H. are sharing a delusion. Only one day ago, she didn’t believe she and G. H. had anything in common. Now she thinks they might be so in tune with each other that they’re able to imagine the same thing simultaneously. In spite of her racism, Amanda recognizes their shared humanity as they face the threat of the unknown disaster together. Clay sees the arrival of the flamingos not as a physical indication of a world gone awry, but rather as a spiritual omen. Forgetting that he thinks symbols have no intrinsic meaning, he believes the flamingos are a sign that their planned trip home to Brooklyn will “displease the gods.” Later, Ruth echoes the idea that the birds are a sign that the family should stay, showing a surprising similarity in thinking to Clay despite their differences in race and gender. 

Once the birds have flown away, Amanda, G. H., and Clay are united in a moment of awe that feels almost religious, an experience that will bind them together even more closely. Afterward, in the kitchen, as they vie with one another to come up with logical explanations for the appearance of the flamingos, G. H., always the most rational thinker, points out that their speculations are useless because they know nothing about birds. He makes the more important point that not one of them knows how to repair the broken technology that, up until now, has enabled them to interpret the world. Without their cell phones and TVs, they can’t figure out why flamingos would appear in New York. They have lost their ability to understand the world around them without the filter of technology, and the flamingos remain as mysterious to them as the planets were to ancient civilizations. 

Although Amanda suggests that the flamingos are a shared delusion, the real shared delusion in these chapters is the notion that she and Clay will be able to return to their old life in Brooklyn. When Amanda and Clay discuss prolonging their vacation by booking into a hotel in Hoboken or taking a staycation, they know deep down that these options are no longer open to them. Their plans reveal a yearning for safety and stability, an urge to flee the mysterious disaster unfolding around them and return to normalcy. But when Amanda notices the crack in the glass pane of the door, she is reminded that the world as they know it has already been irreparably damaged, and that no return to the pre-disaster world is possible.