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James has breakfast with Matty, who tells him that his
wife is now hooked on crack, a terrifying and tragic prospect. James
goes back to his room and retrieves his self inventory, which he
takes to his meeting with the priest. James reads the priest all
twenty-two pages. The priest asks if he’s finished. After a pause,
James tells the priest the one thing that is haunting him: a year
and a half ago, he was in Paris, seeking solace in a church. A priest
in the church molested him, and James beat the man almost to death.
He left before finding out whether the man had died.
James sees Lilly at lunch on the women’s side of the dining
hall. He times his visit to the conveyer belt to coincide with hers.
She turns and smiles at him. Ken and Joanne review James’s recovery plan
with him. The plan consists mostly of AA meetings and the Twelve
Steps. Back in his room, Miles brings in some mail for James. He
has received a brown envelope from San Francisco from the Girl with
the Arctic Eyes. It contains a stack of photos of James and the girl.
James goes into the woods with the photos and his self inventory
and burns it all.
James goes to dinner, where he sees Lilly briefly. Miles
and Michael tell him that Ted is leaving in three days and that
Matty’s wife is missing. Later, James wakes up in the middle of
the night, terrified. He walks outside and stares and the lake and
comes to the conclusion that there is no reason to be afraid. The
next day, he gets contact information from all of his friends. He
sees Lilly and he stands and stares until she runs to him. James
promises her that she will hear from him every day.
After saying good-bye to Hank and Joanne, James leaves
the clinic. His brother and his friend Kevin are already waiting
at the door for him, ready to take him back into the world. James
tells Bob and Kevin that he wants to go to a bar, first thing. At
the bar he asks Bob for forty dollars and heads straight for the
bartender and buys a pint glass of Jack Daniel’s whiskey. He smells
it, touches it, and stares at his own reflection in it. Ultimately,
he tells the bartender to pour it down the drain. James faces the
prospect of jail with courage, and the very last lines express that
he is now “ready.” Directly following this is a single page giving
a terse listing of what happened to the people mentioned in the
book after the events of the story took place. The majority of the
patients have died, including Lilly, who committed suicide, and
Leonard, who died of AIDS-related complications. In the very last
sentence, we find out that James has remained sober to this day.
James has lost none of his bravado during his stay at
the clinic. What he has done, however, is put it
to a new use. Before coming to the clinic, James demonstrated his
toughness by drawing everything inward, ingesting toxic substances
and shutting other people out. The energy is now going in the opposite
direction. The brooding, seething energy has transformed into an
ironclad confidence in himself and others. James is now willing
to tell his story (to a priest, no less) and at least participate
in some of the steps of the clinic’s program. Naturally, James participates
on his own terms, but he does participate. James is intent on talking
to Lilly one last time, regardless of the fact that he knows that
she runs the risk of being kicked out if they talk again. There’s
a touch of selfishness here; Lilly can ill-afford, either financially
or physically, to leave the clinic. But James believes in their
love above all else. They will solve their own
problems. Finally, James makes a deliberate, public effort to face
his demons by ordering and disposing of the glass of whiskey. This
is a dangerous gamble and the old swagger is evident here, but the
outcome is positive.
There is another important change in direction in the
last pages. Instead of looking backward and dreaming of past incidents
and missed opportunities, James is looking forward. He sets fire
to his final inventory and the surprise package he receives in the
mail from the Girl with the Arctic Eyes. The fact that we never
do hear the full story of what happened with her is an indication
that James has come full circle: near the beginning of his stay,
during his visit from his brother and two friends, James tries to
excavate the past, but his friend doesn’t let him. Now, as he’s
being provoked by someone else to bring up old memories, he passes
up the bait. Though James’s immediate future will be spent in jail,
he faces this boldly, clearly showing that he can see beyond those
Despite some of the rather neat and tidy last scenes (pouring
the whiskey down the drain, becoming Leonard’s son, declaring love
to Lilly), the book doesn’t end on an entirely positive note. While
Miles and his family may be off to reconciliation, Matty’s wife
could very well be dead, and Lilly has had to start the program
entirely from the beginning. The last page of the book is more or
less a litany of the dead, and the deaths listed are not easy and
painless. In fact, the final page is a bit of a bloodbath—three
shootings, a death in a barfight, a drowning, a hanging. Two of
the characters have simply disappeared and are presumably dead.
Only James, Miles, and Leonard (who dies of unrelated causes) have
even remotely happy endings. These are the three men who have either
read the Tao or subscribed to the “hold on” theory,
the implication being that James’s system is the only one that really
Ace your assignments with our guide to A Million Little Pieces!