PART 1: Chapters 1-2

Chapter 1: LUCY, August 2017

The book opens in 2017 (the novel’s present-day time period) with protagonist Lucy Albright narrating. Lucy wakes up at 5:45 a.m., hungover, to go to her SoulCycle class before work and then catch the train to her college friend Bree’s wedding weekend. Anxious at being a size four, Lucy drinks coffee and takes Advil and Adderall but eats no food. She leaves Dane, her boyfriend, in bed at her apartment. After her workout, she arrives at the offices of Suitest, the hotel guide website where she works in marketing, encountering first her coworker Alanna and then her boss, Melissa, both of whom dislike her. After they attend a meeting, Melissa takes Lucy aside to chastise her over an article she has written for another website, demanding that she have it taken down. This power play frustrates Lucy, who wants to be a travel writer. On the train to New Jersey for the wedding, Lucy worries that she has not accomplished enough at age twenty-five. The thought of seeing her college friends leads her to think about Stephen and remember the beginning of college. 

The scene flashes back to 2010, Lucy’s first night at Baird, when her parents say goodbye to her in the dorm room she shares with Jackie. CJ, eager to a “cool mom,” gives Lucy a large bottle of vodka, advice on how to avoid getting drugged while drinking, and a pair of gold initial earrings. After Lucy’s parents leave, Lucy and Jackie mix the vodka with diet coke, spilling some on Lucy’s bedding. When Jackie returns from taking Lucy’s bedding to the laundry room, she tells Lucy that she likes CJ, much to Lucy’s chagrin. Lucy dislikes CJ because of the Unforgivable Thing, which she mentions but doesn’t explain. Lucy and Jackie play Fleetwood Mac, a band CJ turned Lucy on to. The music leads Pippa and Bree to their room, and the four women, who will be friends long beyond college, begin bonding. Pippa invites them to join her at a party happening that night. On their way out the door, Lucy throws away the earrings CJ gave her.  

Chapter 2: STEPHEN, September 2010

This chapter introduces the voice of antagonist Stephen DeMarco, who will alternate narrating chapters with Lucy throughout the book. The chapter opens in 2010, Lucy’s first night at college and the night that Stephen, a junior, meets her for the first time at a party hosted by Mike Wrigley. Stephen is attracted to Lucy, although they do not speak at the party. Stephen mentally catalogues the elements of Lucy’s beauty, while noting his curiosity about how other people think, act, and feel. He is very drunk but not drunk enough to feel completely free of anxiety, so he does cocaine with Wrigley after having another shot of whiskey. When he leaves the party, he goes to his on-again, off-again girlfriend Diana Bunn’s room and has sex with her, after which she berates him for cheating with Nicole Hart. He considers the way Lucy’s expression shifted from terror to softness when they made eye contact at the party. This makes him certain he can make her trust him. 


In the book’s opening two chapters, the major characters are introduced: Lucy, Stephen, CJ, Diana, and Lucy’s group of close friends Jackie, Pippa, and Bree. Although the novel takes place over many years and locations, the most important relationships are all present in the opening chapters. While Stephen does not appear in the 2017 section of Lucy’s chapter, his lingering effect on her makes Lucy anxious about potentially seeing him at Bree’s wedding. The fact that Lucy is going to the wedding despite her nerves signifies her lasting attachment to Bree, Pippa, and Jackie, whom Lucy first meets in 2010 at Baird. That scene also introduces CJ and her unreciprocated efforts to connect with Lucy and reveals Lucy’s contempt for her and the Unforgivable Thing (a repeated motif in the novel). The relationships introduced in the opening chapters become the engine that drives the entirety of the novel.

The first chapter also introduces the novel’s theme of control through the vehicle of disordered eating and body dysmorphia. In the 2017 section of the chapter, Lucy is disgusted by the size of her body. Although she is objectively very small, she is dismayed to wear clothes one size larger than she wore in college. She gets up early, on very little sleep, for an intense exercise class, drinking coffee and taking Advil and Adderall, but eating nothing before or after the class. She mentally scoffs at Alanna for imagining her yogurt is healthy and describes Alanna’s savoring of the food as “unattractive,” indicating that her obsession with the connection between food restriction and beauty extends to others’ habits as well as her own. Lucy’s anorexia is connected to her relationship with Stephen through the symbol of the bridesmaid dress, which Lucy has ordered in her old size rather than her current one, illustrating her psychological need to appear very thin in order to be confident. Lucy’s obsession with dieting seemingly begins her first night at Baird, when she sees Pippa refuse pizza despite having eaten very little that day in order to prevent gaining the “freshman fifteen.” This moment shows how common disordered eating is among Lucy’s peers as well as how easily Lucy is made to feel uncertain about her own worth—a pattern throughout the novel. 

Chapter 2 switches to Stephen’s perspective, a continuous pattern throughout the novel that shows the book’s events from two perspectives. Often, Lucy and Stephen view the same details and events differently. In contrast to the Lucy’s anxiety about her appearance that pervades this chapter, Stephen’s chapter opens with a description of her beauty, revealing that he objectifies women. While on that same night, Lucy has felt envious of Bree’s thinness and insecure about her own body size, Stephen notes Lucy’s slim legs and arms. From Stephen’s perspective, however, Lucy’s beauty is enhanced by her unawareness of it. He distrusts beautiful women because their beauty is a source of power, and this observation suggests that Lucy will at least be unconscious of the power she could wield. Stephen’s need to control those around him is underscored in the final moment of the chapter, when Stephen notes the edge of terror in Lucy’s eyes when she looks at him and realizes with satisfaction that she is someone he can convince to trust him.