Book IV

Summary: Chapter 9: Everything of Possibility

Eight years pass. Theo runs into Platt Barbour, who tells him that Andy and Mr. Barbour died in a boating accident. They go to a bar to talk about what happened. Mr. Barbour suffered from bipolar disorder and was often hospitalized. In Maine, he began to have an episode, so Andy and Platt took him on the boat to calm him down. Andy and his father drowned when a wave capsized the boat. Platt tells Theo that Tom Cable and Kitsey, his sister, have been seeing each other. When Platt asks Theo to visit Mrs. Barbour, he agrees to come for dinner in the future.

Theo is now Hobie’s partner in the antiques shop. He has pulled the business out of debt thanks to a scheme in which he sells fakes to collectors, unbeknownst to Hobie. If a collector finds out the item is fake, Theo buys the antique back for more than the collector paid, creating a paper trail that suggests its authenticity. Theo does a lot of hard drugs but can function well until he meets Lucius Reeve. Reeve refuses to sell a fake piece back to Theo and suspects that Hobie is part of the scheme. Soon after, Pippa visits with her boyfriend, Everett, a music librarian, whom Theo does not like. Theo is still deeply in love with Pippa even though he’s sleeping with two women. He even considers paying Everett to leave Pippa alone. Theo writes long emails to Pippa but does not send them and longs for her constantly, so he numbs his feeling with drugs.

Theo goes to the Barbours for dinner, where he meets up with Kitsey and her brother, Toddy. Kitsey has grown into a beautiful young woman, and Theo and she feel a mutual attraction. She reveals that she feels guilt about her father's and brother’s deaths because she was supposed to be the one in Maine that weekend. Later, Theo tries to confront his heroin habit by locking his drugs in his storage locker. He endures eight days of difficult withdrawal accompanied by a deep depression. He tells Hobie that he has a flu. When Theo returns to work, Hobie tells him that Reeve has called several times. Theo gets Platt to agree to write a fake bill of sale for the piece he sold to Reeve in exchange for selling some of Mrs. Barbour’s furniture and coins without her knowledge.

Theo meets Reeve for dinner in a crowded restaurant. Reeve accuses Theo of stealing The Goldfinch and shows him an article about the painting being used in a drug deal in Florida that resulted in a housekeeper’s death. Theo is shaken but denies it, but Reeve threatens to turn him in. Theo believes that someone created a fake The Goldfinch and sold it on the black market, just as he is doing with the antique furniture. But Theo now realizes that he must confess the antique fraud scheme to Hobie. Hobie forgives him but insists that Theo do whatever it takes to make things right, even it means bankruptcy for the business. Hobie’s forgiveness feels unsettling to Theo somehow. That night, Theo sees someone lurking outside his window and concludes that Reeve is trailing him. 

Analysis: Chapter 9

The title of this chapter comes from the engraved message on what Theo considers his mother’s bench in Central Park. The message is appropriate because in this chapter, many events that seem impossible become possibilities. For example, Theo randomly meets Platt on a busy New York street, Lucius Reeve discovers Theo’s scheme and his theft of The Goldfinch, and Theo returns to the Barbours’ home like stepping through a time warp. All of these events suggest that the novel’s plot is folding in on itself, that people return to friends, family, places, and unfinished business whether they plan to or not. In many ways, Lucius Reeve’s discovery of Theo’s theft is the turning point of the novel’s central plot, and readers may begin to remember that the novel began in Amsterdam with an adult Theo being the object of a search.

As Theo’s drug use continues to escalate, his mood descends deeper into despair. The pills he stole from Xandra years ago have led him to a dependence on opiates. Some of his addiction can be traced to the explosion and the loss of his mother. Some stems from his friendship with Boris during his time with Larry and Xandra. Some stems from his obsession with Pippa and his inability to be honest with her about his feelings. Theo realizes that he’s following in his father’s footsteps, just as Xandra predicted, especially in light of the fake antiques scheme, a serious crime. Like Larry, Theo engages in self-destructive behavior. Like Larry, Theo cannot be trusted. Like Larry, Theo is dishonest with himself and with others. When Reeve explicitly accuses him of his crimes, Theo recognizes his father in himself.

Readers may find it difficult to believe that Hobie forgives Theo so completely and quickly, but Hobie is a man of high integrity who loves Theo like a son. Theo might have handled Hobie’s anger better than he handled his silence and support, however, as he doesn’t feel worth such forgiveness. Hobie even takes responsibility for the tangle because he’s the one who introduced Theo at a young age to the world of restoration, an idea that furthers Theo’s feelings of guilt and shame. Despite Hobie not ever suspecting that Theo is linked to The Goldfinch, Theo worries that it’s too late, that bringing Hobie the ring all those years ago might have been a mistake because it links Theo to the bombing and the painting. Theo concocts his theory about how The Goldfinch was sold on the black market to soothe himself, as he knows the painting is safe in storage.

Theo’s love life is a major part of this chapter. His attraction to Kitsey Barbour is a seed that is starting to grow. Like his father, however, Theo has trouble facing real emotions, so he numbs himself with several affairs. All this behavior is a poor substitute for his real love for Pippa. Theo is filled with rage at her attachment to Everett, whom Theo considers a bland leech. However, Theo’s love for Pippa is unhealthy in its origin as she represents his life before the bombing, the only part left that he can actually see and touch. Pippa is the innocent part of himself that he lost on that tragic day. Theo has imprinted on Pippa like an orphaned animal.