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This chapter unfolds in a stream of consciousness, as
Jack narrates seemingly unrelated moments from his days. We begin
in the supermarket, where Jack and Babette discuss Jack’s health.
When he makes a motion to go down another aisle, Babette says she’s
afraid to be alone.
Jack tell us that the déjà vu crisis centers have closed,
now that people seem to be forgetting things.
During one of his German lessons, Jack spots a German
translation of The Egyptian Book of the Dead, which
Howard Dunlop informs him was a best-seller in Germany.
Jack rummages through Denise’s room, browsing absentmindedly.
He moves through the house, throwing away all kinds of clutter.
He hears Babette listening to talk radio and the sound of the gas meter.
That night, Jack goes into Heinrich’s room, where the
boy is watching a news report. Two bodies have been discovered in
someone’s backyard, and the reporter says that twenty or thirty
bodies are expected to be uncovered. But as time goes on, no more
bodies are found, and everyone experiences a sense of failed expectations.
Jack continues to have trouble sleeping, so he wakes up
Babette and demands to know Mr. Gray’s real name and the company
he worked for so that he can try Dylar for himself. Babette refuses
to tell him, because she’s afraid he wants to kill Mr. Gray. The
next morning, Jack continues to press the issue, arguing that Mr.
Gray will be impressed with him as a test subject, since he is actually
scheduled to die soon. Babette says that Dylar was her mistake and
she won’t let it become his mistake as well.
That afternoon, Jack sees Winnie Richards on campus and
runs after her. He finally catches up to her at the top of the hill,
where he can see the sun setting. He notes that he can say nothing
about the sunset except that it is “another postmodern sunset, rich
in romantic imagery.” Jack and Winnie discuss the beauty of the
sunsets and what might be causing them, and then Jack tells Winnie
what he has learned about Dylar. Winnie claims that she would never
want to lose her fear of death, because it adds texture and meaning
to life. She tells him to forget the drug. They watch the sunset
and walk down the hill.
The chapter opens with instructions for paying a cable
Jack notes that no one wants to cook, so the entire family
goes to a take-out restaurant and eats in the car. Jack comments
that eating this way represents a kind of rigor and strictness,
as they eat, fully dressed and facing forward, without speaking
to one another. Watching Babette suck on chicken bones, he has to
fight off an image of Mr. Gray lying naked on a motel bed.
Steffie quietly asks how astronauts float, which begins
a conversation about space. After a pause, Steffie asks how cold
space is, which prompts another conversation. After another long
pause, Babette says that she’s heard that Russian psychics have
been causing the strange weather patterns they have been experiencing
Jack tells us that there’s been a rash of UFO sightings
lately. In the backseat, the children grow restless, and Jack says
he can feel a sulky menace radiating from them. Babette tries to
distract them by asking why UFO sightings always seem to happen
upstate. Denise says it’s because mountains are upstate, and when
Steffie asks why mountains are upstate, Denise says that mountains
are upstate so that, when the snow melts, the water can run down
to the reservoirs near cities, which are all located in the southern
parts of the state for exactly this reason. Although he realizes
that Denise’s logic cannot possibly be true, Jack finds himself
momentarily wondering if she’s right.
At home, Jack receives a postcard from Mary Alice, his
eldest child with Dana Breedlove. Babette tells him that the two
things she wants most in the world are for Jack not to die first
and for Wilder to stay the way he is forever.
Jack and Murray walk across campus, discussing the progress
of Jack’s German lessons. Murray notes that something especially strange
emanates from Howard Dunlop. Murray calls Jack four days later to
tell him that he thinks Howard is the type of man who would find
dead bodies erotic. After that comment, Jack finds that he can’t
continue with his German lessons.
The local insane asylum burns down, and Jack and Heinrich
go to watch. As the lawn burns, a patient from the asylum walks
across the grass. Murray shows up and then abruptly disappears.
An acrid, burning odor fills the air, and everyone begins to leave.
Jack thinks that people feel betrayed by the odor, as if the synthetic
smell were interrupting a purer, more natural occurrence. That night,
instead of sleeping, Jack stays up thinking about Babette and Mr.
The presence of Dylar has changed not only Jack and Babette’s
relationship but also Jack and Babette as individuals. They have stopped
saying, “Who will die first?” in favor of, “How do you feel?” This
question seems, on the surface, less ominous and harmful than the
latter. Now that both have confessed their fear of dying and infidelity,
the question gains a desperate immediacy. At the same time, Jack’s
faith in the things he thought could protect him from death is beginning
to disintegrate. The revelation of Babette’s infidelity and secrecy
proves the biggest blow, but he also suffers a setback when he leans
from Howard Dunlop that The Egyptian Book of the Dead was
a best-seller in Germany. The notion that a book on spiritually
and psychically coping with death could prove resonant with Germans
seems contradictory and strange to Jack, who has always held German
culture as symbol of forthrightness, strength, and power. Jack’s
erosion of faith has also affected his confidence; he becomes even
more uncertain and insecure. When he cancels his German lessons
after his conversation with Murray, he not only abandons his faith
in German as a shield or bolster, but he also shows how susceptible
he has become to rumors and misinformation. Jack’s inability to
refute Denise’s childish argument about mountains being upstate
is further evidence that his intellect and logic are beginning to
Insecure and feeling singled out by death, Jack continues
to seek comfort where he can. Running after Winnie Richards and
eating massive quantities of food are two purely physical acts that
strenuously engage his body, offering relief from his intellectual
insecurity. Jack’s obsession with Mr. Gray is linked as much to
his fear of dying as it is to his basic instinct for revenge. By
indulging in one, he can block or limit the other. As a result,
he stays awake late into the evening thinking of Mr. Gray and arguing
with Babette about why she should tell him about this mysterious
researcher. The cable bill, with the authority of its meticulously
detailed instructions, provides another respite from Jack’s fears
and anxieties, just as paying bills was a relief at the start of
the airborne toxic event. By addressing the cable bill, Jack manages
to assert some kind of control over his increasingly disorienting
life, much the same as the senior citizens who take Babette’s posture
and eating and drinking classes hope to assert some control over
their aging, weakening bodies.