Summary: Chapter 22

At the supermarket, Jack pushes Wilder in a shopping cart. A storm is on its way, and the threat and excitement seem to permeate the store. Jack notes that the elderly shoppers seem particularly anxious and confused.

In the generic-food aisle, Jack runs into Murray, who tells Jack that Dimitros Costakis, Murray’s Elvis rival from the American environments department, has drowned in the ocean off Malibu. Jack suddenly becomes aware of the “dense environmental texture” that surrounds him: the sounds of cars, the noise of maintenance systems, and the shuffling shoppers’ feet. As Jack pushes Wilder around in the cart, he thinks about how many of the houses, parks, and roads in Blacksmith need maintenance and repair. As long as the supermarket remains clean, bright, and well stocked, however, Jack believes there is reason for optimism.

That evening, Jack drives Babette to her posture class. On the way, they stop to watch the sunset. Sunsets have become much more beautiful and brilliant since the toxic event, possibly as a result of all the Nyodene D. having been released into the air. On the way back home, Babette says she’s going to start teaching a nutrition class called Eating and Drinking. The world has gotten complicated for adults, Babette says, and a class like this will prove soothing to students, assuring them that an authoritative figure—who can instruct them on the right and wrong ways to be doing things—still exists in the world.

Lying in bed, Jack takes great comfort in being physically intimate with Babette and resolves never to tell her about the SIMUVAC man’s diagnosis.

Summary: Chapter 23

Jack increases the length and frequency of his German classes as the conference approaches. His pronunciation is still problematic, despite his skill with vocabulary and grammar. At one point, Dunlop reaches into Jack’s mouth and adjusts his tongue, which Jack calls a “strange and terrible moment, an act of haunting intimacy.”

Dogs and men in Mylex are still patrolling the town. Over dinner, the family discusses the toxic event. Heinrich claims that the authorities aren’t reporting everything they know to the public, then goes on to declare that toxic spills don’t represent the biggest threat to human beings. The world is full of dangerous domestic radiation, coming from power lines, televisions, and microwaves. The girls look at Heinrich admiringly, but Jack wants to argue with his son. He wants Heinrich to understand that as he matures, he will develop a more balanced, restrained perspective on the world. Babette wonders aloud if Heinrich is being taught these morbid scientific facts in school, and then the entire family tries to remember random facts they once learned in classes.