Ginny remembers her mother. Mrs. Cook was a dedicated, hard-working woman, though not especially smart or pretty. Ginny’s mother went to high school and some college, though she never finished. Her greatest indulgence was her closet, in which she kept her beautiful clothes. Growing up, Ginny would look at the clothes with fascination—they were like holy relics to her.
The novel offers more information about Ginny’s mother, but still an air of mystery surrounds her—Smiley doesn’t offer a good sense for how Mrs. Cook felt about her children, or how she felt about Larry himself. Mrs. Cook’s closet could be said to symbolize her attempts at “escape.” Because she felt confined and repressed in her life on the farm, she turned to clothing and appearances to forget about the drudgery or smallness of her life.
After the disastrous potluck, Jess tells Ginny and Rose that he needs a new place to stay while Larry and Harold calm down. Rose tells him to stay in Larry’s own house, though not in Larry’s bedroom. Ginny drives over to prepare Larry’s house for Jess. She has a strange sense that her mother might be waiting for her there—now that Larry is gone, it’s as if Mrs. Cook can live again.
Jess has sided with Rose and Ginny (Harold doesn’t trust him any longer, and has kicked him out of the house). In this passage, Ginny returns to her old house, and prepares to bring Jess, a new person, into it—and yet in the process of doing so, she has a vivid flashback to her mother.
Inside the house, Ginny explores the attic and comes across old decorative plates and clothes that belonged to her mother. In a closet she finds old Kotex pads, which, she thinks with some amusement, Larry never “dared to touch.” Next, Ginny walks into her own old bedroom. There, she begins to weep: she can suddenly remember, very vividly, Larry sucking on her breasts when she was a teenager. She screams, louder than she’s ever screamed before. As she falls silent, Ginny feels an eerie calm falling over her: she’s back in the present. She has the strange sense that she’s beginning a new life.
The house is a museum, full of old memories, most of them centered around Ginny’s mother. Ginny has grown up largely without a maternal presence; Larry’s firm, cruel hands dominate her. Her mother, then, becomes a kind of saint or goddess—idealized but also unreachable. It’s presumably because Ginny remembers her mother, and because of the concreteness of her sense of her bedroom, that Ginny suddenly remembers Larry raping her years before. She seems to have repressed the memories, as many victims of rape and abuse do, but now they come flooding back in this moment of horror. Yet Ginny’s flashback is also cathartic: now that she’s faced the horrible truth, she can try to rebuild her life.