In the Lake of the Woods

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In the Lake of the Woods Chapter 15 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
After Kathy’s disappearance, the County Sheriff Art Lux flies in from Baudette, a town near Lake of the Woods, and sets up a headquarters at Vinny Pearson’s Texaco station. At 9am on September 20, Lux and Pearson drives to John’s cottage, and Claude Rasmussen shows them inside. He and Ruth have been staying with John. John is lying in the couch, having slept for an hour, no more.
Even if the police don’t begin their search immediately, they set up their work station quickly and get to work. The fact that John is resting doesn’t bode well for his relationship with Vincent and Lux—he seems too relaxed and laid back, as if he doesn’t really care that his wife has gone.
Themes
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon
Lux tells John that they haven’t found Kathy, and that it may take a while to do so, since the lake is enormous. He asks John if he would mind answering some questions. John says he’s willing to do anything that will help. Art tells John that there are twelve boats currently searching the lake. Also, a nearby town is sending more police. John nods at this, and feels like an actor. Lux insists that cases like Kathy’s aren’t unusual at all. Vincent says, “Ask the man why he never…”, but Lux cuts him off before he can finish.
John’s first interaction with Lux and Vincent sets a pattern for the rest of the novel: Lux is polite and rational, while Vincent is impolite and prefers to challenge John immediately. As Lux has already said in an “evidence” chapter, he is a facts man, while Vincent is the theory man. This fits with everything we know about John so far—the facts are inconclusive, but almost every theory we’ve seen so far blames John in some way—directly or indirectly—for Kathy’s disappearance.
Themes
Vietnam, Authorship, Interpretation Theme Icon
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon
Lux continues to ask John questions. He asks John for basic information about Kathy—age, height, etc. He also asks John for a picture of Kathy, and when John asks, Vinny explains that the picture will be used in case Kathy’s corpse is hard to identify. John gives Lux a small photograph he carries, and doesn’t respond to Vinny.
Vincent’s comments seem calculated to upset John, and John—a good politician, even when he’s drunk and tired—doesn’t play along with this game at all.
Themes
Art asks John what time he woke up the day he found Kathy missing (yesterday). Upon further question, John says that he last saw Kathy around midnight, when he got up to make tea, and that he waited nearly all day before he reported Kathy’s disappearance to anyone, since he thought she might be hiking. He also admits to drinking in the evening—five or six drinks. Vinny presses Lux, and Lux asks John why he didn’t check immediately to see if the boat was gone. Lux suggests that it’s unlikely that Kathy could have started the boat without alerting John—boats are loud, after all. Vinny suggests, sarcastically, that John must be a very deep sleeper.
Here, even Lux seems to be challenging the veracity of John’s story, on the basis that Kathy could never have started the engine of a loud boat without alerting John immediately. John’s story, as he gives it to Lux and Vincent, is deliberately simplified version of the events we’ve seen, which leaves out his frightening behavior and the way he destroyed the houseplants.
Themes
Vietnam, Authorship, Interpretation Theme Icon
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon
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Lux asks John if he and Kathy had argued, and mentions John’s campaign, and the recent news about John. Lux adds that Vinny was also in Vietnam; Vinny mutters that he didn’t kill any babies while he was there. Lux mentions Myra Shaw, the waitress who noticed Kathy and John arguing at the Mini-Mart, and calls her chubby—Vinny objects that Myra, his cousin, is actually plain “hog-fat.” John insists that the argument Myra witnessed was minor. Lux tells John that John should call Kathy’s family—John responds that since Kathy’s parents are dead, he’ll call Patricia Hood, Kathy’s sister.
Here, it becomes clear why John lost his campaign, and why Vincent dislikes him—John was involved in war crimes in Vietnam. But John being involved in those crimes doesn’t necessarily mean he is the cause of Kathy’s disappearance, so Vinny’s theories about John are now tinged by Vinny’s own prejudice against John. Vincent’s statement about his cousin being fat echoes John’s father’s statements about John being fat as a child, and makes Vinny seem less likable and perhaps less believable.
Themes
Vietnam, Authorship, Interpretation Theme Icon
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon
Lux asks John one more question before he and Vinny leave: why did John unplug his phone? (Claude mentioned this fact to Lux, Lux says.) John claims that he turned off the phone because he wanted to forget about the external world—the election, the polling numbers, the news, etc. Lux challenges John to explain the dead houseplants in his sink—John, getting annoyed, says that Kathy is missing, and everything else is “bullshit.” Lux tells John that John is an important politician, while he and Vinny are small-time people. Still, Lux says, they’ll do their best to find Kathy.
John’s story seems suspicious to us, as well as to Vincent and Lux. This doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have legitimate reason to unplug his house phone or kill plants, but it also makes him seem more likely to have hurt his wife in some way. These details seem to be important simply by virtue of appearing in the story at all—O’Brien wouldn’t include these things, we might think, unless they were important in solving the mystery of Kathy’s disappearance.
Themes
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon
After Vinny and Lux leave, John hears Claude and Ruth in the kitchen, making breakfast. John asks Claude why he mentioned that John was drunk; Claude laughs and says that he didn’t say “drunk,” just “juiced up.” John eats the eggs Ruth made him, which make him feel better, and then tries to call Patricia Hood in Minneapolis, but finds that she is unavailable. John finds it impossible to sleep; he also thinks that he is feeling great “sorrow.” He remembers saying, “Kill Jesus” the night before Kathy disappeared, and looking at her and feeling great love and tenderness. He also remembers carrying a teakettle. He falls asleep in his room that afternoon.
Claude’s behavior is, once again, hard to interpret. He isn’t doing John any favors—because of him, Lux thinks that John was drunk last night. At the same time, Claude told the truth, and supposedly didn’t use the word “drunk” himself. It’s equally difficult to interpret John’s behavior (another sign of the similarity between Claude and John): he feels sympathy for Kathy, but this could mean any number of things, particularly since John is a master at deceiving himself and repressing guilt.
Themes
Evil, Human Nature, and Freedom Theme Icon
Love and Relationships Theme Icon
When John wakes up, it’s almost 6 pm. He goes out into the living room, where Claude is sitting playing solitaire. Claude tells him that Lux checked in and said that he’d arranged for extra boats to explore the lake. He tells John that he and Ruth will sleep in the spare bedroom of the cottage. John implies that Claude thinks John is guilty of killing his wife; a suggestion that Claude promptly denies. He suggests that Vinny intimidated John, and assures John that everything will be fine. He also suggests that John start acting like a real husband—showing concern.
Claude’s views on things continue to remain unclear. His advice that John behave more “like a husband” could be interpreted one of two ways. Either he is surprised that John seems so casual and is therefore suspicious of him, or he just understands the “optics” of a situation and continues to believe John is innocent and is just giving him friendly advice.
Themes
Vietnam, Authorship, Interpretation Theme Icon
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon
Evil, Human Nature, and Freedom Theme Icon
Appearance, the Unknowable, and Magic Theme Icon
Love and Relationships Theme Icon
In the evening, John drinks vodka and tries to call Patricia Hood again. He tries a few more times, and finally reaches her around midnight. His conversation is difficult, though it doesn’t last long—Patricia is shocked, though John senses that she is being careful to be civil with him. She says that she’ll be in Lake of the Woods tomorrow.
The very civility with which Patricia and John speak to one another suggests that they have special reason not to be civil with one another. Patricia is still a new character in the novel—by ending the chapter with the promise of her arrival, O’Brien heightens the suspense and makes us look ahead to the next chapter.
Themes
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon