In the Lake of the Woods

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The protagonist of the novel, John Wade is a politician whose career comes to an abrupt halt after it’s revealed that he was involved in the infamous My Lai massacre of 1968 during his time as a soldier in Vietnam, when he went by the nickname “Sorcerer.” While there is too much contradictory evidence about John to form an adequate description of his character, one of the most common topics mentioned in descriptions of John is his fondness for magic, manipulation, and deception. His love for these things begins with his love for magic tricks as a child and continues through his relationship with Kathy, during which he often followed her, and his career as a politician, when he was able to exercise his love for trickery and deception constantly. John kills two men while he’s a soldier in Vietnam: an old Vietnamese man and another American soldier. John has a difficult relationship with his father, who criticized John for his weight and later killed himself; it’s implied that John feels a deep need to be loved and praised because of his relationship with his father. After his wife, Kathy, disappears during a visit to Lake of the Woods (a rural lake and vacation spot in Minnesota and the Canadian border), John is the target of much suspicion. The narrator leaves it up to us whether to believe that John, haunted by memories of Vietnam, killed his wife and hid her body, or whether he was uninvolved in her disappearance.

John Herman Wade Quotes in In the Lake of the Woods

The In the Lake of the Woods quotes below are all either spoken by John Herman Wade or refer to John Herman Wade . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Vietnam, Authorship, Interpretation Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Books edition of In the Lake of the Woods published in 1995.
Chapter 2 Quotes

He didn’t talk much. Even his wife I don’t think she knew the first damn thing about him … well, about any of it. The man just kept everything buried.

Related Characters: Anthony “Tony” L. Carbo (speaker), John Herman Wade
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:

The novel alternates between chapters narrated from single characters' perspective and chapters like this one, which consist of pieces of "evidence" culled from interviews with the characters, other books, and real-life historical events. Here, Anthony Carbo, John Wade's campaign manager, describes John's personality: John was an extremely private man, to the point where even John's own wife didn't feel that she knew who he was. And because it's still early in the novel, we the readers don't know any more about John than Anthony does.

The quotation establishes the true "mystery" of In the Lake of the Woods. The novel appears to be about the search to solve the mystery of Kathleen Wade, who disappears suddenly during her time at Lake of the Woods; however the real mystery of the book is about John himself: what secrets, if any, he was hiding from his wife, and what, exactly, he kept "buried."

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Chapter 6 Quotes

You know, I think politics and magic were almost the same thing for him. Transformations—that’s part of it—trying to change things. When you think about it, magicians and politicians are basically control freaks.

Related Characters: Anthony “Tony” L. Carbo (speaker), John Herman Wade
Related Symbols: Magic
Page Number: 27
Explanation and Analysis:

In another "Evidence" chapter, Tony Carbo offers an interesting comparison between politicians and magicians. While there are lots of good parallels between these two professions (they're both about pleasing an audience, for example), Tony points to a desire for control, which he says is common in both politicians and magicians.

But what does Tony mean when he says "control?" In part, John Wade enjoys politics and magic because it gives him a sense of ownership. From an early age he collects toys and props for magic shows, and later on, when he becomes a career politician, he gets a sense of delicious pleasure from the bills he proposes. We can think of John's enjoyment of props and bills as "hard power"—he enjoys the feeling of possessing something, and being able to manipulate it completely.

Similarly, John also enjoys his sense of control in regards to people. In order to control people, John doesn't exactly try to manipulate them like objects—instead, he wants to wring love and affection from them. Whether as a politician or a magician, he performs in order to receive love, applause, and admiration. We can think of these aspects of John's personality as his penchant for "soft power," a different and perhaps more sympathetic kind of control.

Chapter 7 Quotes

He talked about leading a good life, doing good things telling the full truth. Politics was manipulation. Like a magic show: invisible wires and secret trapdoors.

Related Characters: John Herman Wade (speaker)
Related Symbols: Magic
Page Number: 35
Explanation and Analysis:

The quotation describes John, a rising star in the American political scene, in the middle of a big speech. Although John is talking about the most wholesome, innocent values (honesty, goodness, progress), the passage makes it clear that he's not at all committed to these values. On the contrary, John knows deep down that he is a kind of masked deceiver, wowing an audience by disguising his own nature. Although at this point we're not sure what, exactly, John needs to hide so desperately, the implication would appear to be that John is intentionally lying to other people in order to delude them into thinking he's a better man than he is. (The image of a "secret trapdoor suggests something—it's unclear what—buried in John's past.)

One of the major ambiguities of the novel is whether or not John's behavior merits any sympathy. While John is intentionally lying to others, passing himself off as someone he's not, he's also lying to himself in order to survive. As the novel goes on, it becomes clear that John has been deeply traumatized by his experiences in the Vietnam War. Keeping in mind all the violence and carnage John has witnessed, we can even begin to sympathize with John's manipulations: by becoming a politician and making glib speeches about honesty and virtue, he's desperately trying to forget his troubled past.

Chapter 8 Quotes

He moved to the far end of the living room, steadied himself, and boiled a small spider plant. It wasn’t rage; it was necessity.

Related Characters: John Herman Wade (speaker)
Page Number: 50
Explanation and Analysis:

This passage draws an important distinction between rage and necessity. We see John Wade walking through his cabin in Lake of the Woods late at night. He boils water to make some tea for himself, but then pours the boiling water onto a plant instead. No lengthy explanation is offered for Wade's bizarre behavior. We're only told that Wade isn't killing the plant because he's angry; rather, he's acting out of necessity—he feels that he has no other choice than to kill the plant.

John's behavior in this scene (and throughout the novel) is indicative of his lasting psychological trauma, sustained during the Vietnam War (when he witnessed and participated in horrific acts of violence) and during his childhood (when his father abused him and then hanged himself). People suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder often say that they feel that they have no free will; they're just robots, going through the motions even when doing frightening things. The passage captures a similar sense of robotic helplessness—and yet it also shows John committing an act that, while small and petty, seems entirely cruel or even evil.

The passage also hints, very subtly, that even a medical diagnosis of John's problems is insufficient. At various points in the book, the plant that John kills is identified in various contradictory ways (sometimes it's a different species of plant altogether). Such ambiguities in the "hard facts" of the scene point to the unknowability of the novel's mystery and sense of truth, and also to John's state of mind—we can guess what he's been through, but we'll never really know.

Chapter 10 Quotes

They would live in perfect knowledge, all things visible, all things invisible, no wires or strings, just that large dark world where one plus one would always come to zero.

Related Characters: John Herman Wade (speaker), Kathleen “Kathy” Terese Wade
Related Symbols: One Plus One Equals Zero / The Two Snakes
Page Number: 76
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, John Wade, who has recently returned from the Vietnam War and married Kathy Wade, contemplates a happy future with his wife. John has been through a great deal—violence, war, an abusive parent, etc.—and he's spent most of his adult life trying to deal with his psychological scars, desperately try to erase them so that he can be "normal." In Kathy, John thinks he's finally found a way to be normal. Kathy is a kind, loving woman, who seems to love John for the person he aspires to be (honest, virtuous, etc.), rather than the person he may secretly be (deceptive, violent, manipulative). O'Brien chooses an interesting metaphor to convey John's aspiration of normality. The idea of one plus one equaling zero is strange—almost like a magic trick itself, though here John insists the opposite. While there are many symbolic interpretations of "one plus one equals zero" (see Symbols), John's thoughts here suggest that he thinks Kathy's normality can "shadow" or erase his own dark past. In other words, John thinks that in Kathy he's found someone so understanding and tolerant that she'll make him forget his traumatic experiences: her "one" will cancel out his own.

Chapter 13 Quotes

John Wade would remember Thuan Yen the way chemical nightmares are remembered, impossible combinations, impossible events, and over time the impossibility itself would become the richest and deepest and most profound memory.
This could not have happened. Therefore it did not.

Related Characters: John Herman Wade (speaker)
Page Number: 109
Explanation and Analysis:

The American soldiers' experiences in Vietnam during the 1960s and 70s were some of the grimmest of any American war. Soldiers witnessed—and, horrifyingly, participated in—the murder of fellow troops, the burning of civilian villages, and the slaughter of women and children. Many soldiers—John Wade included—went through so much trauma in Vietnam that they developed a condition called PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder. Tragically, most of the soldiers who contracted this psychological disorder never got the medical help they desperately needed. John, for example, deals with his pain and guilt by repressing it; i.e., by pretending it never happened. As he says, "This could not have happened. Therefore it did not."

The natural questions, then, are what could not have happened, and why couldn't "it" have happened?" To the first question, O'Brien gives a number of answers, none of them totally convincing. It's suggested that John participated in the murder of Vietnamese civilians, and may have shot one of his own peers. The second question, however, is even more important. John refuses to believe that his trauma occurred because he refuses to believe that he's anything other than a "good man." Because he's so fixated on his own appearance of virtue, he tries to forget about his un-virtuous (and even evil) behavior as a soldier. Of course, John's effort to force himself to forget his past practically guarantees that he'll never forget it at all.

Chapter 19 Quotes

The thing about facts, he decided, was that they came in sizes. You had to try them on for proper fit. A case in point: his own responsibility. Right now he couldn’t help feeling the burn of guilt.

Related Characters: John Herman Wade (speaker)
Page Number: 189
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quotation, we see John Wade struggling with his most common emotion: guilt. John Wade's wife, Kathy, is nowhere to be found, and seems to have disappeared into the lake. Because of the way O'Brien structures the chapter, however, it's not at all clear if John knows where his wife is or not. Because of the (intentional) lack of clarity in perspective, we have no way of knowing what, precisely, John is feeling guilty about. John may be pondering his treatment of Kathy—he may have literally killed her and disposed of the body. On the other extreme, John's anxiety about Kathy's whereabouts may have triggered some of the guilt he feels with regard to his father and to the war in Vietnam. Because he's always felt unloved and disliked, John has always felt guilty that his peers and family members don't love him more. So, strange as it seems, John's guilt in the aftermath of Kathy's disappearance isn't necessarily an admission of guilt at all—it's the natural response for an unloved child. O'Brien emphasizes the uncertainty of John's situation by commenting on the problem with facts themselves. As John describes them, facts aren't "true" at all; they have to be adjusted, tried on for size, etc. By the same token, there's no way to determine the facts about Kathy's disappearance: instead, O'Brien offers many contradictory facts, none of which tell the full story.

Chapter 20 Quotes

Double consummation: A way of fooling the audience by making it believe a trick is over before it really is.

Related Characters: Narrator (speaker), John Herman Wade
Related Symbols: Magic
Page Number: 192
Explanation and Analysis:

In this "Evidence" chapter, O'Brien offers a theory for Kathy's disappearance. But because he presents this theory in an ambiguous form—as the definition of a magical term—it's not clear for another hundred pages that he's offering another theory at all. The principle of double consummation—the idea that a trick isn't over when the audience believes it to be over—becomes especially relevant to Kathy's disappearance when, a few weeks later, John Wade himself disappears. While it's impossible to prove anything with regard to the case, O'Brien suggests that John and Kathy may have planned to run off together. knowing that they'd raise too many red flags by disappearing together, they decided that Kathy should disappear first, and John should disappear shortly afterwards. John and Kathy's vanishing act is a double consummation because the real trick (John's disappearance) arrives only after the first trick (Kathy's) is complete.

Chapter 21 Quotes

Thinbill sighed. “I guess that’s the right attitude. Laugh it off. Fuck the spirit world.”

Related Characters: Richard Thinbill (speaker), John Herman Wade
Page Number: 216
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quotation, Thinbill—one of the only soldiers mentioned in the novel who doesn't participate in the atrocities of My Lai and other Vietnamese villages—gives John Wade some advice on how to deal with trauma. John has witnessed innocent women and children being murdered, and has even shot a harmless elderly man. John can't stop thinking about the horrific sights he's seen: like many victims of PTSD, he remembers the faces of the dead in vivid, photographic detail. John's reaction to his terrifying memories is to laugh.

In the way Thinbill interprets John's laughter, John is trying to escape his own memories of Vietnam (which Thinbill refers to as the "spirit world," suggesting how Vietnam will "haunt" the American soldiers). But as O'Brien has already shown us, John can't just "laugh off" his trauma. For years, John tries to use performance, humor, and charm to forget his experiences in Vietnam, but he never succeeds in doing so. So Thinbill's interpretation of John's behavior may be incorrect. Thinbill believes John is "moving on," but in reality, John's laughter is just an extension of his trauma, not an escape from it. In short, John tries to laugh off his past, but fails.

Chapter 23 Quotes

Curiously, as he worked out the details, Wade found himself experiencing a dull new sympathy for his father. This was how it was. You go about your business. You carry the burdens, entomb yourself in silence, conceal demon-history from all others and most times from yourself. Nothing theatrical … and then one day you discover a length of clothesline. You amaze yourself.

Related Characters: Narrator (speaker), John Herman Wade , Paul Wade
Page Number: 241
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quotation, John thinks about his father, Paul. Paul is a cruel, abusive drunk, who humiliates John for being overweight when John is just a small child. Decades later, John—in the midst of the search for Kathy, who's disappeared into the lake—decides that he and his father have ended up more or less the same.  For John to compare himself with Paul (someone who caused him plenty of misery over the years) is a plain sign of his self-hatred at this time.

The passage is important because it suggests that John is coming to terms with his own tactics of evasion and repression. We the readers have known that John tries to bury his feelings under a surface of virtue, magic, and charm. But here, John himself seems to become aware of this fact, too: by contemplating his father's problems with honesty and directness, John realizes that he himself is no better. The passage also suggests (obliquely and darkly) that John and Paul took different approaches to their deception. Paul couldn't handle the pressures of concealing himself from the people around him, so he hanged himself (the mention of a "clothesline" is intended to remind us of Paul's fate). John, however, found a way to relieve some of his own anxieties: magic, performance, and politics. In short, John and Paul suffer from the same fear of telling the truth, but whereas Paul cracks under the pressure, John finds a way to survive.

Chapter 29 Quotes

And here in a corner of John Wade’s imagination, where things neither live nor die, Kathy stares up at him from beneath the surface of the silvered lake. Her eyes are brilliant green, her expression alert. Se tries to speak, but can’t. She belongs to the angle. Not quite present, not quite gone, she swims in the blending twilight of in between.

Related Characters: Narrator (speaker), John Herman Wade , Kathleen “Kathy” Terese Wade
Related Symbols: The Lake
Page Number: 288
Explanation and Analysis:

In this chapter, the narrator offers another hypothesis for what happened to Kathy Wade. It's possible that Kathy Wade drowned (but whether because she was murdered or by accident we're not told), and in this case, Kathy is probably lying somewhere at the bottom of the lake.

O'Brien description of Kathy's bloated, decaying corpse is vivid and terrifying, and this is precisely his point. O'Brien isn't just describing Kathy's body; he's describing how John Wade might imagine Kathy's body, in all the gory, larger-than-life details. Ultimately, it's suggested, Kathy becomes a part of John's troubled, traumatic past—just like his time in Vietnam, or the abuse that he endured during his childhood. Just like these traumatic events, Kathy's body is "not quite present, not quite gone." In other words, John can't forget about Kathy altogether, but he also can't bring her back to life. Instead, Kathy is a memory for John, playing again and again in his troubled mind.

Chapter 30 Quotes

It’s odd how the mind erases horror. All the evidence suggests that John Wade was able to perform a masterly forgetting trick for nearly two decades, somehow coping, pushing it all away, and from my own experience, I can understand how he kept things buried.

Related Characters: Narrator (speaker), John Herman Wade
Related Symbols: Magic
Page Number: 298
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quotation, the narrator personally intervenes in the novel once again. In a footnote, he offers a subtly different interpretation of John Wade's life than the one we've gotten so far in the book. For the narrator, it's potentially possible to forget one's traumatic past, or at least to appear to forget it. As evidence, the narrator offers John Wade's own life as a "normal" politician.

By this point in the book, however, the idea that John Wade was successful in pushing away his time in Vietnam should seem ludicrous. Clearly, John didn't really forget about Vietnam at all; eventually, his guilt and anxiety resurfaced. Even in the years immediately after Vietnam, when John was a happy, charismatic politician, it's been suggested that he continued to experience flashbacks to his time in war. John didn't "keep things buried" at all.

So why does the narrator seem optimistic that John was successful in his attempts to "erase horror?" Perhaps the narrator is trying to convince himself that it's possible to forget the past. The narrator chooses to believe that John succeeded in repressing Vietnam in order to reassure himself that he (the narrator) can do the same. And yet, as we see, trauma never really goes away until it is confronted in a direct and healthy manner.

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John Herman Wade Character Timeline in In the Lake of the Woods

The timeline below shows where the character John Herman Wade appears in In the Lake of the Woods. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1: How Unhappy They Were
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The other character, John Wade, tries to be positive as Kathy talks about her plans. He closes his eyes... (full context)
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Kathy asks John about having babies. She suggests that she’s too old, but John assures her that they’ll... (full context)
Chapter 2: Evidence
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...termination when she was 34. She has a sister, but her next of kin is John Herman Wade. Kathleen worked as a Director of Admissions at the University of Minnesota. A... (full context)
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Further quotes and reports inform us that John’s father bullied him when John was a child. John loved his father, Eleanor says, which... (full context)
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...On August 17, Durkee was leading 60% to 21%. Carbo says that the defeat ended John’s career. Carbo had asked John if he had any secrets. John hadn’t said anything. Carbo... (full context)
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...on a bus somewhere, since she didn’t want to stay married to a “creep” like John. Kathy’s sister, Patricia, says she can’t discuss her sister. A waitress named Myra Shaw remembers... (full context)
Chapter 3: The Nature of Loss
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John Wade’s father died when John was fourteen years old. After learning of his father’s death,... (full context)
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For weeks after his father’s death, John buries his head in his pillow and imagines his father being alive. He imagines the... (full context)
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While some of the stories John tells himself comfort him, nothing works for long. John can’t fool himself—his father is dead.... (full context)
Chapter 4: What He Remembered
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On the seventh day that John and Kathy spend at Lake of the Woods, John remembers, nothing much happens. They laugh... (full context)
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When John speaks to others later on, he cannot remember every detail of his day with Kathy.... (full context)
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For the rest of the afternoon, Kathy does crosswords and John organizes bills. Feeling “electricity in his blood,” John twice tries to call Tony Carbo, but... (full context)
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John can’t recall what happened next. He may have napped, or had a drink. He does,... (full context)
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John and Kathy take their mail, go grocery shopping, and then go to a Mini-Mart. Kathy... (full context)
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Back in their cottage, John and Kathy have some food and listen to music. At 8 pm, they walk around... (full context)
Chapter 5: Hypothesis
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...is that Kathy has a secret lover. During her seventh day at the cottage with John, Kathy may have been thinking about this lover: a simple, honest man, totally unlike her... (full context)
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Perhaps Kathy couldn’t bear to tell John about her secret lover. She may have staged her own disappearance—this is unlikely, the narrator... (full context)
Chapter 6: Evidence
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...“evidence.” The first piece of evidence comes from Richard Thinbill, who says, “We called him Sorcerer.” The next pieces of evidence are related to John’s love for magic and magic tricks:... (full context)
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Eleanor says that John was always well behaved as a child. John’s service in the war had a big... (full context)
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Ruth Rasmussen says that John threw away a perfectly good teakettle. Vincent Pearson, a part-time detective, insists that John “did... (full context)
Chapter 7: The Nature of Marriage
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As a child, John loved to perform magic tricks: silk scarves, a disappearing penny, etc. While these are only... (full context)
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John meets Kathy in 1966, when he’s a senior at the University of Minnesota, and Kathy... (full context)
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John continues spying on Kathy: he watched when she buys his birthday present, and when she... (full context)
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John graduates college in June of 1967, when the Vietnam war is in progress. In nine... (full context)
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John isn’t a great soldier, but he’s popular among the other men. He does card tricks... (full context)
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John’s magic eventually works its way into the military plans of his division, Charlie Company. The... (full context)
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John worries that Kathy is growing distant. In a letter she sends him, she describes the... (full context)
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In February, an enemy sniper shoots a soldier named Reinhart; John is with Reinhart when he dies. John feels his body fill with anger, sadness, and... (full context)
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John returns to the United States in 1969. He calls Kathy, but hangs up before she... (full context)
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The night he sees Kathy, John sleeps in a hotel and thinks about his father’s funeral. He remembers wanting to hit... (full context)
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John watches as Kathy leaves her dorm and makes a phone call from a payphone. He... (full context)
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When John and Kathy get married, they promise to be true to one another, and move into... (full context)
Chapter 8: How the Night Passed
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This chapter discusses John’s behavior on the night before he supposedly discovered that Kathy was missing. He wakes up... (full context)
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John waits for the water to boil, and thinks about the primaries. He lost all but... (full context)
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The water boils, and John, saying “Kill Jesus,” pours it over a geranium plant near the cottage’s fireplace. The plant... (full context)
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In the days following Kathy’s disappearance, John will think of what he should have done that night. He should have woken Kathy... (full context)
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John later claims that he forgets what else he did that night. At one point, he... (full context)
Chapter 9: Hypothesis
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The chapter is structured around another hypothesis for Kathy’s disappearance: Kathy heard John walking around in the night and got scared. Thus, she left the cottage. She might... (full context)
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Staring into the cottage from outside, Kathy might have seen John, yelling and laughing and looking completely unlike the man she thought she knew. Perhaps she... (full context)
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Kathy might have thought about everything that had happened to John lately. In August and September, the newspapers broke new information about John, information that made... (full context)
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...night near Lake of the Woods, she might have gone inside and seen the plants John killed. At this, she may have left—or, the narrator admits, maybe not. Maybe she walked... (full context)
Chapter 10: The Nature of Love
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“One evening,” while John is still in the midst of his political career, John and Kathy are at a... (full context)
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John went to Vietnam because of love, not because he wanted to be a good citizen... (full context)
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In college, John and Kathy often go to a bar called The Bottle Top. One night, John dares... (full context)
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Before John and Kathy can marry, John fights in Vietnam. He sends Kathy letters in which he... (full context)
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As a child of nine or ten, John would lie in bed, surrounded by catalogs of magic tricks, making note of all the... (full context)
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One day in Vietnam, John senses, “Something was wrong.” He’s surrounded by gunfire and dead women. He sees dead animals... (full context)
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Back in Minnesota, John is elected to the State Senate. He celebrates by hosting a small party, and getting... (full context)
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The narrator returns to describing John’s experiences in Vietnam. One evening, Charlie Company approaches a small village. The company is attacked... (full context)
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As a child, John practices magic tricks in front of the mirror. He thinks that he can use magic... (full context)
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John’s father is a popular, charming man. The other boys in the neighborhood love to play... (full context)
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As an adult, before he’s found political success, John goes on walks with Kathy and discusses buying a house. Kathy wants to buy a... (full context)
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Sorcerer, the narrator says, thought he would get away with murder. Shooting PFC Weatherby was an... (full context)
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In 1982, John Wade is elected lieutenant governor of Minnesota. He is 37 at the time. At the... (full context)
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At the age of eleven, John and his father drive to Karra’s Studio of Magic to buy John’s Christmas present. John... (full context)
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At the magic shop, John chooses a magic trick called the “Guillotine of Death,” which is heavy and almost two... (full context)
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As an adult, John thinks that he wants to crawl inside Kathy’s belly. He’s afraid of losing her, and... (full context)
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In Vietnam, the narrator says, Sorcerer is in his element. Vietnam is a place with tunnels, trap doors, monsters, and magic.... (full context)
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John knows that he is sick. He tries to tell Kathy about his sickness. As they... (full context)
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John doesn’t tell anyone about killing PFC Weatherby. However, he sometimes thinks he sees PFC Weatherby... (full context)
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When John’s father died, John was a teenager. The day he was buried, John performed magic in... (full context)
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After John returns from Vietnam, Kathy doesn’t insist that John talk to a psychiatrist. At times, though,... (full context)
Chapter 11: What He Did Next
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The chapter describes John’s behavior the day he allegedly discovers that Kathy is missing. John wakes up late, and... (full context)
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John cleans up the dead houseplants he killed last night. He rehearses an explanation he’ll give... (full context)
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A little later, John awakes from a light nap, thinking that he hears something moving in the room. He... (full context)
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Around 6 pm, John has a drink and walks to the dock. He begins to sense that something isn’t... (full context)
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The night of the day Kathy disappears, John takes a shower and drinks the rest of his vodka. He begins drinking rum. He... (full context)
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At the boathouse, John sees that the boat is gone—“as it had to be.” He thinks that he and... (full context)
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John drives to see Ruth Rasmussen, who insists that John is drunk, though John insists that... (full context)
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As John and Ruth talk, Claude Rasmussen emerges from his room. He is almost 80 years old.... (full context)
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John gives Claude the keys to his Buick, and he drives John back to the cottage.... (full context)
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Back at the cottage, John walks Claude through the rooms. Claude asks where the phone is, and John says that... (full context)
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Claude and John sit and talk—it’s almost 2 am. John pictures Kathy at the bottom of the lake... (full context)
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John and Claude continue to talk. Claude asks John if John and Kathy had been fighting;... (full context)
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Claude calls Ruth, talks to her, and tells John that Ruth has been calling various local numbers and hasn’t reached Kathy yet. He notices... (full context)
Chapter 12: Evidence
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Patricia claims that John thought of himself as Sorcerer long after Vietnam, and that Kathy thought of him as... (full context)
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Tony Carbo says that John was a charmer, and Ruth Rasmussen calls him a nice, polite man. Bethany Lee claims... (full context)
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Eleanor says that when John was eleven, his father, whose name was Paul, went to stay with a state treatment... (full context)
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...magician uses to distract the audience from the real source of his trick. In Vietnam, John sends Kathy a letter about having a strange infection in his body. He signs the... (full context)
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...know to do the right thing. The historian Robert A. Caro describes how angry Lyndon Johnson would become after losing an election, and the politician Thomas E. Dewey notes that all... (full context)
Chapter 13: The Nature of the Beast
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In Vietnam the soldiers in John’s unit complain that the war is a nightmare, and that it’s impossible to find the... (full context)
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On March 15, John receives a letter from Kathy. Kathy writes that John will have to treat her like... (full context)
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...1968, Charlie Company ventures by helicopter into Pinkville and goes to a hamlet, Thuan Yen. Sorcerer feels energy in the air and senses the “pure wrongness” of the day. Sorcerer is... (full context)
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In the coming years, John will forget what happens next in Thuan Yen—he will think, “This could not have happened.... (full context)
Chapter 14: Hypothesis
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...boating accident. She might have awoken early in the morning and turned to look at John as he slept. She would have wished that she could say something that would make... (full context)
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After kissing John, Kathy may have showered and gotten dressed. She would have done some crossword puzzles while... (full context)
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As she thought about John’s career, perhaps Kathy smelled the odor of dead plants and soil from the trash. As... (full context)
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Alone in the boat, Kathy may have contemplated asking John about Harmon. Perhaps while she steered the boat around nearby Magnuson’s Island, the boat hit... (full context)
Chapter 15: What the Questions Were
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...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.... (full context)
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Lux tells John that they haven’t found Kathy, and that it may take a while to do so,... (full context)
Lux continues to ask John questions. He asks John for basic information about Kathy—age, height, etc. He also asks John... (full context)
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Art asks John what time he woke up the day he found Kathy missing (yesterday). Upon further question,... (full context)
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Lux asks John if he and Kathy had argued, and mentions John’s campaign, and the recent news about... (full context)
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Lux asks John one more question before he and Vinny leave: why did John unplug his phone? (Claude... (full context)
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After Vinny and Lux leave, John hears Claude and Ruth in the kitchen, making breakfast. John asks Claude why he mentioned... (full context)
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When John wakes up, it’s almost 6 pm. He goes out into the living room, where Claude... (full context)
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In the evening, John drinks vodka and tries to call Patricia Hood again. He tries a few more times,... (full context)
Chapter 16: Evidence
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Tony Carbo says that John handled “it” in his own way, but adds that John was destroyed long before “it”... (full context)
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...and children, and seeing other soldiers shoot them. We’re also presented with a box of John’s “tricks,” dating from the time after he returned from the war: 12 photographs of his... (full context)
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...only tell their friends, and still others that they never tell anyone. Patricia says that John used to yell in his sleep, and Vinny claims that “something was wrong” with John.... (full context)
Chapter 17: The Nature of Politics
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In November 1968, John extends his tour in Vietnam for an extra year. He does this because he feels... (full context)
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After he extends his tour, John tries hard to forget what he’s seen in Vietnam. He is promoted twice, but in... (full context)
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In November of 1969, John returns to the United States, having won many medals. He marries Kathy five months later,... (full context)
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In 1976, John announces that he is running for the Minnesota State Senate. He asks Tony Carbo, an... (full context)
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John is in the state senate for six years. Tony runs his campaigns, which are expensive,... (full context)
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Because John is a state senator, his life with Kathy is sometimes difficult. They are happy, but... (full context)
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Several times, Tony asks John if he’s “clean,” and John responds that he is. Tony also asks about religion; John... (full context)
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In July 1982, shortly after John becomes lieutanent governor, Kathy tells John that she is pregnant. John and Kathy have many... (full context)
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A short time later, John casually tells Kathy that they have done the right thing. Kathy insists that all she... (full context)
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On January 19, 1986, John announces his candidacy for the U.S. Senate. Polls put him well ahead of his nearest... (full context)
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After John announces his candidacy, he, Kathy, and Tony have dinner. Kathy mentions that John’s campaign seems... (full context)
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Tony asks John what issues he’d like to talk about, and John admits that it’s probably better to... (full context)
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While Kathy is in the bathroom, Tony tells John she’s a “yummy specimen,” and points out that Kathy thinks John is “Mr. Clean.” When... (full context)
Chapter 18: Hypothesis
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...how Kathy disappeared, similar to the one mentioned in Chapter 14. Kathy might have left John to go boating around Magnuson and then continued to American Point and Buckete Island. As... (full context)
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...boat using a gas can, and then head back south. Perhaps she was contemplating telling John about how easily she could have been lost, thereby reminding him to keep his priorities... (full context)
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As Kathy drove back to John’s cottage, the narrator speculates, she might have felt curiously fearless. Perhaps she felt this way... (full context)
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...fact of being lost, Kathy probably would have decided to come ashore and wait for John to find her. Perhaps she found a small island, parked her boat there, and went... (full context)
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...narrator suggests, she may have been thinking of the night long ago when she and John went dancing at the Bottle Top. John had kissed her and then made a small... (full context)
Chapter 19: What Was Found
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By the morning of September 21, two days after John discovers Kathy missing, there are almost a hundred volunteers searching the lake for Kathy, along... (full context)
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Around noon that day, Kathy’s sister calls John from International Falls and tells him that she needs to be picked up in an... (full context)
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John stops at the Texaco station, where Lux is drinking coffee. Lux tells him that he... (full context)
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John waits for Pat at the town landing. He has a hangover, and thinks that he... (full context)
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In the cottage, Pay says she needs to take a shower. While she does so, John tries to imagine Lux calling him with good news, or Kathy walking into the room.... (full context)
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John tells Pat about Kathy’s health, the boat, and the search. For half an hour, he... (full context)
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Together, Pat and John walk along the dirt road by the boathouse, and then turn into the forest toward... (full context)
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Pat tells John that Kathy was a very good person, and deeply in love with John. John replies... (full context)
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Pat tells John that Kathy hated being a politician’s life. John dismisses this suggestion, and tells Pat that... (full context)
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Pat and John walk back to the cottage, where Ruth and Claude are waiting. John introduces Pat to... (full context)
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John tells Claude that he wants a boat tomorrow, so that he can explore the lake... (full context)
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John spends the rest of the night drinking vodka and trying to sleep. Around midnight, he... (full context)
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John feels a tremendous sense of guilt. He leaves the boathouse and turns off the flashlight.... (full context)
Chapter 20: Evidence
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The chapter consists entirely of quotes and statistics related to John. The first is from Ruth Rasmussen, who claims that John and Kathy were like onions:... (full context)
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Sandra Karra praises John for having “slick hands” and keeping his mouth shut—two invaluable skills for a magician. Pat... (full context)
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...claims that he shot no people in Vietnam, only cows. Eleanor says that she “found” John’s father in the garage, and that she “knew” even before she went in. A biographer... (full context)
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Eleanor says that John became more secretive after his father hanged himself. Lawrence Ehlers, John’s gym coach, describes the... (full context)
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Tony Carbo says that John repressed his terrible experiences in Vietnam, to the point where John himself barely remembered them,... (full context)
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Eleanor reports that John was yelling at his father’s funeral—she thinks that John never accepted his father’s death, since... (full context)
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Richard Thinbill, at a court-martial, explains that a soldier nicknamed Sorcerer shot an old man “by accident.” The questioners ask Thinbill to remember the soldier’s real... (full context)
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...ghosts and graveyards everywhere. The narrator claims to have arrived in Vietnam a year after John got there. When he saw My Lai, he understood why the massacre occurred: “it was... (full context)
Chapter 21: The Nature of the Spirit
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...shoot, rape, sodomize, and stab Vietnamese villagers. PFC Richard Thinbill, a young, good-looking man, asks Sorcerer if he can hear “the sound.” Sorcerer nods that he can, except that it’s actually... (full context)
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The narrative cuts to John’s Senate campaign. On September 9, John loses in a landslide. John delivers a brief concession... (full context)
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Tony tells John that he’ll be working for Ed Durkee, the man who defeated John, from now on.... (full context)
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...Charlie Company moves toward the sea in the east. Thinbill mentions the spirit world to Sorcerer, and observes, “Fuckers just don’t die.” The soldiers are mostly silent, although Calley is talkative,... (full context)
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...their bodies, but Thinbill insists that they’ll never be able to wash their experiences away. Sorcerer advises Thinbill to forget. As they talk, they hear flies buzzing all around them. (full context)
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The next day, Charlie Company travels toward a river, and Sorcerer can’t stop thinking about the old man with a hoe whom he shot. He tries... (full context)
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John remembers how his father called him Jiggling John. John knew at the time that his... (full context)
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By the eighth grade, John has begun to grow, and his father calls him Javelin John instead of making fun... (full context)
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...suffering: women who have been raped and stabbed, mass graves, and men with missing limbs. Sorcerer tells himself that it is all an illusion. The narrator writes that Sorcerer isn’t fooled. (full context)
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...murderous. Thinbill, intimidated, says that he hasn’t heard any rumors of this. When Calley asks Sorcerer if he’s heard anything about murder, Sorcerer says he’s “deaf” and “blind.” Afterwards, Calley tells... (full context)
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Later in the night, Thinbill approaches Sorcerer and asks him if he thinks the two of them should say something about the... (full context)
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As John giggles, he thinks about the other soldiers firing quickly and skillfully at Vietnamese women and... (full context)
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As John stops laughing, he hears other sounds in the area—some people are crying, and there are... (full context)
Chapter 22: Hypothesis
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...and remembers playing the slots in Las Vegas during a campaign visit she made with John and Tony. She enjoys casinos because there is always a jackpot in the near future:... (full context)
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...penis. She then remembers what else happened during her last visit to Las Vegas with John and Tony. She and Tony sat at a blackjack table, where they played for hours.... (full context)
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At the casino, John says, half-jokingly, that he’d have to “bomb the place” to get Kathy to leave the... (full context)
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...out, Kathy and Tony sit alone at a bar, drinking. Kathy complains to Tony that John has ruined her evening. The feeling of luck and winning, far better than the feeling... (full context)
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Tony and Kathy continue to talk at the bar. Tony points out that John’s career is a lot like his performances as a magician. He performs magic, and part... (full context)
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...cold, and wishes she were back on the island with her fire. She thinks about John, and decides that she still loves him very much. She remembers the “glow” that they... (full context)
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...if he wanted to know more, and he said he didn’t. Tony asked Kathy if John found out about Kathy’s infidelity; Kathy replied that he found out some, but not everything—she... (full context)
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Kathy walked into her hotel room and saw John, clearly pretending to sleep. Kathy thought about what she’d accomplished at the casino. She won... (full context)
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As Kathy watched John lying in bed, seemingly asleep, she heard him yell out. She did not touch him,... (full context)
Chapter 23: Where They Looked
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It is 6:30 am on September 22. Claude, Pat, and John are pushing Claude’s large Chris-Craft boat into Lake of the Woods so that they can... (full context)
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Claude, Pat, and John board Claude’s boat and begin their search. Claude says that their journey will be based... (full context)
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Claude, Pat, and John circle around the islands. There is mist, making it difficult to see anything, but they... (full context)
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As John looks for life on the islands, he remembers a song, “I know a girl, name... (full context)
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John thinks that Pat is suspicious of him; he can tell by the way she stares... (full context)
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It is twilight, and Pat, John, and Claude tie up Claude’s boat near the Angle Inlet boatyard. They have been searching... (full context)
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As Pat, John, and Claude walk toward the fire, John sees that the men sitting there are Vincent... (full context)
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Everyone gathers around the fire: John, Pat, Claude, Vincent, Lux, and at least six other people. Lux introduces everyone to these... (full context)
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John notices Pat and Lux talking quietly to one another. He contemplates telling them “secrets” about... (full context)
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The next day, John, Pat, and Claude go out on the lake to look for Kathy, and they continue... (full context)
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John asks Claude about obtaining a second boat, so that John can look for Kathy on... (full context)
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The next day, it snows in Lake of the Woods, and John spends the morning shoveling snow in the driveway outside Claude’s house. He thinks about magic,... (full context)
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At dusk, John removes his clothes and jumps into the lake, where, he thinks, Kathy is. He closes... (full context)
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At 8 pm, Art Lux calls the cottage. After speaking to Pat, he tells John that the search for Kathy is being discontinued due to paperwork and red tape. John... (full context)
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After speaking to Lux, Claude explains to John that the police want to look around John’s cottage, on the chance that Kathy is... (full context)
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Claude suggests that John hasn’t been crying for Kathy because there’s no use crying. Claude also suggests that John... (full context)
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The next day, John, Claude, and Pat go out once again on the boat to look for Kathy. Pat... (full context)
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That night, John sleeps in his cottage and dreams about an enormous computer, with circuits made of electric... (full context)
Chapter 24: Hypothesis
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In this hypothesis about Kathy’s disappearance, the narrator suggests that Kathy had already left John in the summer of 1983, when she had an affair with Harmon in Boston. Later,... (full context)
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After visiting Harmon in Boston, Kathy flew back to Minneapolis to see John. She drank a few martinis on her flight, and when she returned to her home,... (full context)
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As John and Kathy talked about her trip to Boston, Kathy apologized for the storm that made... (full context)
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...Woods, preparing to kill herself, perhaps she thought more about returning from Boston and greeting John. When Kathy returned from visiting Harmon, she stood outside her house with her robe open,... (full context)
Chapter 25: Evidence
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This chapter is another collection of evidence about John. The first piece of evidence is a quote from Vincent Pearson, comparing John to the... (full context)
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Ruth Rasmussen insists that John didn’t kill Kathy, because he loved her—just like Claude loves Ruth. Lux insists that he... (full context)
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Patricia says that Kathy tried “too hard” with John, while Patricia herself never gave John a chance. Bethany Kee notes that Kathy always wanted... (full context)
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...about the flies. In another piece of evidence, from a court-martial, he tries to remember Sorcerer’s real name, but can’t, noting that Sorcerer giggled after the Vietnamese massacres. Patricia admits that... (full context)
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There is a list of John’s “Box of Tricks.” It includes invisible ink, a coin trick, and a copy of The... (full context)
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There follows a series of quotes about John’s multiple names. Vincent Pearson insists that John’s nickname, “Sorcerer,” proves that he was a deceptive... (full context)
Chapter 26: The Nature of the Dark
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...who fought in Vietnam were young: Calley was 24, T’Souza was 19, Thinbill was 18, Sorcerer was 23, etc. After the massacre at Thuan Yen, they spent months fighting in the... (full context)
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Charlie Company never returns to Thuan Yen; it moves on to other places. Sorcerer tries to forget about the massacre; he takes extra risks in battle to help himself... (full context)
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In the middle of combat, Sorcerer sometimes feels as if the trees are talking. He also hears voices from the village... (full context)
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Two months before his tour ends, Sorcerer takes up a desk job, where he does paperwork all day. He contemplates his future,... (full context)
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When he lands in the United States in Seattle, John calls Kathy, but hangs up after two rings. When he’s in a plane flying back... (full context)
Chapter 27: Hypothesis
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In this hypothesis about how Kathy disappeared, John wakes up late at night, sweating. He remembers how the news of his involvement in... (full context)
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After the water boils, John takes the teakettle and killed a young spider plant. He isn’t angry—he’s acting out of... (full context)
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As John stands over Kathy, he tips the teakettle forward. Kathy eyes open slightly as he does... (full context)
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The narrator suggests that John wraps Kathy in a sheet and carries her to the dock. He is very gentle,... (full context)
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Perhaps, the narrator suggests, John sank along with Kathy for a while before he let the body go and returned... (full context)
Chapter 28: How He Went Away
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It is 7 am and John is riding in Claude’s boat, the day after Claude told him about Lux’s plan to... (full context)
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As he rides north, John remembers talking to Kathy about his actions at Thuan Yen. He told her “everything he... (full context)
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In the evening, John drives the boat to land and makes a small fire, where he eats a sandwich... (full context)
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John goes to asleep. Late at night he wakes up—it’s raining. He says, “Well, Kath?” but... (full context)
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At the end of the day, John turns on the radio in the boat and speaks into it. Claude’s voice answers. Claude... (full context)
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For the rest of the day and into the night, John eats, drinks, and feels miserable in the cold. He thinks that misery is the point,... (full context)
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John thinks about his memories. He can’t stop thinking about Thuan Yen. Similarly, his memories of... (full context)
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John continues to drunkenly speak into his radio. He conducts a “talk show” with himself, noting... (full context)
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At 6:30 am, John throws his radio in the water and continues on through the water. (full context)
Chapter 29: The Nature of the Angles
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...blue to gray to white to blue. It is in this place, at least in John’s imagination, that Kathy lies, staring up from beneath the water and trying to speak. She... (full context)
Chapter 30: Evidence
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...actress. Lux says that he never found anything in Lake of the Woods that incriminated John, and compares the process of investigating a crime to digging a hole in sand—the hole... (full context)
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...to the Pacific ports, precisely because they are unfamiliar to him. Ruth Rasmussen argues that John’s sudden departure need not mean anything bad—sometimes people leave. (full context)
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...Lux agrees with Vincent that something doesn’t add up about Kathy disappearance. He says that John is wrong: one plus one never equals zero. Ruth Rasmussen says that Claude was angry... (full context)
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...admits that it was he, not the Peers Commission, who was looking for dirt on John. In a letter to John, Richard Thinbill apologizes for giving testimony that was used to... (full context)
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Patricia remembers how Kathy heard about John’s actions in Thuan Yen. After reading about it, she waited for John to come home.... (full context)
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A partial list of John’s “Box of Tricks” includes a mouse cage, a document of honorable military discharge, and a... (full context)
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Ruth notes that Claude died shortly after John’s disappearance, and that he and John developed a close trust for one another. Lux says... (full context)
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Various people speculate on where John is now. Ruth is optimistic: she believes that John and Kathy are together in Hudson... (full context)
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Three more people guess what became of John and Kathy. Bethany notes that Kathy seemed happy and carefree after the end of the... (full context)
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In a footnote to Thinbill’s final comment, the narrator discusses the peculiarities of memory. Like John, the narrator has his own old man with a hoe, and his own PFC Weatherby.... (full context)
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...continues, humans have the power to grow from trauma by forgetting. Strangely, the narrator says, John Wade’s experiences in Vietnam seem much more vivid that the narrator’s own. This may be... (full context)
Chapter 31: Hypothesis
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The narrator offers one last hypothesis for what happened to John and Kathy. After a book of pessimism and cynicism, the narrator notes, it’s time to... (full context)
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...footnotes, the narrator discusses the proper way to end his story. One could believe that John poured boiling water on Kathy and disposed of the body. This is an aesthetic question—perhaps... (full context)
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Perhaps, the narrator suggests, John rejoined Kathy in Buckete Island or Massacre Island. They reunited, and sat around a fire... (full context)
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...continues, because there is no solution to a mystery as big as the mystery of John and Kathy. The narrator adds that everyone has secrets, and everyone performs vanishing tricks. (full context)
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John makes a radio broadcast on October 26, 1986. He is drunk. He speaks to his... (full context)
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The novel ends with the image of John alone on Lake of the Woods, heading north, “lost in the tangle.” The narrator asks... (full context)