It’s the day Caroline and Ginny are selling the farm. Both sisters are on their soon-to-be-former property, clearing out old silverware and plates. They speak casually but not warmly. As they explore the house, they decide how to divide up Rose’s old things, such as her clothes and glasses.
Rose has died shortly before the beginning of this chapter. Much as we saw with Larry, the fact that Rose’s death happens “off-stage” suggests its anticlimactic nature, as well as the fact that she and her family had unfinished business, so that now, Ginny is burdened with more trauma, resentment, and guilt. The death of Rose, one might think, would lead Caroline and Ginny to make up, but there’s no warmth as this chapter begins. Caroline and Ginny are strangers, separated by their adult lives (and Ginny’s knowledge of Larry’s abuse).
The sisters stop to look at an old picture of their family. They can tell that Larry, a young man, is standing in the center of the picture, but they can’t tell who any of the other people are. Even the baby in the picture could be Rose, or Caroline, or Ginny.
Ginny can remember Larry (because his memory now dominates her entire life), and yet she can’t remember anything else about her past. Larry is still at the center of her worldview, even after his death.
Caroline tells Ginny that she can’t understand how Ginny and Rose bankrupted Larry’s farm. She reminds Ginny that she (Caroline) was very close to Larry toward the end of his life. Caroline mentions that she’s forgiven Larry for “mistreating” her—but when Ginny asks what she means by “mistreat,” Caroline explains that she means Larry cutting her out of his will.
This passage is agonizing because of how close Ginny comes to revealing the truth—ironically, Caroline is the one who speaks of forgiving her father, even though she seemingly has no idea how much there is to forgive. (Compare this scene with the “running out of money” exchange between Rose and Ginny in Chapter 12.) The scene also raises a disturbing possibility: Caroline may have been abused by Larry too—she just might have repressed the memories, like Ginny, or even forgiven Larry. Smiley doesn’t affirm or deny such possibilities; the point is that neither sister is willing to open up about their traumatic experiences, and so we never know the truth.
Ginny considers telling Caroline the truth about Larry, but in the end she loses her nerve. She imagines Rose, urging her to talk about how Larry raped his own children. But there are some pieces of information, she tells herself, that you have to ask for—you can’t be told out of the blue. Ginny and Caroline part ways and drive off.
Ginny doesn’t tell Caroline the truth about Larry—her excuse is that Caroline hasn’t asked for the information. Ginny’s refusal to ruin Larry’s memory for Caroline could be considered noble, and yet she’s also still too traumatized, too frightened, or even too guilty to open up to her long-absent sister.
Before she’s gotten far, Ginny turns around and drives back to the farm. She goes down to the cellar and finds the jar of poisoned sausages. She also notices some old tins of DDT. Ginny takes the sausages back to her home, where Linda and Pammy are sleeping. She thinks about what to do, and eventually throws the sausages down the garbage disposal. As she does so, she feels a powerful sense of relief.
In this section, Ginny finally gets rid of the sausages—symbolizing her attempts to move on with her life and escape her own guilt. For years, she’s waited for Rose to drop dead. Now Rose has died of cancer, and Ginny can presumably move on with life—but now that she’s alone, she has almost no life to “move on” with. Also notice the mention of DDT—a poisonous chemical that was used to spray crops and, it was later suggested, may have increased cancer risk in humans. Smiley implies that Rose got cancer from farm chemicals—the very pesticides that helped ensure the land’s fertility. Ginny (with her infertility) and Rose (with her cancer) have both had their bodies ruined by the land, just as their memories have been ruined by their father.