On Sunday evening, Kate, Decca, and Finch drive to Finch’s dad’s house for their weekly dinner. They’re silent on the drive over. This will be Finch’s first dinner since before Thanksgiving—and his first in the home his dad shares with Rosemarie and Rosemarie’s son. Kate pulls up in front of a big house that looks like all the others on the street, with new matching SUVs out front. Rosemarie answers the door, and Finch’s dad comes from the backyard, where he’s grilling despite the January cold. He used to play hockey professionally before he shattered his femur 12 years ago.
The way that Finch describes his dad’s new house and family contrasts greatly with how he describes his siblings and his mom. Finch’s dad seems to be better off financially than Finch’s mom, hence the big house and the matching SUVs that seem much newer than Little Bastard. Given that Finch has already described his dad as difficult and mean, it’s possible that Finch’s dad’s new family and relative success makes Finch feel resentful.
Finch’s dad greets Kate and Decca and asks Finch how the study-away program was. Finch says it was great and tells himself to thank Kate for that lie later. His dad doesn’t know about any of Finch’s problems from the last year—Finch told Principal Wertz that his dad died. Now, the school only calls Finch’s mom, which means they only ever talk to Kate because Finch’s mom never checks voicemail.
This passage illustrates just how disconnected Finch’s family members are from one another—and to what’s going on at Finch’s school. Because of the disconnect, Finch is able to come up with all sorts of explanations for his whereabouts without ever having to prove anything. This is probably how he prefers things, given his desire to keep his mental health issues secret, but it also prevents his family from knowing the full extent of his problems.
Everyone settles in the dining room for dinner. Finch studies his stepbrother, Josh Raymond. Josh Raymond is tiny, like Rosemarie, and isn’t awkward like Finch was at that age. That makes Finch think that maybe Finch’s dad isn’t Josh Raymond’s father. Rosemarie serves everyone burgers, but Finch asks for a veggie burger. Finch’s dad tells him to be grateful for the food, but Finch explains that he’s stopped eating red meat. Rosemarie offers to make Finch a potato salad sandwich and Finch lets her, even though it has bacon in it. When Kate points out the bacon issue, Dad says Finch can pick it out, and his Canadian accent slips through—an indicator that he’s getting annoyed.
Finch seems to imply here that there’s some question as to Josh Raymond’s paternity. He seems to suspect that his dad might be Josh Raymond’s biological father (as opposed to his stepfather), meaning that his father had Josh Raymond with Rosemarie while he was still married to Finch’s mom. Finch’s dad’s response when Finch asks for a veggie burger shows that he’s not particularly interested in respecting his children’s wishes. Instead, he expects his kids to be subservient—and, in this case, grateful.
When the kids get home, Finch’s mom asks if they had fun. Decca says that they didn’t, and she stomps upstairs. Finch’s mom looks relieved as she pours a glass of wine and goes after Decca. Finch and Kate pass a bag of chips back and forth and talk about how “stupid” it is that they have to visit Finch’s dad every week and pretend to like each other. Kate suggests that she might go to college in the fall; she stayed home after the divorce to look after their mom. She’s thinking of going to Denver. Finch knows she’s going there to be with her “cheating high school boyfriend.”
Even though Finch’s family isn’t particularly close or connected, Finch and Kate nevertheless seem to have a pleasant relationship. And importantly, Finch wants her to be happy and healthy—the same as he wants for Violet. But although Finch is able to understand that other people should be happy and well, it’s hard for him to understand that he also deserves the same.
Later, Finch puts on Johnny Cash in his room and lights a cigarette. Suddenly, he feels like the cigarette is polluting him, and he breaks all his other cigarettes in half. Then, he pulls out his computer. He writes about the statistics related to people killing themselves with poison. Finch thinks that poison is “a coward’s way out”; he'd want to feel something. Then, he walks to the bathroom and digs through the medicine cabinet. He finds some of Kate’s old sleeping pills and takes them back to his room.
Even though Finch describes pills as “a coward’s way out,” it’s nevertheless ominous when he promptly tracks down some sleeping pills that could kill him if he took too may. But this may also connect back to what Finch said about standing on the belltower ledge: being that close to killing himself is about control, and about reminding himself to stay alive.
Finch lines up the sleeping pills on his desk and logs onto Facebook, where a lot of people have liked someone else’s post about Violet saving Finch. He opens up his message to Violet and writes that “obligatory family meals suck.” He quotes Virginia Woolf’s suicide note to her husband: “I feel we can’t go through another of those terrible times.” After Finch sends the message, he plays with the pills and adds notes to his “Wall of Thoughts,” which is covered in scribbled notes. After an hour, he checks his messages and finds that Violet replied—with a Virginia Woolf quote. Finch knows he’s in trouble; he’s not actually very familiar with Virginia Woolf.
Finch seems to have Virginia Woolf’s suicide note memorized; he doesn’t have to look it up or refer to the exact wording. Especially later, when Violet responds with another Virginia Woolf quote that Finch doesn’t recognize, this shows that Finch focuses on suicide at the expense of everything else. He’s familiar with Virginia Woolf, for instance, only because she committed suicide—not because of her body of work.
Finch does an internet search for Virginia Woolf quotes and chooses one that seems to be an appropriate reply. The quote gives him chills; it seems to describe his life of moving between the “Asleeps and Awakes.” As Finch and Violet exchange more quotes, Violet asks where “When you consider things like the stars, our affairs don’t seem to matter very much, do they?” came from. Finch looks it up; it came from Woolf’s novel The Waves. He types out more of the passage and is surprised at how sexual this feels.
Exchanging these quotes—especially once things start to seem sexual to Finch—shows how people can use others’ words to help make sense of their own experiences. The fact that Violet is so taken with this particular Virginia Woolf quote is, perhaps, unsurprising—it encapsulates how insignificant she feels her life is after Eleanor’s death.
Violet takes 20 minutes to reply, so Finch checks out EleanorandViolet.com. When Violet writes back, she adds more rules for wandering. She insists that they can’t drive or go far from Bartlett. Finch suggests that they write about their wanderings—and Violet should do the writing. Violet doesn’t write back. Finch writes songs all night and wonders if they actually have chemistry with each other. Finally, he picks up the sleeping pills and considers taking them, but he flushes them instead. Then, he reads every post on EleanorandViolet.com and finally falls asleep around four a.m. He dreams that he and Violet are on the belltower, naked, and Violet leaps off with a scream.
As Finch becomes more interested in Violet, his interest in suicide seems to wane. Instead of playing with the pills, for instance, he flushes them after digging through the EleanorandViolet.com archives. With this, the novel begins to suggest that connecting with another person can be beneficial to a one’s mental health. Finch’s dream, however, suggests that he can’t entirely escape his fascination with death, even as he gets closer to Violet.