Burden is so upset at the news that Anne is having an affair with Willie, he takes off from Baton Rouge in his car and drives, over the course of several days, to Long Beach, California, where he checks into a hotel room and has another of his “Great Sleeps.” On the drive back from California—he never intended to leave Louisiana forever, but only wanted time and distance to clear his head—he replays in his mind memories of his courtship of Anne when he was a young man.
Jack’s “Great Drive” is in many ways related to his “Great Sleep,” although here he wants not the stasis that sleep can provide but the sense of speed and endless road that a long drive to California makes present for the driver. Here is the only time in the novel when Jack takes the wheel of a car, and for him it a dramatic trip through his own past and memories.
The summer after he turned 21, when Anne was 17, Burden returned home from the state university and lived in Burden’s Landing for the summer—he began wooing Anne, although at first they palled around together as they always had—on friendly terms, swimming and playing tennis. Soon, however, Burden began taking Anne out in his little roadster, and one night, after sitting in the car with Anne for hours, but not “making his move,” he dropped Anne off at her house, went home to lay in bed, and realized that he was in love with his friend of many years—and the sister of his best friend Adam.
Jack immediately goes back to his courtship of Anne—a relationship that has been hinted at in the text but has not been fully described until now. What Jack senses, in recounting this relationship with Anne, is that it is somehow the basis of everything, of his political career, his desires, his working for Willie in the first place. Jack knows that his love for Anne is at the root of his current unhappiness.
One day, after spending time together on a pier overlooking the bay, Burden and Anne kissed for the first time, and walked back to the Stanton house together holding hands. In the house was Adam, and Anne went upstairs, smiling, convinced that Adam had seen her holding Burden’s hand—thus believing that Adam knew about their relationship. Adam doesn’t acknowledge that Anne and Burden are dating at first, but he seems to give his tacit approval to the relationship, eventually, as the summer wears on.
Even at this point, so long ago, there is the intimation of a kind of friction between Adam and Anne. Jack started off, as a young man, being very close to Adam, but as Anne grew up, and he began dating her, he realized he was spending far more time with Anne than he was with Adam. To a certain extent, his relationship with Adam never fully recovered—there has been a small “distance” between the two men ever since.
Burden details the rest of the summer, which is a blur of events with Anne—the two become very close and physically intimate, although they do not fully consummate their love for one another. Jack recalls how Anne called him Jackie-Boy, and one night, when the two are talking about their future plans, Anne asks Jack what he intends to do for a living. Jack, who hasn’t until this point thought seriously about how to make a life for himself, answers that he will probably study to be a lawyer—this job seems sufficient for Anne, who says she does not care about money, only that Jack does a job he loves.
Another source of Jack’s frustration is his feeling that he has never found a suitable career, a calling, the way Adam has, as a doctor, Irwin has as judge, and Willie has as politician and political savior. Jack has instead had several careers: PhD student, reporter, political operative, an in each, he feels he is making up his expertise as he goes along. Being a lawyer was merely a convenient answer to Anne’s question.
Jack recalls another moment spent with Anne, when they were at a swimming pool—Anne dove in the pool, deep down, and Jack met her near the bottom, locking his lips with hers in a slow kiss, as they gradually made their way to the surface. It was a moment of passionate romantic intensity, and after that, Jack and Anne did not see each other for two days—Jack wondered whether he had scared Anne with the feeling that he loved her so much, so passionately, and that he hoped to spend the rest of his life with her.
An intensely romantic, indeed cinematic scene. Jack’s love for Anne is so intense, as is his desire to possess her, that he cannot stand the thought of her being underwater and away from him. Thus he dives in, ostensibly to “save” her, but his kiss serves only to keep her under longer, and to scare her with the vividness and intensity of his love for her.
But after those two days, as the summer is winding down, Anne and Jack did return to spending time together, and Jack recalls how, that second-to-last evening, they went into town to see a movie, and afterward got caught in his open-topped car in the rain. They drove back to the Burden house to get warm and drink coffee, and Anne and Jack wound up upstairs—Jack remembers that they each slowly undressed, and that Anne told Jack she was ready to be up there with him—ready to make love to him, to consummate their relationship. But in the moonlight of that evening, which Jack still remembers, at the time of his writing, with great vividness, he looked at Anne and said it would be better if they waited, if they postponed their lovemaking.
Another moment of great importance in the novel. Jack and Anne have never slept together, they have never consummated their love affair, and to a certain extent this colors his entire relationship with Anne, and his sense of her purity. The knowledge that Anne is sleeping with Willie serves to eliminate two of Jack’s fictions at once: first, that Anne is capable of sleeping with anyone, and second, that Anne is capable of loving someone other than Jack.
And at that moment, Jack’s mother, who had been out drinking, returned home and began making noise downstairs. Jack panicked and, creating a diversion, walked downstairs to greet his mother and her guests—Anne came down a few minutes later, and Jack’s mother, drunk, never noticed that the two of them had probably been “fooling around” upstairs. Nevertheless, the night of balked lovemaking seemed to impact their relationship, and Anne left for boarding school in the northeast two days later. Jack went back to LSU, and they maintained a promise to get married.
A classic scene—that of the parents returning to find two young lovers canoodling, is here changed into a tragic affair, as Jack will never again feel so romantically close to Anne as he did that night, and he fears that perhaps he has missed his only chance to love Anne, to make their romance a perfect one. Little does Jack know, at this point, the great series of events that will transpire and ultimately bring the two of them together in marriage at the novel’s end.
Jack next saw Anne on his winter break, for ten days, and he remembers that the time they spent together was fraught—not like the summer before. Then they saw each other next during the following summer, after which Jack started at law school at LSU and Anne decided to attend college in Virginia. Still they maintained a promise to get married, but after a difficult fall, when Anne was a college freshman and Jack a first-year law student, Jack saw Anne over break and, realizing that she kissed in a new way, figured out that Anne had had a lover in Maine, while on a trip a few months before.
Jack’s answer in the spur of the moment, that he wanted to go to law school, becomes his reality—he actually attends for a year. This underscores the fact that small decisions in life, especially small decisions without very much basis in one’s actual desires, can turn into major changes in one’s life without one’s trying, or even realizing it. Jack wonders how many of these small decisions have influenced the greater course of his life.
Jack was aghast at the knowledge that Anne had “cheated” on him, but Anne admitted that she no longer felt loved by Jack, that Jack did not seem happy in their long-distance relationship, and that she had merely tried out kissing this other man to see what it was like. They attempted to patch up their relationship, but it didn’t seem to take, and eventually they drifted apart and agreed to go their separate ways. Jack left the law school after only one year, and decided to pursue graduate study in history at LSU.
This is an intimation of the next time that Anne “cheats on” Jack, when she begins her affair with Willie. Of course, at this point Jack and Anne are no longer dating—and have not been for many years—but Jack still desires to possess Anne, to be the only man to love her and continue to love her.
After dropping out of graduate school and taking a job at the Chronicle, Jack was briefly married to a woman named Lois, and he recounts their relationship here, in this continuation of his “daydream” while driving back from Long Beach to Louisiana. Lois often would tell friends of hers in Baton Rouge, whom Jack never liked, that she and Jack were “perfectly adjusted sexually.” Lois was a “liberated” woman, and beautiful, but Jack realized quickly that they were not interested in the same things, and soon their relationship began to deteriorate.
Lois is in many ways the utter foil to Anne. She is not concerned with intellectual pursuits, she has no ties to the Burden’s Landing political community, and she seems to have no interests at all other than decorating the apartment and making sure that Jack is committed to their marriage. Jack seems to understand, from the very beginning, that the marriage is doomed to fail.
Jack felt that Lois merely wished Jack to look the part of her husband—she only cared that he dressed well and had a nice apartment—and so, after several years, Jack stopped talking to Lois, stopped sleeping with her, and eventually let her altogether. Jack recalls, to end this section of daydream-narration, that Lois is probably sitting on a sofa somewhere, eating chocolates and thinking on her former beauty—Jack knows that he is bitter about Lois, that he has taken out his bitterness from Anne on her, and he apologizes to her, in his dream, for the pain he has caused her.
Interestingly, Jack spends a great deal of the novel thinking about a woman, Anne, to whom he was never married, and spends only a very small part of the novel thinking about Lois, the woman to whom he actually was married for several years. This indicates the nature of Jack’s memory, and of memory generally—that it is a selective process, and that sometimes events one does not want to remember are simply forgotten, pushed aside.
Jack quickly wraps up his story of Anne—she graduated college, returned to Burden’s Landing to care for her sick father, then when her father eventually died she inherited the Stanton house along with her brother Adam. She moved to Baton Rouge and began working on charitable projects, and Jack struck up a friendship with her again, based on their mutual histories—and Jack, after divorcing Lois, attempted to woo Anne again, but to no avail—she would not take him back.
It is important to note that there was never any moment that severed the relationship between Jack and Anne completely—that is, until Jack discovers Anne’s affair with Willie. Then Jack seems to realize, many years after the fact, that it is actually highly unlikely he will ever rekindle his romance with Anne, barring something unforeseen.
Jack therefore recalls, on the bed in Long Beach, and in the long car ride back to Louisiana, the difficulties of his romantic life, and the manner in which time seems to mimic the endless rolling motion of the sea. He says that, because he never possessed Anne, though he loved her, he doesn’t understand why he can be angry at Willie for having an affair with her. Though he also knows that his memories regarding his relationship with Anne in Burden’s Landing are some of the most powerful memories he has—that they are an essential part of his life.
Jack is aware of the great amount of emotional weight he places on the events in his life that involved Anne—she is, in many ways, the living link between him and his past in Burden’s Landing, and a time when the world lay before him. Jack knew Anne when life was simpler, when he hadn’t made a series of bad decisions and career changes, when it was still possible for him to lie on the beach and wait for the sun to set.