In the moments immediately after John Logan’s fall, Joe again slows the pace of his narrative, indicating that he wishes to “give the half-minute after John Logan’s fall careful consideration.” To justify this move, Joe explains to the reader that “whole research departments” exist to study the first “half-minute” of the universe. Having done so, he describes for the reader the “déjà vu” that overcomes him “in the second or two it [takes] for Logan to hit the ground,” recalling a recurring nightmare from his youth, in which he is forced to watch a disaster unfolding from a helpless distance.
Joe shows again that he is inclined to examine events from a scientific perspective, even while recollecting times of great stress. For instance, Joe’s reference to “research departments” reveals not only his educatedness, but also his desire to narrate in a scientifically appropriate way. Yet the fact that Joe is a victim of a recurring nightmare (and that he experiences the unscientific phenomenon déjà vu) indicates that he is not entirely successful in controlling his thinking.
Shaken by this memory, Joe pauses to consider the respective positions of the other men in the field. Joseph Lacey is helping his friend, Toby Greene, who “cannot stand,” while Jed Parry is next to Joe, and James Gadd is a few steps away, shouting about his grandson, Harry, who is still in the balloon’s basket. Clarissa has stepped toward Joe and put her arms around him, but although she is crying, Joe is merely in shock: he states that “sorrow seem[s] a long way off” to him. Joe takes note of where John Logan’s body has landed—in a second field at the base of the slope—but, as he does so, he notices that Jed Parry is watching him. Unaware of what is happening in Parry’s mind—that Parry is even now beginning to become obsessed with Joe—Joe “honor[s] Parry with a friendly nod” and even speaks to him, telling him in a “deep and reassuring voice, ‘It’s all right.’”
Joe’s attempt to bring his thinking under control—to behave rationally—can be seen in his attempt to reestablish a precise narrative. Thus, the details provided here represent not only Joe’s determination to inform the reader, but also his desire to reclaim his own thought processes. What Joe isn’t able to control is his emotional response to the tragedy. Whereas Clarissa experiences traditional emotions—tears—Joe cannot yet feel “sorrow” and instead speaks to Parry in a way that seems artificially hearty. That Joe attempts to “reassure” Parry is an ironic result of Joe’s lack of information about the man.
Feeling strangely excited, even euphoric, Joe telephones the police then strides down the hill in the direction of John Logan’s body. Perversely, Joe has convinced himself that Logan might still be alive, and though Clarissa, recognizing that Joe is in shock, urges him to “slow down,” he ignores her. As he descends, however, his euphoria wears off, and he begins to feel “trapped and lonely in [his] decision.”
Joe remains unable to comprehend all that has happened with his rational mind, and this failure informs the calm euphoria he feels during these passages. Similarly, it informs his bizarre inability to recognize that John Logan must be dead, which any rational person would understand.
He pauses to urinate against a tree trunk then approaches Logan’s body from the rear. He notices sheep grazing in the field, and though he wants to turn and shout to Clarissa, he is ashamed of his behavior at the top of the hill. He worries that Logan might still be alive and that he will have to perform first-aid. His hands are trembling, and he approaches Logan’s body as slowly as he can, taking care to keep Logan “at the periphery of vision” rather than looking at him directly.
As Joe’s euphoria wears off, he begins to feel isolated from Clarissa, a state of affairs that will increase as the novel progresses. Here, again, he feels something that is irrational (and almost supernatural)—a fear of the dead—but he knows enough to dismiss it as “prescientific” thinking to which he shouldn’t allow himself to give in.
When Joe finally looks straight at Logan’s body, the corpse seems to him like “some stumpy antenna of [Logan’s] present or previous self.” The body is sitting upright, but its shoulders are “narrower than they should have been,” and Joe realizes that Logan’s “skeletal structure [has] collapsed internally to produce a head on a thickened stick.” He speaks to the corpse but quickly realizes that what he has previously mistaken for the body’s “calmness” is, in fact, “absence.” John Logan is unmistakably dead.
The gruesomeness of the portrayal of John Logan’s body is one of the novel’s most difficult passages. Joe has been experiencing Logan’s death almost entirely in his own head; coming upon Logan’s actual shattered form helps remind him of the literal, physical events that have transpired and what he must do as a result.
As Joe looks at Logan’s body, he is joined by Jed Parry, who has come down the hill behind him. Parry urges Joe not to touch Logan’s body, but, rather than responding, Joe looks at Parry “for the first time,” taking in his height and leanness—the way “his bones fairly burst out of him.” To Joe, Parry looks like “a pale Indian brave,” and though Parry’s appearance is “slightly threatening,” Joe hears in Parry’s “feebly hesitant” voice the “apologetic” habit “of making a statement on the rising inflection of a question.” Parry tells Joe that Clarissa is worried about him, and Joe responds with a hostile silence, disliking Parry’s use of Clarissa’s first name, as if he can claim to know either her or her state of mind.
This first major encounter between Joe and Jed Parry sets a number of precedents. Here, the reader sees both Parry’s religiosity and his refusal to take “no” for an answer. In Parry’s Americanized speech patterns (and, in particular, his habit of making declarative statements sound like questions), Joe hears a man of weak will, not yet knowing that Parry’s will of iron will be the primary test of Joe’s own sanity, self-conception, and love.
When Parry asks Joe if he is all right, Joe responds by telling him, “There’s nothing we can do but wait” for the ambulance and the police to arrive. Parry responds that, in fact, there is something the two of them can do: they can pray. To this suggestion, Joe, who holds no religious belief, responds that while he doesn’t care to participate, Parry is welcome to pray alone.
Here the reader sees a perfect illustration of the contrast between Joe’s rationalism and Parry’s irrationalism. Joe is speaking in purely reasonable terms when he declares that nothing can be done for John Logan. Yet Parry’s desire to pray moves beyond reason.
The two men have a mild (but, on Parry’s part, increasingly fervent) argument about prayer. Parry has lowered himself to his knees and is inviting Joe to join him. Joe is horrified and “speechless” and wants “not to offend a true believer,” even as he realizes that Parry is not concerned about offending him. When Joe responds that prayer isn’t his “thing at all,” Parry makes an important claim: that God has “brought [the two of them] together in this tragedy” and that they “have to make whatever sense of it [they] can.”
The reader sees in these passages both Joe’s opposition to religion and his fundamental decency. While he is, at this point, careful not to mock Parry or make him feel as if his desire to pray is foolish, he makes clear that he has no interest in even considering such an idea. In fact, he is so surprised by the request that he can’t speak at first.
Though Joe shrugs and declines again, Parry is increasingly insistent, referring to himself as “just the messenger” and to prayer as “a gift.” He closes his eyes, “not praying so much as gathering his strength,” then approaches Joe from behind as Joe tries to walk away. He begs Joe to reconsider, even telling him that he doesn’t “have to believe in anything at all,” but Joe, stating that he has to return to Clarissa, finally begins to depart.
Parry’s persistence is on full display in these paragraphs. Crucial is his idea that Joe does not himself need to have religious belief: he can merely go through the motions and be “saved” by the sincerity of Parry’s belief. This is an idea to which Parry will return later in the novel, when grappling with Joe’s atheism.
Parry attempts “a radical change in tone,” asking Joe “sharply” what is preventing him from participating in the prayer. Pushed to the point of rudeness, Joe responds that he won’t pray because “no one’s listening. There’s no one up there.” Strangely, Parry responds not with anger but by smiling. As the chapter ends, two policemen are striding down the hill to Logan’s body, and Parry is looking at Joe with a “radiating” expression of “love and pity.”
The suddenness of Parry’s change in tone prepares the reader for the erratic behavior that will mark his character later. So, too, does the reader see hints about the future in the fact that Parry smiles at Joe’s refusal. Part of what comes to be so infuriating about Parry is his tendency to hear “yes” when “no” has been said.