Upon finishing his research at the reading room, Joe goes on to his second meeting of the day: he is helping to judge a science book prize. After the meeting, he realizes that he needs to talk to Clarissa and feels that “the effort of appearing sane and judicious” for so many hours has “rather unhinged [him].” He returns to his apartment and mixes a drink for himself, and while he considers interrupting Clarissa’s dinner—she is in a restaurant consoling her brother Luke in the midst of his divorce—he decides to wait until her return to tell her about Parry’s phone call and the fact that Parry may have followed him to the library.
Joe transitions from one physical and emotional state to another with surprising ease. Though he has been disconcerted by what he saw at the library, he is nevertheless able to continue going about the business of his day—business that is of significant professional importance. Similarly, he is able to wait on Clarissa with a reasonable degree of patience, a fact that reveals the steadiness of his intellectual life, even in the midst of near-constant change.
Joe watches the evening news and considers the state of his own affairs. He worries that Parry has been following him and that Parry knows his home address, but he understands, as well, that if he is mistaken about what he has seen, his own mental state must be “very frail.” Picking up the phone, Joe dials “last number recall,” determined to trace the message that he has just heard on his answering machine (“a breathless pause followed by the rattle of a receiver being replaced”). Though he expects to reach Parry’s own answering machine upon doing so, he is nonetheless surprised to hear Parry’s recorded voice in his ear. Determined not to spend the evening drinking and brooding, Joe retreats to his office, where he continues work on his essay on the use of narrative in science.
Joe’s ability to diagnose his own mental state with some degree of precision is a compelling sign of his sanity. Yet Joe’s anxiety in these paragraphs reveals that his hold on rationality is being tested. Joe has no reason to believe that Parry has his home address, but he can’t help worrying about it anyway. Similarly, Joe acts with irrational haste and a surprising lack of foresight when he calls Jed Parry’s telephone number. Also important, however, is Joe’s ability, even now, to distract himself with intellectual work.
Working through his idea, Joe speculates that, because the 19th century was the novel’s heyday, scientists of that era—many of them mere intelligent amateurs—inevitably thought in narrative terms. As history proceeded, however, and science grew more difficult, amateurs largely ceased to make important scientific discoveries, and “the meanderings of narrative [gave] way to an aesthetic of form.” As proof of this hypothesis, Joe considers both Albert Einstein’s General Theory, originally accepted on account of its “beauty,” and Paul Dirac’s work on quantum electrodynamics, which was rejected, Joe reflects, in part because of its “ugliness.” Though Joe swiftly loses interest in his own “puny reasoning,” he manages to distract himself with work for three hours.
Despite Joe’s eventual doubts about the quality of his work, the reader can see in these paragraphs the extent of his ability to reason. Joe’s capacity to craft a narrative from disparate historical examples is an impressive feat of deduction and one that helps the reader fully comprehend Joe’s intelligence. Yet the reader can also see here that Joe’s confidence in his work as a science writer is already being shaken. The emotional event that was the ballooning accident has disturbed the intellectual event that is Joe’s attempt to compose an essay.
Setting his pages aside, Joe feels for the second time that day “someone at [his] back.” He reflects on the evolutionary processes that have resulted in the shot of adrenaline he now feels, and he quickly turns to find Clarissa approaching him, home from her evening with her brother at last. Clarissa tells Joe that she loves him and has had a terrible evening with Luke. For his part, Joe reflects upon the fact that evolution has contributed yet again to his reunion with Clarissa: her presence “always brought, along with the familiarity, a jolt of surprise.” Retreating to the bedroom, the couple discuss Luke’s bad behavior, and Joe is so happy to see Clarissa that he declines again to mention Parry’s phone call or behavior. As the two of them make love, Joe surrenders to his happiness and reflects upon the fact that the telephone will not disturb them. He unplugged the phone, he remembers, “many hours before.”
Joe’s impression that someone is sneaking up behind him is an example of the kind of anti-rational (or pre-rational) “thought” that Joe both appreciates (from an evolutionary perspective) and finds suspect. Yet Joe falls victim to anti-rational behavior once again when he allows himself to be led by Clarissa into their bedroom. By any reasonable standard, Joe should be explaining to Clarissa exactly what Jed Parry has said and done in the last twenty-four hours. That he surrenders instead to his emotions tells the reader a great deal about the impossibility of a total commitment to rationality.