On the day of Lydia’s funeral, Marilyn thinks of how she would have wanted the last moment she saw her daughter to have been different. Marilyn should have been “elderly and content”—on her deathbed, the last face she’d want to see would be Lydia’s, not those of her husband or other children. In reality, however, James has insisted on a closed-casket funeral, which means that Marilyn does not get to see Lydia “one last time.” James has not been able to tell Marilyn that when he identified Lydia’s body, only half her face was left, the rest having been “eaten away.” On the way to the cemetery, Marilyn turns her head to avoid looking at the lake, and Nath and Hannah wonder if she will do this for the rest of her life.
This passage evokes profound questions about what—and how—we choose to see. When Marilyn last sees Lydia, she doesn’t really “see” her in the sense that she doesn’t see the reality of Lydia’s life. Meanwhile, James’ insistence on a closed casket might at first seem like an attempt to deny the truth of Lydia’s death, when really the fact that Lydia’s face is half eaten away indicates that there are some sights that are actually too terrible to behold. Finally, Marilyn’s refusal to look at the lake confirms that she is in a state of denial.
School has been closed for Lydia’s funeral, and many of her classmates are in attendance. James and Marilyn barely recognize Karen Adler or Lydia’s other “friends,” as it has been years since they last saw them. Like Lydia, James and Marilyn have no real friends; even their neighbors “feel like strangers.” James and Marilyn don’t recognize most of the people there except Janet Wolff, who wears a black suit instead of her usual doctor’s white coat. Louisa Chen is there, along with a few professors from Middlewood. Although the Lees do not attend church, the funeral is led by a minister who reads a psalm. Hannah refuses to look at the coffin; she knows that Lydia’s body is in there, but wonders where Lydia herself is. Nath notices Jack Wolff out of the corner of his eye and imagines violently interrogating him. When he turns back, the coffin is already in the ground, and he is shocked by the realization that he’d missed the lowering and that Lydia is truly gone. He then notices Jack staring at him.
Each person attending Lydia’s funeral has a totally different set of emotional responses to the occasion. James and Marilyn are reminded of their own isolation, as well as how little they really knew about their daughter’s life. Hannah, still only 11, contemplates the meaning of death with no real guidance or support from the rest of her family. Finally, Nath is consumed by a sense of tension between himself and Jack. He is convinced that only he knows about Jack’s involvement in Lydia’s death, and that he cannot rely on anyone else to discover this truth. He is so fixated on this that he misses the moment when Lydia’s coffin is lowered into the ground, a fact that symbolizes how his obsession with Jack’s guilt means he “misses” the truth.
Nath has been given permission to take the final three weeks of the semester off, which means he will likely never see his classmates again. As the funeral goers disperse, Nath confronts Jack about why he is there. Jack asks how Nath is doing and says he is sorry about Lydia, to which Nath aggressively responds, “Are you?” As Jack turns to leave, Nath grabs his arm and tells him that the police want to talk to him, and that he knows Jack was with Lydia on Monday night. Their conversation is interrupted, however, by the approach of James, Marilyn, and Janet. James hisses at his son, asking why he is “picking a fight” at Lydia’s funeral. Nath insists that Jack “knows something” about Lydia’s death, but James is dismissive, telling his son to leave it to the police. Hannah tries to hold Marilyn’s hand for the second time during the funeral, but she is ignored.
This scene provides many examples of characters willfully mishearing and misunderstanding each other. Nath is so convinced of Jack’s guilt that he perceives his sympathy as insincere; meanwhile, Jack is so stunned that Nath is talking to him that he doesn’t recognize Nath’s accusatory aggression at first. James is embarrassed by his son’s inappropriate behavior, and thus disregards Nath’s claim that Jack was involved with Lydia’s death. Finally, Hannah is so unseen and unheard by her family that it is as if she doesn’t exist at all.
James angrily tells Nath that he is driving Marilyn and Hannah home, and that when Nath has calmed down he should walk. Secretly, James wishes to comfort his son, but the intensity of his own emotions means he feels unable to do so. He takes Hannah’s arm, thinking that she “at least always does what she’s told.” Nath sulks, thinking that James doesn’t know what Jack is really like. At school, Jack has a reputation for “deflowering virgins” unceremoniously in his car. Janet’s job as a doctor means she works nights at the hospital, leaving Jack alone. At school, Jack is a loner, talking to no one except whichever girl he’s decided to sleep with—including, that spring, Lydia. Nath sits in the graveyard for hours, thinking over all the rumors about Jack and trying not to visualize him and Lydia together.
The contrast between James’ relationship with Nath and his relationship with Hannah illustrates the way in which tensions between parents and their children build as the children grow older and develop lives of their own. James doesn’t imagine that Hannah has a private world that she keeps secret from him (when in reality, of course, she does). Meanwhile, Nath does not consider telling his father about Jack’s reputation, a fact indicative of the gulf that exists between the social world of teenagers and their parents—a gulf created by secrets and lies.
When Nath finally goes home, he notices with satisfaction that there is a police car outside Janet and Jack’s house. He decides to listen in to the conversation from the outside, thinking that as Lydia’s brother he has a “right” to hear. Inside, Jack is explaining that Lydia was in his physics class because she skipped ahead. Janet explains that he was held behind because he failed physics the first time, but now has a B+, a fact that surprises Nath. Jack assures the police that he and Lydia were “just friends,” and that he’d been teaching her to drive. He says the last time he saw her was on Monday afternoon, and that they’d been sitting his car and smoking. The police ask Janet if this was when she was at the hospital, and Janet asks them to call her “Dr. Wolff,” not Janet. Jack admits that “Lydia was always upset,” and Nath thinks that Jack is to blame for this. However, Jack continues on to say that Lydia was upset by her grades, her parents, and her brother leaving for college.
Nath is so angry about Jack’s supposed responsibility for Lydia’s death that Jack’s statement that Lydia was “upset all the time” barely registers. If Jack only hung out with Lydia to have sex with her, it is unlikely he would know or care about her emotional wellbeing—indeed, all of Jack’s statements in this passage contradict his reputation as a reckless, careless troublemaker. However, Nath has already privately determined that Jack is guilty, and thus he ignores this contradictory evidence. The police, meanwhile, have brought their own prejudices to the conversation, as indicated by the fact that they call Janet Wolff “Mrs.” and seem to imply that she is neglecting Jack by working nights.
Nath walks home and immediately goes up to his bedroom, purposefully avoiding his family. Marilyn and Hannah are also in their rooms. After the funeral, James is tempted to lie with his wife in bed, but instead he heads to his office, where he’s kept his copy of Lydia’s autopsy. It is lunchtime and the office is empty. Reading the autopsy, James thinks that it sounds like a school report rather than a scientific document. It indicates that there is no evidence of sexual trauma or foul play, and that Lydia died of “asphyxia by drowning.” Whether this was a murder, suicide, or accident has yet to be determined. James reads the medical description of Lydia’s dead, waterlogged body, and feels himself trembling. He doesn’t want Marilyn to ever know these details about their daughter’s body.
Each member of the Lee family has retreated into their own private world of mourning, the first sign of how Lydia’s death is further fracturing her family. While the male members of the family both have an urgent sense of personal responsibility to understand Lydia’s death, Hannah and Marilyn take a less active role. Meanwhile, the lack of communication between James and Nath means that they do not even realize that they are both searching for clues simultaneously, albeit in very different ways.
Louisa knocks on James’ office door, still in the outfit she wore to the funeral. She gently takes the autopsy from his hands and tells him he shouldn’t be at the office. James tries to respond, but he can’t make a sound. Louisa tells him that she will cook him lunch at her apartment. After opening her front door, however, Louisa leads him straight into her bedroom. James notes that everything about her body is “different” than Marilyn’s. After they have sex, James falls into a deep sleep for the first time since Lydia’s disappearance. Meanwhile, at home, Marilyn tries to fall asleep but can’t. Eventually, she walks into Lydia’s room, which still smells of her—not of the Baby Soft perfume or the cigarettes Lydia used to claim Karen smoked, but of Lydia herself.
The sexual encounter between James and Louisa throws ideas about guilt and innocence into question. Ordinarily, when a professor engages in a sexual situation with a student, the professor is seen as being at fault for taking advantage of their position (indeed, this is why James initially tells Marilyn they cannot date when she is enrolled in his class). On the other hand, during this scene James is in an exceptionally vulnerable position and Lydia clearly takes control over the act of seducing him. To what extent is either of them to blame for what takes place?
The objects in Lydia’s room remind Marilyn of who she hoped Lydia would be as an adult. Lydia had wanted to be a doctor since she was a child, and her scientific books, poster of Marie Curie, and science fair ribbons now serve as a reminder of that dream. Almost every one of these items was a gift from Marilyn to her daughter. Marilyn spots a series of diaries she gave to Lydia each year as a Christmas gift. When she told Lydia to write her secrets in them, Lydia had responded that she didn’t have any secrets. Suddenly overcome with a desire to understand both Lydia’s life and death, she takes the most recent year’s diary from the shelf and opens the lock. Every single page of every diary is blank.
Even before the reader knows Lydia’s true feelings about being a doctor, it is clear that Marilyn has relished the chance to live out her own dreams through her daughter. Indeed, the fact that all of Lydia’s science-related belongings were gifts from her mother casts doubt on how much Lydia chose this passion for herself. Now that Lydia has died, Marilyn’s dreams of becoming a doctor have died a second time. Meanwhile, the blank diaries mean that Lydia herself remains a complete mystery.
At Louisa’s apartment, James awakens with a start and hastily gets dressed. He tells Louisa “Goodnight” and rushes out to his car. Back at home, Nath continues to stare at Jack’s house through the window, and Hannah replays the events of the day in her mind. She wraps her arms around herself, pretending that she is hugging her mother. Meanwhile, Marilyn stands in Lydia’s room, promising herself that she will find out what happened to Lydia and who is to blame.
Again, each member of the Lee family is left to deal with their grief in total isolation. To each of them, Lydia’s death has a totally different meaning and has provoked a markedly different emotional response. While Nath and Marilyn insist on finding someone to blame, James and Hannah desire intimacy and comfort in the arms of others.