By the morning of September 21, two days after John discovers Kathy missing, there are almost a hundred volunteers searching the lake for Kathy, along with aircraft, patrol boats, and an airplane with special infrared sensors. Yet nothing is found—neither a boat nor a body.
The full magnitude of Kathy’s disappearance becomes more apparent to us—the search is enormous, but the lake is so big that no number of boats is guaranteed to find Kathy’s body.
Around noon that day, Kathy’s sister calls John from International Falls and tells him that she needs to be picked up in an hour. She sounds brusque and rude. John showers and drives into town, thinking about Patricia, who goes most often by the name Pat. Even when John first met Pat with Kathy in college, Pat was cold to him. In part, John thinks, this is because she distrusts men—she’s been divorced twice, and has always had too many boyfriends. At the moment, Pat owns a chain of successful health clubs in the St. Paul area. The health club is the only relationship that ever worked for her, John thinks.
In contrast to the politeness John and Pat showed one another over the phone, Pat is now rude to John, as if she doesn’t have to bother with the pretexts of politeness any longer. John’s explanation for why Pat is hostile to him aren’t convincing at all-we can sense that Pat is hostile to John because she doesn’t like him or trust him. John seems childish in this section—his comment about the health club makes him seem like a petty gossip, not a concerned husband.
John stops at the Texaco station, where Lux is drinking coffee. Lux tells him that he doesn’t have much to report, except that a huge number of people are looking for Kathy. He mentions that he voted for John, and, when John says that Pat is coming to the cottage, he adds that incidents like Kathy’s disappearance help to keep things like careers and politics in perspective. Lux also tells John that Vinny distrusts John. John insists that he’s telling Lux the complete truth about Kathy. He adds that Vinny can go fuck himself, a statement that makes Lux laugh. Lux bids John good day, and tells him to bring Pat by for some questioning.
Lux’s insistence that he voted for John doesn’t bring John much reassurance, either about the search for Kathy or about his political career (neither one is going very well), but it at least shows that Lux is trying to be friendly with John. Even so, Lux’s comment about keeping politics in perspective comes with a little sternness—it’s as if Lux has noticed that John doesn’t seem as concerned as he should seem.
John waits for Pat at the town landing. He has a hangover, and thinks that he needs to give up drinking—tomorrow, he tells himself. At 1:15 pm, Pat arrives by floatplane. She looks like a taller, healthier version of Kathy. They kiss, a little awkwardly, and John tells her that there’s been no sign of Kathy for two days. Still, he says, Kathy is probably okay. John drives Pat back to the cottage, and on the ride they barely say anything to each other.
John’s thought that Pat looks like a healthier version of Kathy seems a little suspicious—the focus on physicality recalls John’s own struggles with weight but also suggests perhaps that he was dissatisfied with Kathy’s looks in some way and therefore suggests the possibility that he had affairs, or even the possibility that he had an affair with Pat! These kinds of speculations are inevitable when reading the novel, but they’re also impossible to verify—or disprove.
In the cottage, Pay says she needs to take a shower. While she does so, John tries to imagine Lux calling him with good news, or Kathy walking into the room. His fantasies don’t help at all. Pat walks out of the shower, wearing a University of Minnesota sweatshirt. She invites John to catch her up on everything she needs to know about Kathy’s disappearance.
John retreats into fantasy, just as he did as a child. While this might make him seem innocent of any wrongdoing, we should keep in mind that John is talented at lying to himself and minimizing his own guilt—he retreated into fantasy after My Lai, too. John’s impressions of Pat after she comes out of the shower are more than vaguely sexual—the possibility that he had an affair with Pat seems to be increasing.
John tells Pat about Kathy’s health, the boat, and the search. For half an hour, he explains all this: Kathy is healthy, the boat is in good condition, and the search has been professional. Pat’s first reaction is that “it doesn’t make sense.” She asks to see the boathouse, so John shows her to it. Inside, she asks John where Kathy would have gone, and why she would have gone. John replies that he doesn’t know, but that Kathy never needed reasons to leave—she would often go for long walks by herself. Pat says that she’s afraid. The last time she talked to Kathy, she tells John, Kathy sounded happy, as if she could finally move on with her life now that John’s political career was over. Pat touches John’s arm, and he recoils, a little startled. Pat asks him if “body contact” bothers him, and he admits that it does, a little.
Pat’s reaction to the description of Kathy’s disappearance is the same as ours—things don’t add up, whether or not John was involved in her disappearance. The comment about “body contact,” like so many of the comments in this section, can be taken many ways. It’s possible that John and Pat had an affair; it’s also possible that Kathy has complained to Pat about John’s lack of interest in lovemaking. In either case, it’s clear that Pat dislikes John now—it’s less clear whether or not she’s always felt this way about him.
Together, Pat and John walk along the dirt road by the boathouse, and then turn into the forest toward the fire tower. As they walk, John thinks that Kathy walked the trail every day that she and John were by Lake of the Woods. He wonders if she’s watching him right now. After twenty minutes of walking, he and Pat reach the fire tower. Pat says that she’s tired, and they decide to rest by the tower before returning to the cottage. John surveys the forest and thinks about little things Kathy would do: the way she slept, her habit of eating Lifesavers, etc.
John feels curiously haunted by Kathy, in much the same way that he felt haunted by Weatherby in Vietnam. The way John remembers Kathy in this section—as a sum of many small details—parallels the fragmented way O’Brien writes this novel. In other words, it’s impossible for both the reader or any of the characters to understand the “totality” of any of the characters—both we and the characters one can only catch glimpses of them.
Pat tells John that Kathy was a very good person, and deeply in love with John. John replies that he was in love with Kathy, too, a statement that Pat doesn’t acknowledge. Pat assures John that Kathy lost herself in John’s career—except for the dentist, John tells Pat. Pat tells John that this incident was nothing, and suggests that John has had infidelities, too—John denies this, but Pat points out that he’s been having an affair with “Little Miss Politics.”
Kathy’s affair with Harmon (presumably the dentist they’re both referring to in this scene) casts a shadow over their marriage. While it remains unclear whether or not John had infidelities of his own, it’s clear, even before Pat suggests it, that he put his career before his relationship with Kathy, and that this made Kathy lonely and unhappy. We’ve seen this in the way he forced Kathy to get an abortion, even though she clearly wanted children.
Pat tells John that Kathy hated being a politician’s life. John dismisses this suggestion, and tells Pat that he and Kathy had a wonderful relationship. Pat tells him that Kathy became frightened of John, especially after John began shouting in his sleep, and after the newspapers revealed that John was a war criminal. She adds that she didn’t like John following her around everywhere. John tells Pat that Kathy never actually said any of this; Pat counters that Kathy didn’t have to—it was obvious from the way she behaved. John says that his reputation as a war criminal is “bullshit.” Pat asks him if he did “something” in Vietnam—at first, John asks Pat what she means, but then denies that he did.
Pat acts as the spokeswoman for Kathy—a compiler of all the things that Kathy was thinking. But as befits this novel, with its unreliable narrators and characters, it’s impossible to tell how much of what Pat says is true—how much of its comes directly from Kathy—and how much of what Pat says is her own invention or assumption. Again, we hear about John’s behavior in Vietnam, but don’t understand exactly what he did, if anything, beyond shooting the old man and PFC Weatherby. People and events in this novel are understood in terms of what they do, not what motivated those actions, because fully understanding motivations is so murky and impossible.
Pat and John walk back to the cottage, where Ruth and Claude are waiting. John introduces Pat to both of them, and then calls Lux. Lux tells him that there’s no news, and makes a sound that could be either sympathy or exasperation.
And here the impossibility of understanding motivations is driven home: neither John nor the reader can interpret the meaning of the sound that Lux makes, nor whether Lux is now suspicious of John.
John tells Claude that he wants a boat tomorrow, so that he can explore the lake and look for Kathy himself. Claude tells John that he’ll provide one at 6:30 am, and that he wants to be on it. Pat goes to rest in the spare room, and Ruth and Claude return to their own home. John sits by himself in the living room, drinking vodka and reading the local paper, which mentions Kathy on the second page, including quotes from the governor and Tony. Next to the article there’s a photograph of Kathy looking very happy. John says, “Oh, Kathy,” and drinks more.
John’s behavior is nearly impossible to read in this scene. He’s drinking, just as his father did, but it’s not clear if we’re supposed to find this fact poignant or disturbing, or both. Similarly, John’s statement, “Oh, Kath,” could be read in any number of ways—it could suggest either that he’s innocent or guilty of her disappearance. John is both sympathetic to Kathy and self-pitying.
John spends the rest of the night drinking vodka and trying to sleep. Around midnight, he gets up, dresses, grabs a flashlight, and walks to the boathouse. Inside, he senses that “things had happened there.” The smell of the floor of the boathouse reminds him of the smell of dead flowers. This in turn reminds him of the iron teakettle he was carrying the night Kathy disappeared, and the fact that he said “Kill Jesus.” He remembers going back to his room and watching Kathy. For a moment, he thinks, her eyes opened.
John seems not to remember everything that he did the night that Kathy disappeared. Whether this is because he didn’t do anything of note or because he has repressed the traumatic experience of killing Kathy is left for us to decide. It’s important to note that Kathy’s eyes open in this scene—where before her eyes implied love and peace, they now inspire tremendous guilt in John. This is further significant as so much of John’s life has been about avoiding being truly seen, about creating surfaces – magic, politics—that hide him. Eyes are a window into the soul of his wife, but also a possible threat as they might see him for who he truly is in a way he can’t stand.
John feels a tremendous sense of guilt. He leaves the boathouse and turns off the flashlight. When he returns to the cottage, he sees Pat sitting outside. She asks him if he’s out for a stroll.