The chapter consists of many pieces of “evidence.” The first is a quote from Eleanor K. Wade, identified as “mother.” Eleanor says that “he” was always secretive as a child. Further pieces of evidence include an iron teakettle and a large boat. A man named Anthony L. Carbo is quoted as saying that “he” kept everything buried, and never said much to anyone, even his wife.
O’Brien’s book is organized into different kinds of chapters, one of which is the “evidence” chapter. While the purpose of evidence is to aid in the solution to a crime, these pieces of evidence don’t prove anything—they only establish that there is a great mystery at hand. The fact that John has secrets doesn’t tell us anything new (we saw this in the previous chapter), but the fact that he’s always had secrets does “raise the stakes” as we embark on the mystery of Kathy’s disappearance.
The next piece of evidence is a missing persons report for Kathleen Terese Wade. She is 38, blond and green-eyed, takes valium, and had a pregnancy termination when she was 34. She has a sister, but her next of kin is John Herman Wade. Kathleen worked as a Director of Admissions at the University of Minnesota. A colleague, Bethany Kee, says that she’s sure that Kathy didn’t drown, because she was an excellent swimmer.
Here, in its simplest form, is the information about Kathy’s disappearance. The list of information (height, weight, hair, etc.) is almost comical, because it tells us nothing and everything about her disappearance. There’s a sense that all the statistics about Kathy can’t tell us as much as one casual quote from Kathy’s friend, Bethany. It’s from Bethany that we learn that Kathy’s disappearance must have something to do with the lake we saw in the previous chapter, and also that this makes her disappearance even more suspicious, since she was a gifted swimmer.
Further quotes and reports inform us that John’s father bullied him when John was a child. John loved his father, Eleanor says, which is why his father’s treatment of him hurt him so deeply. She adds that John was too young to understand alcoholism.
This piece of evidence is important because it’s used to “explain” John—in other words, to suggest that John behaved the way he did because of his father. Ironically, while these quotes should inspire some kind of sympathy for John because they are related to his wife’s mysterious disappearance and since we don’t know what John did at this point in the novel, this explanation actually increases our sense of his guilt instead of minimizing it. As readers we are placed in the position of investigators, which is both exciting and uncomfortable.
An exhibit shows poll numbers from 1986. On July 3, Wade was leading over Durkee, 58% to 31%. On August 17, Durkee was leading 60% to 21%. Carbo says that the defeat ended John’s career. Carbo had asked John if he had any secrets. John hadn’t said anything. Carbo insists that he didn’t betray John.
Again, the presence of statistics is both helpful and unhelpful—the numbers show us that there was a sudden, unexpected change in John’s popularity, but doesn’t tell us what caused this change. Ironically Carbo’s pronouncement that he “didn’t” betray John only makes us suspicious that he did.
There are more quotes. Bethany guesses that Kathy is on a bus somewhere, since she didn’t want to stay married to a “creep” like John. Kathy’s sister, Patricia, says she can’t discuss her sister. A waitress named Myra Shaw remembers a loud argument she saw between John and Kathy. Vincent R. Pearson claims that John killed Kathy, an idea that Eleanor rejects as ridiculous. A man named Richard Thinbill complains about “flies,” though he doesn’t specify where he saw them.
We end the chapter with a collection of hypotheses about what happened to Kathy. Part of the delight of this section is the sheer uncertainty we feel. Any of these possibilities could be the truth, for all we know. Some of the possibilities directly contradict each other. All this, in conjunction with the unexplained word “flies,” shows us that we have our work cut out for us: we must decipher the mystery of what happened to Kathy by navigating through the huge number of possibilities for what could have happened.