The final chapter of evidence begins with Bethany Kee, who says that everyone who worked in admissions at the University of Minnesota talked about Kathy’s disappearance constantly. No one could think of any signs that Kathy was unhappy in any way. Perhaps, Kee says, Kathy was a great actress. Lux says that he never found anything in Lake of the Woods that incriminated John, and compares the process of investigating a crime to digging a hole in sand—the hole keeps filling up. Vincent Pearson simply argues that John buried Kathy very deep.
The final chapter of evidence seems like a kind of summation of everything we’ve learned. Thus, Bethany can only conclude that Kathy and John had secrets—she has no idea what these secrets were. Similarly, Vincent and Lux present their “theory” and “fact”-driven interpretations of the events. The former is sure that John killed Kathy; the latter thinks that anything could have happened.
There is a list of quotations about missing people. Jay Robert Nash, an author, notes that there are more than 30,000 cases of missing people each year. Ambrose Bierce, a writer who disappeared in Mexico, writes that he wants to go to the Pacific ports, precisely because they are unfamiliar to him. Ruth Rasmussen argues that John’s sudden departure need not mean anything bad—sometimes people leave.
The sheer number of missing persons is a reminder of how much mystery goes unexplained every day. For every Kathy, there are literally hundreds of thousands of other, presumably equally complicated cases of disappearance.
Bethany remembers one clue in Kathy’s disappearance: when Bethany asked Kathy when she’d come back from Lake of the Woods, Kathy merely laughed—as if, Bethany thinks, she knew something. Sigmund Freud says that biographers inevitably engage in lies and concealment.
This bit of evidence suggests that Kathy never intended to return. Or put another way: this evidence, presented in this way at this time in the book, seems to suggest that Kathy never intended to return. The evidence is never certain, as the narrator himself reveals when he quotes Freud as Freud argues that biographers by their nature can never be reliable, as they must engage in a kind of “magic” to put the pieces of the story together to make a cohesive whole.
Arthur Lux agrees with Vincent that something doesn’t add up about Kathy disappearance. He says that John is wrong: one plus one never equals zero. Ruth Rasmussen says that Claude was angry when the police dug up the cottage. She adds that she misses Claude, and that he had faith in people. Myra Shaw mentions seeing John at the Mini-Mart just before he left, and says that she was disturbed by the look he gave her.
We return to the theme of one plus one equaling zero. At times, John has interpreted this notion to mean that deception can “cancel out” evil and immoral behavior, but Lux seems to deny that even as he can never get the evidence to add up to anything concrete. Ruth’s comment about Claude is contrasted by Myrna’s interpretation of him: Claude had faith in John despite all the evidence stacked up against John. Myrna saw John as giving her a disturbing look even as John was trying to act normal and not reveal his anger to her. Both of those different interpretations of John come down to perspective, to whether or not the other character had faith in John.
Edward F. Durkee admits that it was he, not the Peers Commission, who was looking for dirt on John. In a letter to John, Richard Thinbill apologizes for giving testimony that was used to implicate John in the Thuan Yen massacres. He recalls the night that John laughed in the ditch, and insists that he was right all along—it’s always better to be honest about what you’ve done. He adds that he doesn’t know how John “stood it” for so many years.
We see the full irony of John’s predicament—if he hadn’t entered politics—the reason he went to Vietnam in the first place—no evidence of John’s wrongdoing would ever have made itself known. Ironically, it’s John’s own attempts to cover up his guilt that expose his guilt. Thinbill’s letter suggests that the only way to alleviate trauma is to talk about it honestly.
Patricia remembers how Kathy heard about John’s actions in Thuan Yen. After reading about it, she waited for John to come home. When he did, he gave her a look that seemed to tell her not to ask him. At this moment, Patricia says, she knew that Kathy would always stay with John.
In this version of events, Kathy loves John more than ever after she finds out about his involvement in Thuan Yen. In earlier chapters, it’s been suggested that John’s actions in Vietnam drove a wedge between him and his wife; here, the opposite is suggested.
A partial list of John’s “Box of Tricks” includes a mouse cage, a document of honorable military discharge, and a book called Marriage: A Guide.
In a sense, this evidence doesn’t show us anything we didn’t already know: John treated marriage as another magic trick. At the same time, it conveys the full extent of his cluelessness about how to make Kathy love him, and thus makes John seem like a sympathetic character, not a manipulative one.
Ruth notes that Claude died shortly after John’s disappearance, and that he and John developed a close trust for one another. Lux says that John communicated by radio for a while after he left the cottage. Ruth emphasizes that John and Kathy are gone, and says that the narrator should get back to his own life. A quote from Jay Robert Nash suggests that authors are obsessed with missing people.
We’re given another confirmation that Claude and John understood one another—Claude didn’t give John sympathy, but he seemed to understand what John was going through, without condoning or condemning it. The final two quotes here shift the emphasis from John’s neurosis to the narrator’s—he’s clearly obsessed with Kathy’s story, long after the other characters have lost interest.
Various people speculate on where John is now. Ruth is optimistic: she believes that John and Kathy are together in Hudson Bay, in Canada, since they are still in love, just like Ruth and Claude. Tony Carbo suggests that John and Kathy ran away together, since they were both excellent at deception, and since they have nothing to return to, what with their debt and political defeats. Myra Shaw notes the tourist maps John bought, and argues that John wouldn’t have killed himself after buying such things. Lux notes that John didn’t leave a will, and that he didn’t seem particularly upset after Kathy left. It’s possible, he admits, that John and Kathy ran off together.
In the end, Kathy’s disappearance is like a Rorschach inkblot test: optimists take an optimistic view of the situation, and pessimists assume the worst. We’ve faced the possibility that John and Kathy ran off together before, but here, it seems like the most likely hypothesis of all—it’s highly unlikely that two people would go missing in the same week. This would make the entire case a “double consummation”—John made himself disappear long after the police thought the “trick” was over.
Three more people guess what became of John and Kathy. Bethany notes that Kathy seemed happy and carefree after the end of the election, as if she had something to look forward to. Eleanor argues that people have to be hopeful, and thus hopes that John and Kathy are happy together somewhere. Thinbill acknowledges that John pulled off one final magic trick by disappearing. Still, Thinbill says, John still dreams about flies.
All three of these quotations are optimistic to varying degrees. Perhaps the most illuminating is Eleanor’s—people “have to” be hopeful, she argues. In other words, it’s up to the reader how he or she interprets Kathy’s disappearance—in the absence of evidence, one might as well choose the happiest outcome. Thinbill’s prophesy is darker—even if John does disappear, he argues, he’ll never entirely overcome the trauma or guilt from the war.
In a footnote to Thinbill’s final comment, the narrator discusses the peculiarities of memory. Like John, the narrator has his own old man with a hoe, and his own PFC Weatherby. Yet two decades after fighting in Vietnam, the narrator doesn’t remember much of being there, aside from stray images of violence of brutality. Similarly, John seemingly forgot about his Vietnam experiences for two decades.
With only a few more pages to go in the novel, we see what motivates the narrator himself. He, too, went through horror in Vietnam—but where John deals with horror by trying to forget about it, the narrator tries to process and transfigure his horror using storytelling. By telling a story about a similar soldier, the narrator faces and studies his own “flies,” but indirectly, safely, and perhaps without confronting it fully. Perhaps this obsession is, then, a manifestation of the narrator’s own repression of the war.
Perhaps, the narrator continues, humans have the power to grow from trauma by forgetting. Strangely, the narrator says, John Wade’s experiences in Vietnam seem much more vivid that the narrator’s own. This may be the function of the book for the author—to remind him.
The narrator ends on an optimistic note—people have the ability to overcome trauma and move on. Yet there’s something a little terrifying about this possibility—what he’s saying is that people have the ability to commit horrible acts of murder and rape, and then live perfectly happy lives afterwards. It’s an ambiguous way for the narrator to explain what motivates him. It’s strange that the narrator characterizes his experience writing the book as a way of remembering Vietnam, since he’s just admitted that he feels distanced from his behavior in the war. One could interpret the narrator’s strategy for dealing with trauma as no different than John’s—he’s shifting the blame to other people, and distancing himself from his actions instead of owning up to what he did. At the same time, the narrator doesn’t deny that he committed atrocities; he simply refuses to accept that he is incapable of changing himself through storytelling and reflection.