20 November Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment Gaudeamus Igitur. Hal dreams that he is in a zoo. When he wakes up, Mario is still asleep in his bed. Every year, E.T.A. hosts a “semipublic exhibition meet” between Interdependence Day and WhataBurger. E.T.A. donors and alumni attend matches followed by a “semiformal” fundraising gala in the dining hall. This year extremely strong winds are blowing, and it seems unlikely that any flights will be able to land at Logan Airport.
Like the A.F.R.’s plot to intercept WhataBurger, the upcoming exhibition meet builds further suspense, creating the impression that the novel is coming to a climactic conclusion. The dramatic storm further intensifies this atmospheric buildup.
In Gately’s hospital room, in what he now realizes is an “apparently real nondream,” Joelle holds two brownies and tries to make him laugh. She tells him she can’t stay too long because she has to get back in time for Ennet House’s morning meditation meeting. She tells him news from the house and offers to come back to the hospital after the meeting, bringing anything or anyone he wants. She talks about all the times she tried to get clean only to relapse within days or weeks. She shows Gately a picture of her father, whom she calls “my own personal Daddy.”
Joelle’s bizarre nickname for her father recalls the nicknames the Incandenza children have for their parents. While Avril is “the Moms,” James is “Himself,” “The Mad Stork,” or “The Sad Stork.” (Joelle also nicknames James “Infinite Jim.”) James Jr. is revealed to have also called his father “Himself,” as did James Sr., suggesting the nicknames speak to the way familiar dysfunction repeats across generations.
Like most recovering addicts, Gately has a problem with an extreme, hasty desire for attachment, and fantasizes about a lifetime of love and commitment with Joelle. In Boston AA, seducing new members is seriously frowned upon because newcomers are so vulnerable. Gately feels disgusted with himself.
Here Gately must battle between his feelings and his belief in the importance of submitting to institutional control. Though Gately perhaps doesn’t realize, Joelle is facing the exact same dilemma.
The next passage is narrated in the first person. The narrator, Hal, describes walking through E.T.A. and running into Ortho Stice in the boys’ bathroom. Stice remarks that Hal is up early and then observes that Hal is crying, which Hal denies. Stice tells Hal a joke about statisticians who go duck-hunting, but Hal cannot bring himself to laugh. Stice reveals that he has been sitting there with his forehead pressed against the window for hours, and that his forehead is in fact now stuck there, unable to move. He’d woken up at 1 am unable to sleep, and decided to watch the snow falling through the window. He’s been stuck ever since.
It is funny that Stice attempts to tell Hal a joke when he himself is in an absurdly comic, joke-type situation of being stuck to the window. The comedy factor is increased by the fact that Stice appears to have gotten stuck during a contemplative, melancholy moment. This reflects the way in which humor in the novel is amplified by its constant juxtaposition with the grim and disturbing side of reality. Note also that Hal is now crying without realizing it—some kind of transformation has begun in him, eventually leading to his total inability to communicate in the novel’s first chapter.
Hal tells Stice to prepare himself, because Hal’s going to attempt to un-stick him. Stice admits that he saw the presence of some person or thing and asks if Hal believes in paranormal activity. Stice then felt someone bite him, though of course he couldn’t turn his head to see who it was. Hal says he doesn’t know what to believe regarding paranormal activity; Mario has claimed to see ghosts, and Mario always tells the truth. Hal attempts to remove Stice, but only causes Stice enormous pain. To Stice’s embarrassment and annoyance, Troeltsch arrives, and Hal explains that Stice is completely stuck to the window.
This passage could be interpreted as a meta-level reflection on the recent scene in which the ghostlike “wraith” visited Gately. Hal’s uncertainty corresponds to the uncertainty we feel as readers over whether we should interpret Gately’s encounter with wraith-James as a dream, vision, or something else entirely.
It emerges that Troeltsch has spent the night in Axford’s room, which astonishes and horrifies Hal, but he says nothing about it. Hal fetches the janitors, Kenkle and Brandt. Kenkle is an African-American genius from Roxbury Crossing who finished his PhD in low-temperature physics at 21 and worked as a researcher for the Navy before being dishonorably discharged two years later. E.T.A. students guess he is either hypomanic or an amphetamine addict (or both). Hal finds him and Brandt and requests their help in setting Stice free.
Kenkle is another example of a failed prodigy: someone who failed to live up to their early promise and ended up falling from grace. As is often the case in the novel’s presentation of these figures, mental illness and substance abuse are presumably factors in this trajectory. The novel implies that something about prodigious success generally leads to these problems.