“The next few weeks” are, for Moody, “a series of tomorrows” as Pearl and Moody develop a deep friendship. Moody shows her the best local spots, including those sentimental to him—his old elementary school, for example. When Pearl asks Moody to “take [her] to see the Shakers,” Moody explains that the Shakers “all died out [because they] didn’t believe in sex.” Moody is only “half right.” Though at the time—1997—there are only “twelve [Shakers] left in the world,” Shaker Heights was indeed founded on the Shaker ideal of creating a harmonious utopia born out of “order—and regulation, the father of order.” At the time of the community’s inception, “everything” had been regulated in order to create “a patch of heaven on earth, a little refuge from the world.” As a result of this strict organization, to this day, “even the teens of Shaker Heights” retain a “drive for perfection.”
Pearl has already begun to navigate—and to some degree, assimilate into—the ordered world of Shaker Heights, but as Moody shows her around and teaches her more and more about her new home, the extensive role that order plays within the Shaker value system becomes even clearer. Pearl is eager and excited to learn about Shaker, and the fact that even the youth there are driven by order allows her to feel as if she is truly in a place that will, for once, hold her.
As Pearl learns more about Moody and Shaker Heights, Moody also learns more about Pearl and Mia and their transient lifestyle, much of which has been spent in poverty. Though Moody has never needed to think about money and has had an allowance since the age of ten, he comes to understand the “intricacies” of the Warrens’ finances. Mia and Pearl scrimp and save, getting whatever they can for free, as well as repurposing discarded furniture, shopping in thrift stores, and eating leftovers for days. When Moody asks Pearl why Mia doesn’t get a “real job,” Pearl insists she already has one—“she’s an artist.”
Pearl and Mia have never known any semblance of order and have never followed a plan, but despite the uncertainty that comes with transience they are happy together. For them, the stability and stringency of Shaker Heights—and the possibility of putting down roots—is the disruption in their lives. Moody comes to realize this, affecting his view of both his privilege and his preconceived notions of how others live.
In each place they live, Mia takes on a part-time job — or jobs — to make enough for her and Pearl to “get by,” but Pearl “underst[ands] the hierarchy; her mother’s real work [is] her art, and whatever pa[ys] the bills exist[s] only to make that art possible.” Mia works several hours a day on her photographs, or spends her time reading and gathering material for her “process.” Mia does not consider herself just a photographer—photography is for Mia just a “tool.” She doctors her photographs with embroidery, collage, or distortion of the negatives with overexposure, double exposure, or bleach. She discards any product she’s not happy with, and often destroys her negatives.
Mia’s faith in her identity as an artist—and Pearl’s faith in it as well—is what drives Mia’s choice to live a transient life, and to bring Pearl along with her, without much appearance of order or regulation. However, Mia refuses to play the game in terms of the social aspect of being an artist, and is completely at the mercy of how her own art affects her. The significance of the fact that she manipulates her photographs ties in with larger themes of manipulation and disruption throughout the novel, and frames Mia in her own way as a manipulator of perspectives and circumstances.
Mia occasionally is able to sell her work, which Moody himself describes as “startling,” with the help of a New York City gallerist, Anita Rees. Mia refuses to attend any events in New York, even though Anita tells her that it would improve her sales. Her photographs can sell for “two or three thousand dollars [apiece,]” but sometimes they don’t sell at all. Pearl believes that someday her mother will be famous, which is why she “d[oesn’t] mind the shifting precariousness of [their lives.]”
Mia’s work is “startling” and disruptive, just as is her and Pearl’s presence in Shaker Heights. Though Mia identifies as an artist, she nonetheless takes an unusual approach to that identity. It’s suggested that Mia might be afraid of fame and recognition, but the reasons for this aren’t revealed until much later.
Pearl continues describing to Moody “what [her and Mia’s] life on the road is like.” Moody thinks that their existence is “a magic trick.” Pearl and Mia travel with few possessions. They go everywhere in their tan VW Rabbit, sleeping on the road as they travel from place to place “until Mia [finds] a spot that [feels] right” and they begin to set up shop. Pearl tells Moody that her mother has promised her that the two of them are going to stay in Shaker Heights for good. Pearl shows Moody her poetry, and Moody plays the guitar for Pearl. When they are together, Moody feels as if he is “in two places at once”—both physically with Pearl and mentally searching “desperately for the next place” to bring her. Eventually, Moody decides to bring Pearl over to his house and introduce her to his family. Moody “[doesn’t] think himself interesting enough to hold her attention,” and decides that his family will be. The narrator notes that Moody will question this decision “for the rest of his life.”
Pearl’s perspective on her own life is one marked by profound weariness with routine. What is routine for her, though, is a complete disruption of anything Moody has ever seen or heard of—his description of it as a “magic trick” shows its complete foreignness to him. Moody’s desire to similarly impress Pearl leads him to make a pivotal decision, one that is both altruistic and manipulative—he feels that there is nothing he himself can give her, even after they have shared their art with one another, besides access to his perfect family. He wants to do something for Pearl in the first place, though, in order to manipulate her into remaining friends with him—and possibly becoming more than that.
On her first visit, Pearl notes that the Richardsons’ house is large, pristine, and dreamlike, and the family seems to be “arranged in a tableau for her enjoyment.” Mrs. Richardson bakes in the kitchen, Mr. Richardson is outside grilling, and the children are lounging on the giant sectional in the living room. Pearl is instantly overwhelmed and allured by the perfection of their lives.
Pearl’s introduction to the Richardsons’ home and lives seems as if it has been “arranged for her,” or manipulated to her liking. Her fascination with order, perfection, and strong familial identity is on display in every aspect of the Richardsons’ lives.