The Haydens cannot attend Marie’s funeral because her family wishes to bury her in North Dakota. Gail tries to explain to Marie’s mother that Marie was a part of their family too, but cannot change her mind.
Gail tells Marie’s mother that the Hayden’s were Marie’s family as well—which brings into sharp relief the fact that Wesley has been protecting Frank, conceivably because he wants to remain loyal to his family. But who protects Marie? And is Gail right to say that Marie was a part of their family, given that she slept in the maid’s room?
In the days following Marie’s death, Wesley works long hours, and looks more and more exhausted. He is socializing more than usual, and David knows his father is trying to get people on his side before he makes an arrest; he always does this when he is closing in on a suspect. David notices in these times how his father—charming, witty, and social—resembles his brother more than ever.
This section highlights the unfortunate reality that justice cannot be served in Mercer County without popular support. The unsettling reality is that Wesley must fight Frank using Frank’s own methods—manipulation, charm, social maneuvering. The law answers not solely to justice but also to public opinion.
Three days after Marie’s death, Wesley brings Frank into the house. Frank seems cheerful, but Wesley looks ragged, and simply directs Frank to the basement. They stay down there a long time, and David can’t hear any of their conversation. His father comes back upstairs alone, and looks out the window. David notes that his father is doing what David often does in school—being in one place physically but a different place mentally. Wesley tells David he will tell him everything once Gail gets home.
The contrast between the cheerful guilty man and the haggard officer of the law is stark. David recognizes himself in his father, and once again we see how childhood and adulthood converge in David in this story. He sees himself in his father—an adult recognition. But he childishly equates his Father’s pain and dissociation with the distraction and boredom he feels in school.
When Gail gets homes Wesley tells her that Frank is in the basement because he wanted to be spared the embarrassment of being locked up in a jail cell. Gail can hardly process what Wesley is telling her. Wesley explains to David that Frank has broken the law and needs to be locked up. David says he understands and tries to keep from crying.
Wesley is still protecting Frank even as he tries to hold him responsible for his crimes. Gail can barely understand his reasoning—Wesley is willing to keep a murderer in his family’s home in the interest of protecting family. It is a stunning example of Wesley’s twisted logic—a logic twisted by his different opposing loyalties.
Wesley says he has not given any details to Mel Paddock, the state attorney. He wants to wait until he can tell Gloria. Gail tells him he should tell Gloria the truth, and tell her immediately. Before Wesley leaves to do this, he calls David outside and says that they will have to give the house a new coat of paint soon. He dreamily says that if it were up to him, he would let the house fall into disrepair, let the whole town wear down to bare wood, so that it wouldn’t attract any new citizens, so that it might disappear forever. David doesn’t understand what he means. Wesley then tells him that if there’s ever any trouble, he should go find Len. David asks if Len knows about everything, and Wesley says he does.
Wesley must move forward with everything. Before he tells anyone, he feels he owes it to Daisy to let her know what’s going on first. His conversation with David about letting the house fall into disrepair reveals his desire to be free of Mercer County—and by extension, of his father, his brother, and the Hayden name. It is as though he imagines the town would disappear along with all of his troubles. David is still too young to understand, but his father is expressing his desire to be free of his prescribed identity.
That night Grandpa and Grandma Hayden come to the house demanding to know where Frank is (Gloria has talked to them). Grandpa Julian is yelling relentlessly at Wesley, and David feels sorry for his father, and wonders what his father’s childhood must have been like.
Once again David identifies with his father—he sees his father as a kind of child, and wonders what a childhood with Julian would have been like. This kind of empathy is another indication of David’s increasing maturity.
David is sent upstairs but he listens to the conversation through an air vent in the kitchen. Julian demands to know why Wesley would throw Frank in jail for “beating up some Indian.” Wesley realizes Gloria has not told Julian the truth. He says Frank has been sexually assaulting women—Julian says you don’t lock up a war hero for something as trivial as “feeling up” an Indian. He accuses Wesley of being jealous of Frank, and Wesley snaps and tells Julian that Frank is guilty of murder. David hears his grandmother gasp, and in a flash realizes that the vent he’s listening through is connected to the basement—and Frank is probably listening just like he is.
Julian’s racism is on full display in this section: he thinks the assault and victimizations of Native American people is not a crime worthy of punishment—is not, in fact, a crime at all—because he doesn’t think of the Sioux as really being people worthy of justice at all. Julian even goes so far as to suggest that Wesley is pressing charges because he is jealous of Frank, and of Frank’s superior accomplishments. This is a staggeringly misguided thing to think: he supposes Wesley could only possibly care about the victimhood of Native Americans if he had some other motive.
Julian tells Wesley to “stop this before I have to.” Wesley does not respond. Grandma Hayden cries. Finally Julian says he won’t resort to begging and leaves. David is not sure what to do. What finally drives him to go back downstairs is the fact that his father had brought home a chocolate cake that afternoon. In spite of everything, David still has his “boy’s hunger” for chocolate cake.
This is another touching reminder of David’s age. He has just witnessed an incredibly difficult conversation. He must know on some level his family will never be the same again. And yet his “boy’s hunger” for chocolate cake remains—he is still a child. It’s also worth noting that despite everything going on Wesley brought home that cake. Wesley is trying to preserve some normality too, perhaps trying to preserve his son’s childhood within this very complicated situation.
When David goes downstairs, his father is on his knees with his head in Gail’s lap. David is startled by how old and weak his father looks. His mother and father both tell him it is time for bed. Then his father tells him that if his grandparents ever come to the house again, he is not to let them in.
David’s relationship with and perception of his parents is changing. He sees his father weak and resting his head in his mother’s lap. He is perceiving real vulnerability and weakness in his parents, and it startles him—this is not how children think of their parents. And he now understands the severity of the break between Wesley and Julian, and that Julian might even be dangerous.
That night David cries for the first time since the beginning of these tragic events. He is crying because he is afraid he will never see his horse Nutty again, which is stabled at his grandfather’s house. He knows he should be crying because his uncle, whom he once idolized, is a bad man. Or because his parents and grandparents, and his community will never be the same again. But instead he cries for Nutty.
David’s sorrow at first seems misplaced—his concern for his horse perhaps appears trivial in light of all of the day’s events. But in so many ways, Nutty is a figure for David’s very childhood—and David’s sorrow at the fact that he will never see his horse again reveals that on some level David understands his life has been irreversibly changed.
The next day Wesley leaves to see what other arrangements he can make for Frank. David thinks about how his family, once associated with power, prestige, and influence, will now be associated with perversion and scandal. David wishes he could disown or deny his identity as a Hayden, but knows he cannot.
David must now contend with the reality that he is a blood relative of Frank, that he shares Frank’s last name—a name that will be scandalized by Frank’s arrest. David realizes, perhaps for the first time, how a certain identity can both enable and limit a person.
On the way to the grocery store, David thinks about how—in spite of small town life having a reputation for closed-mindedness and intolerance—the citizens of Mercer county tolerate quite a lot. Mrs. Russell is a kleptomaniac, but her husband is president of a bank and reimburses the storeowners she steals from. There is a long list of people whose behavior is tolerated by the townspeople—maybe Frank, and his molestation of Native American girls, will simply be added to this list.
David’s thoughts here reflect one of the larger projects of the book: to deconstruct stereotypes about small, all-American towns, frontier living, and the American West. David’s town “tolerates” plenty—but notably tolerates the behavior of certain kinds of Americans, of white Americans. Certainly Native Americans would enjoy no such advantages in Mercer County.
David cannot see women around town without wondering if they number among Frank’s victims. He is ashamed because the image of Frank abusing certain women stirs him sexually. He runs home with the groceries and his mother notices how upset he seems. He demands to know when Frank will be out of the house. His mother simply tells him his father is trying to do what’s right.
David’s sexuality once again confuses and ashames him. Normal questions and feelings about sex are overshadowed by Frank’s crimes, and David wonders where the line is between his (normal and benevolent) desires and the devious and perverted desires of Frank.
Later that day David notices a truck circling the house. He recognizes one of his grandfather’s employees, Dale Paris, in the truck, and thinks the other men are also employees of Grandpa Hayden. He tells his mother and she gets worried, and tells him to call his father. David calls his father’s office, but can’t reach him. He goes to tell his mother and sees the men have exited the truck and are approaching the cellar door with an axe. Gail is loading a shotgun. He tries to help her load it, because he can see she is struggling, and she tells him to go outside and find some help.
Grandpa Hayden values Frank’s well being over Wesley’s so much that he is willing to send men with an axe to Wesley’s home—where his wife and child live—in order to break Frank out. This scene also once again exposes David to the basic vulnerability of his parents. David must help his mother load a gun—he must instruct and coach her. It is a role reversal, the child helping the parent, and David is struck by it.
David runs to his dad’s offices but cannot find Len or his father anywhere. He runs back to the house and on the way hears a shotgun fire. He enters the house and can tell from the angle of the gun that his mother has only fired a warning shot. She is yelling at the men to get away. David plans to go steal the gun from her because he cannot stomach the idea of his mother shooting someone. But just as he approaches the window he sees Len tracking across the yard, carrying a revolver. The men back away from the house and get back in their truck.
David cannot tolerate the idea of another member of his family resorting to violence, or compromising their integrity. He has already seen how his Uncle and Grandfather are capable of abuse, he has already noted how his father’s racism and blind loyalty have clouded his judgment—he is not willing to see his mother, a calm, idealistic, and nonviolent women, shoot a man (even if that man poses a real threat).
Gail runs out the door to thank Len and gives him a big hug. David thinks the three of them—him, his mom, and Len—look like a family. Wesley comes running across the street and asks what happened. Gail tells him about the men in the truck and about Len rescuing them. Wesley says he had been talking with Ollie Young Bear and Mel—who is going to bring charges of sexual assault against Frank.
Len saves David and Gail by showing up at the critical moment. David thinks the three of them look “like a family”—but we must wonder what a family “looks” like to David, who has been grappling with questions about the meaning of family throughout the story. Is David somehow wishing that Len in his current heroic moment was his father?
Wesley announces that he will speak to his father, and that he will make sure Len is in the house if he is not there. Gail tells Wesley he doesn’t have to do any of this—that he can just let Frank go. Wesley tells her she doesn’t mean that. She says she does—because Frank will never be convicted. Len agrees. A Hayden will not be imprisoned in this town if his only victims are Native Americans. Wesley relents and says that at least the word will be out about Frank’s crimes—maybe that will put a stop to him. Len adds that Wesley will never win another election if he tries to put his own brother in jail.
Reality sinks in—trying to bring Frank to justice in this town, which is both run by the Haydens and hostile to the Sioux, is futile. What’s more it is dangerous and damaging. Even Gail is willing to admit this now. No one can, in this moment, see the merit in pursuing justice when it will never be served, and when the pursuit of it will potentially lose Wesley his job, and even worse put Wesley’s wife and child in danger.
They go back inside and Wesley goes down to the basement, presumably to release Frank. In the kitchen, Gail asks Len how Frank killed Marie. She no longer cares about what David hears. Len responds that Frank could have done it easily—with pills or a pillow. Then he says it’s better that they don’t know for sure—it will make it easier to let Frank go.
There is no longer any pretense of secrecy. Gail is comfortable asking Len this gruesome question in front of David. Len is practicing what Julian has preached—he is prepared to “look away”—and believes knowing as little as possible about Frank’s crime is best.
Wesley comes back upstairs looking angry, and says he will move Frank to the jail first thing in the morning. Gail drops her head. Wesley tells her Frank is guilty as sin, he has basically admitted everything to him, and that he would probably show more remorse over killing a dog than he did over killing Marie. Wesley says he simply can’t imagine living with himself if he lets Frank go free. David suddenly feels that there is distance growing between his parents, and between him and the rest of his family.
In spite of all of this, Wesley cannot let his obviously guilty brother go free. He has finally overcome his misplaced familial loyalty and is ready to stand up for Marie and fight for justice. But David can feel that this decision has consequences—Wesley’s family will suffer for this decision, correct though it may be.
That night, David wakes up to the sound of breaking glass. He goes downstairs to find his parents already awake. They tell him Frank is deliberately smashing the canning jars, one by one. Wesley says he is doing it for attention, and that no one should go downstairs. They tell David to go back to bed. Wesley puts a comforting hand on David’s shoulder and David cherishes this small demonstration of affection. Wesley assures him that everything will be back to normal in the morning.
David must endure another frightening and sleepless night, but his father is, for once, acting like his father—he is not Frank’s brother or the sheriff when he places his hand on David’s shoulder. David is so appreciative of and comforted by the gesture that he is able to go back upstairs. He might even believe his father’s promise that things will be “back to normal” in the morning.
David doesn’t sleep well and wakes too early the next morning. When he goes downstairs he is surprised to find his father already awake and sitting at the kitchen table. Wesley says he is waiting to hear Frank stir, and as soon as he does he’s going to go downstairs and take Frank to jail. David knows this will be a hard day for his father, and says so. Wesley simply says he believes people should pay for their crimes, no matter who their family is.
David once again has empathy for his father—he knows that taking your only brother to jail cannot be an easy thing to do. Wesley’s response is the realization it has taken him so long to come to terms with: that justice shouldn’t answer to family, to name, to prestige, or public opinion. That crimes should be punished, no matter who commits them.
Wesley gets up to make coffee and tells David a story about one day when he and his friends were being chased by bullies, young Native American boys who were much bigger and stronger than them. Frank had protected Wesley and stood up for him. It is a fond memory for Wesley—his brother had been there for him when he needed him most.
Wesley’s sacrifice is made clear—though Frank is inarguably a bad man who deserves jail time, Wesley can’t help but remember those times his brother protected him, and was there when he needed him. This moment makes Wesley’s behavior more understandable.
When the coffee is finished Wesley says he will take some down to Frank now and wake him up if he isn’t awake already. He disappears downstairs and after a few seconds David hears his father scream. David runs downstairs and sees his father bent over the dead body of his uncle, who has slit his wrists with the broken glass from the jars. Wesley tells David to get his mother to call Len, and to not let Gail come downstairs. David is glad for an excuse to leave the basement, and as he does, he thinks Frank’s suicide has solved all of his family’s problems—that Frank’s death means everything can go back to normal. His family can reunite, and women will no longer need to fear their doctor. David feels gratitude for Frank—and even, he thinks, love for him—in this moment.
Frank, likely realizing that he could not avoid a public arrest and a trial, takes his own life, apparently preferring death to the public humiliation even if he was likely to set free at its end. Once again David is called on to protect his mother, yet another role reversal. David’s youth and misunderstanding are perhaps never more obvious than they are in this moment—he feels as though Frank’s death has solved all of their problems; he believes his father’s recent words that everything will go back to normal. He is so thoroughly convinced of this he actually feels love and gratitude for Frank, though Frank has been nothing but despicable. We know that David is in for a rude awakening when the continuing effects of Frank’s arrest and death are made clear to him.