In this interlude, Jeanette—writing from an unknown point in the future—considers the relationship between time, fact, fiction, and history. She writes that “time is a great deadener,” and that time allows people to make stories “what they will.” Stories allow us to explain the universe, and allow the universe to remain unboxed from time. “Everyone who tells a story tells it differently,” Jeanette writes, and the only thing that is certain about the stories we tell is how complicated they all are.
At roughly the halfway point of the novel, as the young Jeanette’s life is poised on a dangerous cliff, the older Jeanette intervenes to meditate on what it means to tell stories about the past. Stories provide a means of understanding the universe, as they incorporate various points of view—but the influence of time on how stories are told, understood, and spread can “deaden,” alter, or influence how they are read, understood, and disseminated.
Jeanette writes that people like to separate storytelling from history so that they know what to believe and what not to believe, but that history only serves the purpose of keeping people where they belong and denying the past. In this way, “we are all historians,” Jeanette says, constantly rewriting our own stories and dispensing with the unsightly parts of our pasts when the past becomes too difficult. The rigidity of the past and the “fact” of history only exists to establish order, and to provide a security that does not exist, whereas there is true “order and balance” to be found in stories. Jeanette is astonished when she looks at a history book and contemplates the “imaginative effort” required to wrangle the world between the front and back covers, knowing that history is not fact but fiction.
History, according to Jeanette, is a means of control—just like religion was for her in her youth. History can be changed at a moment’s notice—fact is no more sacred than fiction, as the past is often unsightly, and people frequently revise their histories to fit their narratives. Jeanette seems to be calling herself an unreliable narrator in this passage, calling attention to the gap between the real childhood she is writing from and the fictional one she has put on the page.
Jeanette uses a metaphor to put a fine tip on her point. She writes that constipation was a large problem for many in the years after the Second World War, when prosperity allowed people to dine out more and eat refined, rich foods. “If you always eat out,” she says, “you can never be sure what’s going in.” Jeanette advises her readers to make their own sandwiches if they wish to keep their own teeth.