When Camille arrives back at the house, three little pink bikes are lined up on the porch. Upstairs, Amma has her friends in her room, and they are all shrieking with delight as they play with Amma’s dollhouse. Amma asks Camille to come admire her dollhouse, and the other girls invite Camille in as well. Camille notices that Jodes is staring intently at the dollhouse as if she is attempting to “will herself inside.”
This scene, in which Camille observes Amma and her friends playing with—and seemingly wishing they could live inside—her dollhouse, shows how badly the girls want to embody a certain vision of femininity, but alludes to the fact that they are perhaps haunted by what this desire means.
Camille goes to her room and runs a bath, grateful to be alone as she slips under the surface of the water. When she comes back up, Adora is standing over her, offering her a glass of bluish milk. Camille willingly drinks it down, determined to find out, once and for all, whether her mother’s concoctions are poison.
Rather than try to resist her mother’s attempts to harm her, Camille leans into them, demonstrating her commitment to bringing the truth to light and casting aside all of the secrets and lies which have formed her life with Adora so far.
Adora leaves, and Camille waits in the bathtub for a while to see if she’ll get sick. After several minutes, nothing happens, and Camille gets out of the bath and goes back into her bedroom, where Amma is waiting for her on the bed. Amma says she can’t believe Camille “fucked a babykiller.” Camille asks Amma to go away, claiming to be exhausted. Amma tells Camille that if she thinks last night was rough, she’s in for something even “worse” now. Sure enough, twenty minutes later, the vomiting begins, and Camille runs to the bathroom several times each hour as green bile pours from her mouth.
Amma seems to almost delight in the fact that more pain and suffering are coming for Camille—perhaps she is grossed out by the rumors about Camille and her friend’s older brother, or perhaps she is just grateful to finally have a comrade in enduring Adora’s abuses.
Camille, realizing what is happening, carefully brushes her teeth and gets dressed. She goes downstairs and walks past Alan, who is sitting on the front porch. He tells Camille that however she’s been treating Adora lately, it’s working—Adora seems “much improved.” Camille gets into the car and begins the long drive to the hospital in Woodberry, stopping several times to throw up out her window.
Alan’s comment about Adora’s state of mind having improved lately—since Camille started accepting her “care”—shows that Adora’s happiness is directly tied to how sick her daughters are and how intensely she can control them.
At the hospital, Camille waits for hours while nurses and various staff track down Marian’s medical records. When Camille finally obtains the charts, she can hardly understand them—the thick files contain orders for involved blood work, brain scans, heart scans, endoscopies, and more. Many possible illnesses are listed, but Marian’s charts contain no conclusive diagnosis.
Marian’s charts hold detailed records of her treatments and hospitalizations, but hold no clear answers—they disguise the truth in a web of disguises and obfuscations.
Camille comes upon a piece of stationery written on pink paper, in a feminine hand, inserted into one of the files. The note, written by a nurse who attended Marian, states that the nurse believes there is in fact nothing wrong with Marian, who only exhibits signs of illness after spending time alone with Adora. For “political reasons,” the note states, no other nurses will sign their names to this letter.
The revelation that Adora’s power in the town was, and is, so profound that no one at the hospital would speak out against her—even though she was, rather transparently, endangering her daughter’s life—shows just how much control Adora has.
Within an hour, Camille tracks the nurse who wrote the note to where she still works in the pediatric ward. Camille thanks the nurse for her note, but the nurse insists it didn’t do any good—her accusation of “MBP” nearly got her fired. The nurse explains that MBP—or Munchausen by Proxy—is a syndrome in which a caregiver, most often a mother, makes her child ill to get attention for herself. The nurse tells Camille that no doctors ever followed up on her report, and though the nurse was invested in Marian’s case, she was too exhausted by her own difficult life to push for action. She apologizes to Camille, but Camille is only angry with herself for taking so long to discover the truth—and for failing both Marian and Amma.
Camille has uncovered the truth at last. Her mother, desperate for attention and sympathy, has been poisoning her daughters for years in order to feel more in control, like a better mother, and as if she is, perhaps, repairing (or replicating) the abuses she suffered in her own childhood. Camille is ashamed by her own ignorance and failure to see the signs—but Adora’s deception was so intricate and so complete, shrouded in her role as a mother, that very few could have ever seen the truth.
The nurse then asks Camille whether the “detective” is still on the case—she reveals, to Camille’s shock, that Richard Willis came by days ago and Xeroxed every single page of Marian’s files. The nurse asks if there is another little girl in Adora’s house, and Camille confirms there is. Beverly urges her to get Amma out as soon as possible.
Camille is stunned by the revelation that Richard had already followed Adora’s trail—and was in possession of this information which, despite his and Camille’s “deal,” he did not bring to her attention.
On the way back home, Camille stops at a pay phone to call Curry. She can barely get any words out, though—she is sobbing too hard. She cries and wails, worrying Curry, before telling him that she knows who committed the murders. She whispers into the phone that Adora is the murderer, and, after a long pause, Curry suggests that Camille is cracking under pressure, stress, and trauma. He tells her to get on a plane and come home, offering to pay for her ticket—Camille replies that she will never have a home, and hangs up.
Camille’s fear that she will “never have a home” stems from the realization that the place she conceived of as “home” was always a place of lies, deceptions, and abuses. Camille is uncertain of how she will ever move on from the traumas of her past—and her present—and even with Curry’s empathy and support, she doesn’t feel equipped to live anywhere in the world.
Camille tracks Richard down at a local restaurant and confronts him with all she has learned without even so much as a pleasant greeting. She tells him that she thinks that her mother killed Marian, Ann, and Natalie—and that she thinks Richard thinks so, too. She calls Richard “sick” and accuses him of using her to get information about Adora. Richard takes Camille outside, and drives her out to a spot overlooking the river. He explains that though he did originally try to get close to Camille because of Adora, he genuinely fell for her. He started getting a “hunch” about Adora after hearing James Capisi’s story—though he didn’t think a woman fit the profile for the crime, he started realizing that a woman desperate for total control—a woman “whose nurturing instinct had gone awry”—might be the culprit.
Camille is intensely angry at Richard—for getting to the truth first, for keeping it from her, and for in this way humiliating Camille. Richard insists that he couldn’t share everything until he was certain—and that the largest roadblock to discovering the truth was rejecting his preconceived notions of femininity and coming to understand that a woman, against all odds, was the perpetrator of such ugly crimes.
Camille’s story about the biting, Richard says, really focused things for him, and helped him to see that Adora might have killed the girls when she wasn’t able to dominate them by mothering them. Richard reveals that Adora has no alibi for the night of either killing, but without more evidence, there’s no way to arrest her—he reveals that the investigators are planning to disinter Marian and run some tests. Camille demands that Richard “leave [Marian] be.” Richard tells Camille that tomorrow he plans on obtaining a warrant to search Adora’s house—he believes she’ll have kept the teeth. Richard begs Camille to go home and have a “regular evening,” but Camille reveals that Adora has been drugging and poisoning both her and Amma. Richard asks why Camille didn’t say anything before—he could have had her tested, and the right results could lead to a break in the case.
The idea that investigators will need to literally dig Marian up is too much for Camille—and when Richard suggests that if Camille were to take in Adora’s poison and turn herself into a human toxicology report, Camille’s desperation to preserve her sister’s memory is put to the ultimate test.
Camille arrives home, where ham is being served for dinner. Adora carves the ham and serves everyone, explaining that she wants to enjoy one last family dinner before Camille leaves—they’re set to arrest her “little friend” John.
Adora seems to be celebrating John Keene’s arrest. She is transparently gleeful at the idea that she has—at least, as far as she knows—escaped suspicion.
Amma wonders dreamily whether John will be executed and sent to the electric chair. Adora replies that he’ll be given a lethal injection and put to sleep like a cat. Amma eats her ham and asks Camille what “fairy-tale person” she’d most like to be. When Camille can’t think of an answer, Amma states that she’d like to be Persephone—the queen of the dead, who spends half her life in the land of the living and half in the underworld. Amma says that she feels sorry for Persephone, because even when she’s “back with the living, people are afraid of her because of where she’s been.”
Amma continues talking fancifully about death, and even brings up Marian. When Amma asks Adora about Marian, Adora replies that “maybe [they] should have all ended with her,” before ringing the bell and calling for Gayla to take in the plates.
Adora, too, has a penchant for the macabre, even after all her protestations against Camille so much as breathing a word about Ann and Natalie.
After a dessert of blood-orange sorbet, Adora invites Camille for a drink in her bedroom. Camille follows her mother up, amazed to be allowed in her mother’s room at last. Camille enters the room, examining closely the massive bed and the famous ivory floors which make the whole room glow. Adora gets into bed and beckons for Camille to get in, too; Camille obliges, reflecting on how fifteen years ago, in the wake of Marian’s death, all she wanted was to curl up in bed with her mother.
Though Camille knows that her mother is bringing her upstairs to poison her, she can’t resist feeling a flash of yearning and enchantment as she at last steps into her mother’s beautiful, and long-off-limits, bedroom.
Adora pulls Camille close, strokes her hair, and hands her a drink. She begins telling Camille a story about how, when she was a little girl of eight, Joya drove her into the North Woods and left her there to find her own way home for no apparent reason. Camille asks Adora why she’s telling her this story, and Adora replies that when a child knows from a young age that her mother doesn’t care for her, “bad things happen.” Adora half-apologizes for never loving Camille, explaining that she wanted to, but found Camille hard to love—Marian, on the other hand, was easy.
Adora’s killing of Marian seems to be an open secret, now, between these two women. Adora knows that Camille knows what is going on, and in many ways—shrouded as it is, still, in entendre and secrecy—this is the first frank conversation the two women have had throughout the entire novel.
Adora begs Camille to “need her” just once. Camille, wishing it all would end, agrees, and swallows her drink in one gulp. Camille tells Adora that she needed her all along, but in a “real way”—not a need created by Adora. Camille tells her mother that she will never forgive her for Marian, who was just a baby. Adora thoughtfully replies that Marian will “always be [her] baby.”
Though Camille outright tells her mother that she knows what she did, and cannot forgive her, Adora seems lost in fancy or memory—in killing Marian, she has preserved her as her “baby,” and now with Camille seems to enter a similar psychological state in which she sees Camille, once again, as her precious little girl.