Camille is at a local park, the last place Natalie was seen alive. Camille talks with a little boy who tells her that his friend James Capisi watched Natalie get stolen away into the woods by a woman in a nightgown while the two of them were playing Frisbee. James, the boy says, hasn’t come out of his house since Natalie was taken right before his eyes. Camille asks where James lives, but the little boy won’t tell her. She leaves and heads to a gas station instead, where she consults a phone book for the Capisi family’s address.
As Camille begins her investigative reporting in earnest, multiple bombshells come to light. First, Vickery’s assertion that the girls were not well-liked in town and were perhaps targeted; second, this little boy’s revelation that Natalie was taken, in broad daylight—by a woman.
Camille drives out to the poor end of town. People in this neighborhood work mostly at the nearby hog farm that Camille’s family owns and profits over a million dollars annually from. The operation is a huge one, producing about two percent of the country’s pork. The hog farm has left a legacy of poverty and trauma in Wind Gap, as workers must either work in the slaughterhouse or the manure pits. Camille parks out front of the Capisi house, approaches the screen door, and knocks. A child comes to the window—it is James. The boy is reluctant to answer Camille’s questions, but she is persistent in interrogating him about Natalie’s disappearance.
Camille’s family profits off the traumatization and subjugation of a large percentage of Wind Gap’s population. While Adora, Alan, and Amma seem to ignore this fact up in their mansion, Camille can’t help but realize that her family’s success is directly tied to the misery of others.
James tells Camille that the woman who took Natalie was “old like a mother,” dressed in a white bed dress. She had white hair and white skin “like she’d never been outside before,” and grabbed Natalie “real fast […] like she was hugging her” before looking at James for a second, making a shushing motion, and disappearing into the woods with Natalie in tow. Camille asks James if he has told the police his story, and he says that he has—but they didn’t believe him.
As Camille gets James Capisi’s story, she is fascinated—both by the fact that James attests that a woman, not a man, committed these horrendous and violent crimes, and by the fact that no one at the police station seems to be taking James seriously. The intrigue, secrecy, and indeed the mythological quality of the murders intensifies.
Camille heads to one of Wind Gap’s eleven bars and drinks a bourbon while working on her notes from the day. After a while, the Kansas City detective sits down next to her and chides her for talking to a minor without obtaining parent permission—James Capisi’s mother made a call. Camille says reporters have to resort to “aggressive” measures when the police shut them out of an investigation. “Kansas City” counters that police can’t do their work with reporters in the way.
As Camille and “Kansas City” talk for the first time, one of the novel’s central logistical oppositions takes form—Camille and the police are in a race to uncover and stitch together the truth.
The detective, sensing Camille’s frustration, offers to start over. He introduces himself as Richard Willis and asks that they call a truce. Camille, though, continues asking him about why the investigation hasn’t taken James Capisi’s story seriously—Willis says that he “can’t comment” on whether or not they believe him. Camille asks Richard some other questions, but he again insists he can’t comment. The two exchange friendly banter, and Richard admits he has been “desperate to talk to a nontownie”—after several months in Wind Gap, he is going stir crazy in the small, insular town. Richard asks to buy Camille a drink, and she asks him for a bourbon.
Even though Richard and Camille have the same ultimate goal—solving the murders—bureaucracy and red tape complicate the way they can talk to and relate to one another. Despite this obvious barrier, there is an attraction between them, and neither can deny it.
Richard brings back their drinks and begins chatting Camille up, but she’s feeling somewhat exhausted and responds curtly to all of his questions. When Richard asks if Camille wants him to leave, she is surprised to find that she doesn’t—something about him makes her “feel less ragged.” They ask one another about their lives, and Camille finds herself invested in Richard’s tales of crimes and murders he’s worked back in Kansas City. Richard admits that the Wind Gap murders—now the work of a suspected serial killer—are the biggest cases he’s worked, and Camille finds herself relating to the pressure he is facing.
Even as Camille tries to ward Richard off consciously—rejecting her own femininity and her attraction to him—something keeps pulling her towards him. When she realizes that they are in a very similar situation, in that both of their careers in some way hang on the work they do investigating these murders, she warms to Richard even more, sensing a kindred spirit in a town full of enemies.
When Camille returns home, she is startled to discover a familiar scene at the house—a scene that reminds her of “the old days with Marian.” Adora is on the couch, cradling Amma—who is dressed in a woolen nightgown in spite of the summer heat—and pressing an ice cube to her lips. Adora, sensing Camille’s alarm, tells her that Amma just has the summer chills. Camille is annoyed by an old but persistent desire to linger near Adora and try to get some attention from her, too.
Just as Camille finds a foothold and a comrade in town, the traumas and painful memories at home begin to escalate. The bizarre scene between Adora and Amma, odious as it is for Camille to behold, nonetheless stirs up some old desires and instincts within her—feelings she has repressed and rejected for years.
Camille knows that her mother and Alan are both hypochondriacs, and that as a child, Adora used to ply Camille with ointments and oils—“homeopathic nonsense.” Camille most often refused the awful solutions, and once her sister Marian got sick, Adora became more concerned with her well-being than Camille’s.
This passage establishes that the ways in which caregiving is conducted in the Crellin household is a little off-kilter—not to mention suspicious, given Marian’s horrible sickness and Camille’s strange dreams of being force-fed.
Amma begins whining about her dollhouse—one of the patterns on the table legs is wrong. Adora reassures Amma that no one will notice, but Amma lashes out, irate that her table isn’t perfect. She begins screaming and throwing a full-blown tantrum. As Alan tries to calm her, she throws the miniature dining table onto the floor, cracking it into shards and then slamming it repeatedly until it’s in pieces. Camille, stunned, retreats to her room—she feels her skin “blar[ing]” at her, and states that her scars have a “mind of their own.”
Amma’s anger at being unable to perfectly replicate Adora’s house—and, symbolically, Adora’s way of projecting femininity—is immense. Both childlike and frightening, Amma’s anger disturbs and upsets Camille to the point that it makes her own deep traumas rear their heads.
Camille reveals that she is a cutter—she makes her skin “scream.” She has covered her body in carved words—some feminine and simple, like cupcake, kitty, and curls, while some are negative, anxious, and self-denigrating, like wicked, duplicitous, and inarticulate.
Flynn has held back until this crucial moment the fact that Camille is a prodigious self-harmer—perhaps as a way of symbolically reflecting the ways in which Camille tries to suppress her own pain and trauma. This revelation also demonstrates that Camille is something of an unreliable narrator—if she held this information back for this long, there’s a lot more she could be intentionally or unintentionally suppressing or repressing.
Camille’s younger sister Marian died on Camille’s thirteenth birthday, and, that summer, Camille became “suddenly, unmistakably beautiful” and popular to boot. That summer, she began the cutting, and “adored” tending to herself and cleaning her bloody, self-inflicted wounds. To this day—though Camille has stopped cutting herself—the words “squabbl[e]” at one another, and Camille feels them calling to one another. There is only one circle of unblemished flesh left on Camille’s body—at the center of her back, which proved “too difficult to reach.”
This passage reveals that Camille’s self-harm is directly tied to two things: both an attempt to wrest control over the pain and trauma she felt in relation to her sister’s death, and to a sly rejection of the beauty and traditional femininity that her body was forcing her into—almost against her will.
Camille is unable to assign a medical term to her habit—all she knows is that cutting always made her feel safe, and allowed her to capture and track thoughts, words, and the “truth.” At the age of thirty, after cutting the word “vanish” into her neck, Camille checked herself into a psychiatric ward outside of Chicago. Her only visitors during her time there were Curry and her mother—whom she hadn’t seen, at that point, in half a decade. During Adora’s visit, she shamed Camille for harming herself when Adora had “already lost one child.” Camille realized then that it was “impossible to compete with the dead,” and vowed to “stop trying [to.]”
Camille’s cutting is also intimately tied to her desire to write down and thus possess words, and truths—as the novel progresses, this desire will be explored more intimately, and shown to be connected both to the toxic relationship between her and Adora and to the death of Marian.