One morning, while Lindsey is still away at the symposium, Jack Salmon wakes up early. He checks on Buckley, pulls on his jogging outfit, and takes Holiday out for a walk—an excuse to pass by Mr. Harvey’s house. It is late summer, and still there has been no movement on Susie’s case. Jack cannot stop Ruana’s words from echoing in his head, though he has not shared them with Abigail—he is afraid she might say something about Jack’s dark desire to Len Fenerman. Jack has noticed that Abigail is leaning more heavily on the police lately; she will not hear any of Jack’s own theories, and won’t even trust her own instincts. Though Jack knows on some level that Harvey is responsible, he vows to wait to move on him until he has “incontrovertible proof.”
Jack’s obsession with Mr. Harvey has only grown. His desire to bring him to justice is sharper than ever, bolstered by Ruana’s words of encouragement and support of his fatherly intuition. Jack is frustrated by his inability to obtain proof (and the legal obstacles preventing him from doing more), and dreams of the day he will finally have the evidence he needs to help everyone else understand what he already knows, deep down, to be true.
From heaven, Susie remarks on how her house and Mr. Harvey’s house have the exact same layout. But whereas Susie’s house is warm and full, Harvey’s is cold and empty. He has few possessions, and spends most of his time in the kitchen building dollhouses—or, when his “lust” sets in, sketching blueprints for holes and tents. Harvey has noticed, over the last few months, that occasionally a police car driving through the neighborhood will slow in front of his house. Harvey has been careful not to alter any of his patterns, and sets alarms which remind him to open the blinds and close them, or turn lights off and on.
Mirroring is a common motif throughout the novel, and in this passage, Susie demonstrates how Mr. Harvey’s home is a mirror of her own—though what he does in his house is far darker and more twisted than anything that happens in the Salmon family home.
Harvey keeps things to count, as counting reassures him. He has several small things, kept from each of his victims—charms, wedding rings, perfume bottles, the heel of a shoe. He has forgotten the names of some of his victims, but Susie knows them all.
This passage shows Harvey’s need to keep mementos and “trophies” from each of his kills, despite his disregard for the names or identities of his many victims.
Harvey often falls asleep in the basement—he can keep odd hours in there, as no light gets out and alerts the neighbors to his uncommon patterns. As Susie follows Mr. Harvey down to the basement each night, she learns something terrible: Harvey is responsible for killing a spate of neighborhood animals, the deaths of which had previously been attributed to a neighborhood bad-boy, Joe Ellis. Harvey would kill the animals, then spread a chemical on their corpses which would dissolve their flesh and leave only bones. As Susie watches Harvey sit in the basement counting the animals’ bones, she realizes that he has killed animals in order to “take lesser lives [and] keep from killing a child.”
Susie acknowledges that Harvey has done yet another horrible thing—killed neighborhood animals and blamed it on a defenseless child—but has done it in the name of quenching his darker desire to take the lives of women and children. This passage raises the question of whether Mr. Harvey has some kind of a conscience and tries at least somewhat to restrain his violence, or whether he simply finds it easier and less risky to kill animals and thus advantageous to keeping the façade of his normalcy intact.
All summer, Jack has been calling the police repeatedly to report small things about Harvey, thus irritating the police. In early August, Len stops by the Salmon house to set some boundaries. Lindsey lets Len in—she has just returned from camp. Jack greets Len, and Buckley—who has begun to idolize Len—rushes to say hello as well. Jack shoos Lindsey and Buckley from the room and asks Len if he has any news. Len tells Jack that he needs to stop making calls about Harvey—there is no evidence to connect him to Susie’s death. Lindsey hovers in the doorway, listening to everything. Len insists that though odd, Harvey is not a killer. Lindsey steps into the room, and berates Len for “giving up.” Abigail comes downstairs, and as she sees Len, Jack notices something new, strange, and alive in her eyes.
In this passage, Sebold demonstrates how Len’s presence has begun to deeply affect life in the Salmon household. Lindsey is contemptuous of him, and believes him to be inefficient and arrogant. Buckley idolizes him. Jack is desperate for his attention, and Abigail seems to be infatuated with him. Len is the last hope that any of the Salmons have in obtaining justice for Susie, but he cannot give them the easy answers that they want, and he sees their brokenness and desperation very clearly.
That night, Jack writes in his notebook that “Abigail thinks Len Fenerman is right about Harvey.” Alone in his study, he considers how Abigail has shied away from him more and more recently, but seemed to “bloom” in Len’s presence. As Jack is about to turn out the light and head to bed, he sees something out the window—a beam of light, moving across the lawns and toward the junior high. Assuming that the flashlight beam belongs to George Harvey, Jack quickly gets dressed and heads downstairs, taking a baseball bat from the hall closet and heading out the door. Ruana’s words—find a quiet way—echo in his ears.
As Jack realizes that his marriage is being threatened by more than just the chasm of grief that has opened between him and Abigail, he is distracted once again by his obsession with bringing Harvey to justice. Jack does not stop to realize that his obsession has begun to derail his life, and that he is perhaps not faultless in Abigail’s having drifted away from him in recent months.
Jack reaches the soccer field, then the cornfield, following the beam until it goes dark. Jack makes his presence known, saying aloud “I know you’re here” into the darkness. Jack stalks through the corn, following the sound of whimpering. Susie, from above, can see that it is only Clarissa in the field—now crouching and frightened, only a child despite her blue eyeshadow and platform boots. Clarissa says Brian’s name aloud, and Jack loosens his grip on the bat.
Jack, in the cornfield, feels confident that he has finally trapped George Harvey. He is fully prepared to take matters into his own hands. He realizes, however—too late—that his obsession has once again led him into trouble. As Jack struggles to understand what is going on and who he has encountered in the field, he realizes that he has made a mistake.
Brian Nelson moves through the cornfield with a flashlight in hand, and suddenly hears “cries for help.” In a moment of delusion, Jack rushes up against Clarissa, believing her to be Susie. He begins calling Susie’s name aloud. Brian, overhearing Jack’s shouts, runs toward the noise. Brian pulls Jack off of Clarissa and begins to beat him. Susie turns away as her father is beaten again and again—she can do nothing, trapped as she is in her “perfect world,” just like the penguin in the snow globe. Quietly, she longs for her father to “go away and leave [her] be.”
Rather than understanding what is happening, Jack is seized by the sudden delusion that he has found Susie in the cornfield. Brian Nelson believes that Jack is attacking Clarissa, and, honestly, he is not far off-base—Jack’s obsession seems to have driven him temporarily mad. Susie can hardly stand to watch her father’s embarrassment, and instead turns away, wishing for the first time that he would just forget her.