In the fall of 1974, when Lindsey returns to junior high, she is not just the sister of the dead girl, but the daughter of a “crackpot”—news of Jack’s mishap in the field has spread throughout the neighborhood. Lindsey knows that Brian and Clarissa—who have gone onto Fairfax high school—are embellishing the story of what happened to them that night. Ray and Ruth, also now in high school, watch as Brian “holds court” with the other students; Susie, looking down, knows that Clarissa and Brian at last have slept together. Everyone Susie knew on earth is, “however haphazardly,” growing up.
Things are getting harder and harder for Lindsey, as she has to navigate and shoulder more and more of her family’s private dramas in the very unforgiving and public world of junior high. As Susie looks down on the start of a new school year, she understands that time is going on—and people are growing up—without her, and that she will never get the chance to join them as they do so.
By October, Jack is just beginning to get up and around. Doctors have told him that his right knee will always be stiff from now on. Buckley has many questions about Jack’s fake knee, and Jack spins stories about it being made from moonstone and coming from outer space. Buckley shares this information excitedly with Abigail, but Abigail is detached and removed. She finds herself more and more often daydreaming of Len as a way to cope with the grief and monotony of her life.
In this passage, Sebold once again shows the ways Jack and Abigail attempt to shield Buckley from the difficult and unpleasant dramas unfolding within their family. As Abigail becomes more and more detached, Jack fills in the role of having to explain things to Buckley and shepherd him in the right direction.
As November speeds by and the first anniversary of Susie’s death steadily approaches, Jack—who has been on an extended leave from work—prepares to return to the office. He has not spoken George Harvey’s name aloud in months, and has only written of him in his notebook, as he attempts to hone in on a strategy to pursue him and nab him once and for all. Jack desperately wants to get back to work, back to normalcy—and away from Abigail, who has only retreated further into herself as the months have gone on.
Jack seems to be healing and moving on, or at least finding a way to shove down the obsessions and compulsions that marked the majority of the first year of his life without Susie. He still nurses his private theories, however, knowing that there is no one else he can share them with safely.
One afternoon shortly before Thanksgiving, Jack finds Lindsey attempting to shave her legs for the first time. Jack helps her, but realizes as he does that it should be Abigail teaching her daughter how to shave. As Jack observes Lindsey, helping her to avoid nicks, he asks if she wants to talk about Susie—they haven’t spoken about her in a while. Lindsey retorts that there’s no need to talk about Susie when she’s “everywhere.” Lindsey asks Jack if he is still convinced that Mr. Harvey had something to do with Susie’s murder, and he tells her though that there is “no doubt in [his] mind,” the police need a clear link to Susie in order to arrest him. Lindsey asks Jack if getting into Harvey’s house would help. The two of them exchange a meaningful glance before Jack tells Lindsey to focus on shaving. Lindsey, though, knows what she has just been told.
Sebold demonstrates how Jack has become the major caretaker of his children, and the primary witness to the major milestones of their adolescence. He is the one who teaches and guides them, now, and this gives him a closeness to them and also an authority that they long to heed. Lindsey knows that her father has not relinquished his obsession with Harvey, but rather than berate him for it, she wants to learn more about his beliefs and help him to exonerate his damaged image—and to avenge their beloved Susie’s murder, since ever since the funeral Lindsey seems to believe that Harvey is the murderer as well.
Grandma Lynn arrives on the Monday before Thanksgiving, and immediately intuits that something is wrong with her daughter. That night, Lynn joins Abigail in the kitchen to help her dry the dishes. After a few minutes of silence, Lynn tells Abigail that the two of them need to take a walk—Lynn knows when something is going on. Abigail consents to go outside with her mother. Lynn explains that Abigail’s father had had a long-term affair, which neither of them ever mentioned to each other over the years. Abigail asks her mother why she’s bringing this up now, and Lynn looks at her daughter knowingly.
Grandma Lynn’s presence once again breathes fresh life into the Salmon household and exposes the slights, secrets, and strange ways in which they have adjusted—or failed to adjust—to life without Susie. Lynn knows what is going on with Abigail, but doesn’t know how to talk to her about it—she wants to help her daughter not to make the same mistakes that she has watched others in her life make. Lynn knows the importance of family, and longs to help Abigail keep hers intact.
Abigail tells her mother that she has always felt very alone, and that now, in the wake of Susie’s murder, she cannot express her feelings to anyone. She confesses to Lynn that she feels “it’s all over now,” and though Lynn does not know exactly what she means by “it,” she decides not to press the issue any further. As the women turn and walk back toward home, Abigail tells Lynn that she wants to walk by George Harvey’s house.
It is unclear, when Abigail tells Lynn that “it” is over, whether she is referring to the affair she’s been having or her marriage to Jack. Despite Abigail’s infidelity and her condescension towards Jack, in this passage she briefly entertains his obsession with Harvey and expresses a desire to see for herself whether she can intuit anything from walking past Harvey’s house.
Lynn asks Abigail to promise her that she will stop seeing the man she is seeing, but Abigail feigns ignorance. She asks Lynn, hypothetically, if she could use her father’s old cabin in New Hampshire to get away for a little while, but Lynn does not answer her. Abigail smells cigarette smoke, and follows the scent. Lynn heads back to the house while Abigail follows the smell of foreign cigarettes to the Singhs’ backyard. She finds Ruana there, enjoying a smoke. Ruana explains that her husband is hosting a party inside, and she has slipped away for some quiet. Abigail asks for a cigarette, and Ruana offers her one.
Abigail is outright denying what her mother knows to be true, while still hinting at the fact that she wants to abandon her marriage and her family. As Abigail is pulled away from her conversation with Lynn toward Ruana, she symbolically wanders from responsibility and reality toward something simpler, more pleasant and distracting.
As Grandma Lynn passes by George Harvey’s house on the way home, she senses something evil radiating from the house, and right away knows that Jack is right. She understands the magnitude of what her daughter is going through, and plans to offer her the keys to the New Hampshire cabin in the morning.
Grandma Lynn realizes that her son-in-law is right. She also knows that her daughter is going through something awful, and resolves to help her in whatever way she can.
That night, Abigail dreams of India. She sees a young girl being led through the street to a pyre, where she is wrapped in a sheet and set on fire. The flames bring Abigail a kind of bliss—though the girl on the pyre is being burned alive, she had a body once, “clean and whole.”
Abigail is longing for escape, but even in the dreams that show her other lands she cannot get away from the lingering presence of death and misery.