It is a year later, 2025. Chapter 4 is preceded by two quotes from The Book of the Living, one that warns that intelligence can be dangerous, and another that argues that victims of God can find the power to shape God. Lauren then says that a three-year-old girl in her neighborhood, Amy Dunn, started a fire in her family’s garage. The neighborhood has a plan for fires, which they execute successfully. Lauren worries about what will happen to Amy, whose mother, Tracy, was only twelve when she got pregnant with her as a result of being raped by her uncle. Sixteen members of the Dunn family live in the same house, and they are known for being crazy. Amy mostly plays alone in the dirt. Lauren asks Cory if Amy could be allowed to start school early, offering to help look after her, and Cory agrees.
Even within the enclosed community of Lauren’s neighborhood, some people are excluded and seen as inferior to the other residents. The Dunn family’s reputation for being crazy—including the tragic story of Tracy’s incestuous rape and subsequent neglect of Amy—suggests that they are outcasts within the neighborhood. The fact that Amy starts a fire emphasizes the fact that she is a destructive presence. Although she is only a young child and should bring joy to her family, in reality she is another reminder of their struggle and misery.
Mrs. Sims’s cousins Wardell Parrish and Rosalee Payne inherit her house. They are twins whose spouses have both died. They are suspicious that residents of Lauren’s neighborhood robbed Mrs. Sim’s house in the aftermath of her death, even after Lauren’s father assures them that they are a small community who depend on one another and thus who wouldn’t do something like rob a dead woman’s house. Lauren doesn’t like Payne and Parrish and doesn’t want to have to depend on them.
This passage emphasizes the fragility and precariousness of community. While the community of people in Lauren’s neighborhood helps residents to survive by providing a system of mutual support, as soon as an untrustworthy or malicious person enters this community, there is a risk of everything falling apart.
Lauren is on her way to target practice with a group of kids and adults when they run into a pack of feral dogs. Half of Lauren’s group is white and half black, which can sometimes cause problems, as society is becoming increasingly hostile to interracial socializing. At first the day goes smoothly, but then Curtis and his brother Michael get into an argument with Peter Moss, whose father, Richard, is a “total shit” with three wives and a sexist attitude toward women. Richard practices his own religion, a combination of Old Testament and West African ideas. He is an engineer for a water company and can thus afford to pick up homeless women and make them his wives. Lauren has heard that this kind of arrangement is happening more frequently, and wonders if this is what the future will be like.
The case of Richard Moss further emphasizes the fact that, in the world of the novel, money allows people to behave as they please. Richard’s polygamous ways may be met with disapproval within his community, but the fact that he works for a water company puts him in a position of privilege that overrides the judgment of other people. Richard’s idiosyncratic religious beliefs are also significant. Clearly, Lauren is not the only person adapting existing religious traditions to suit her own purposes and a rapidly changing world.
Lauren’s father encourages her to practice shooting birds and squirrels with BB guns. She suspects that he wants to know if this will trigger her hyperempathy, which it doesn’t. Lauren wonders if she would be able to shoot a person if she needed to, and whether if she did so she would also die. Her father always carries a gun when he leaves the neighborhood. Cory also has a gun, which she’s lent to Lauren that day. In the past people were sometimes resistant to gun ownership, but now every household has at least two guns hidden away. Kids are taught to handle guns in school and, once they leave at 15, are taken to target practice as a “rite of passage.” Lauren’s shooting is going well when a feral dog walks over. She is standing with her friend Joanne Garfield, who immediately begins to panic. The dog runs away into the bushes.
Life in 2025 America is far harsher than in the contemporary era. Whereas in the present, people are generally careful to protect the innocence of children and to discourage gun use among the young, in the world of the novel this is no longer possible. Violence and danger are unavoidable facts of life for Lauren and her community. As the appearance of the feral dog demonstrates, this threat comes as much from the natural environment as it does from other people. It’s also notable that dogs in the world of the book are always feral and dangerous—never pets or companions. This reflects the way that humans themselves have become varying degrees of “feral” in post-apocalyptic America.
Another member of the group panics and almost shoots Michael while aiming at a dog. This causes an argument within the group, some of who are more afraid of feral dogs than others. Suddenly, Lauren’s father insists that they all go home. It is only later that Lauren learns it was because her father had found a group of half-eaten corpses––a mother and her two young children. The group keeps walking and hears three shots, then comes across the dog they had seen. It has been shot and is twitching in pain. Lauren is overcome with pain and feels that she is about to throw up. Lauren shoots the dog, feels the blow of the bullet, and almost collapses. Curtis smiles at her and expresses admiration at her shooting ability. Lauren keeps walking in a state of shock.
This passage reveals an ironic consequence of Lauren’s hyperempathy. While the name of the condition itself emphasizes the fact that it forces Lauren to be more empathetic with others, the condition also means that Lauren is compelled to kill a person or animal who is suffering in order to save herself from the pain. While in the case of the feral dog this is undoubtedly for the best, it creates a dilemma for Lauren when she is faced with suffering humans.