The next day, the storm has thawed and Mack’s family returns. He thinks that the storm served as a welcome, but brief, distraction from The Great Sadness, which is the name he uses to refer to the overwhelming despair he has felt since the summer Missy vanished. The heavy weight of The Great Sadness follows Mack no matter what he does, tinging his daily experiences, giving him nightmares and flooding him with pain and guilt.
Mack’s grief takes the form of The Great Sadness, which keeps him from letting go of the memory of Missy and her death, but also keeps him from experiencing anything joyful. The beauty of a storm and the pain of an injury are just short interludes in an existence otherwise completely clouded over by grief and guilt.
The narrator shares the story of Missy’s disappearance. The story of Missy’s disappearance began when Mack takes Missy, his youngest daughter, and her older siblings Kate and Josh camping. Excitement grips the family as they prepare for the trip. Soon, they set off for the Oregon wilderness.
Mack’s memories of a happier time show the strength of his relationship with his family members. Mack has special and unique relationships with each of his children and enjoys spending time with them.
On the way, the family stops at Multnomah Falls and Missy asks Mack to tell her favorite story, about a princess of the Multnomah Native American tribe. In the story, a mysterious disease has struck many young warriors, killing them swiftly. One elder says that his own father foretold such a sickness and proclaimed that a pure and innocent daughter of a chief would have to voluntarily sacrifice her life by jumping from a waterfall in order to stop the sickness. When her betrothed fell ill, the Multnomah princess prayed to the Great Spirit and jumped to her death. The sickness was lifted, and a beautiful pool formed where her body fell. Missy usually loves the story, but this time, she is silent.
The story that Mack tells presents one idea about how a higher power might relate to humans, suggesting that God or the Great Spirit demands sacrifice and suffering in order to heal. A relationship with this kind of God is predicated on sacrifice and exchange. In this view of the relationship between people and their deities, God only intervenes to help lift suffering if people demonstrate their loyalty through more pain and sacrifice.
That night, the family sets up camp and enjoys dinner and stargazing together. Mack prays with Josh and goes to do the same with Kate and Missy, but instead Missy is perturbed and asks some questions about the story from earlier. She asks if the story is true, and if the Great Spirit is another name for God, Jesus’s Papa. Mack is pleased by the question and says that he thinks so. Missy asks why the Great Spirit is so mean—he made the Princess jump and Jesus die on the cross—but Mack says Jesus chose to die to save people.
Missy’s questions and Mack’s answers also support a version of God that asks people to choose pain and suffering in order to gain his protection. For Mack, this vision of God makes sense, because he believes that the story of Jesus is about Jesus choosing to die to help people when God abandoned him. But Missy thinks that a God who demands such sacrifices is cruel. Their conversation foreshadows Mack’s evolving understanding of the nature of God over the course of the novel.
Just as Mack thinks his daughters have fallen asleep, Missy asks if God will ever ask her to jump off a cliff. The question fills Mack’s eyes with tears. He assures her that nothing like that will happen, and they say goodnight.
Even though Mack believes abstractly that God demands sacrifices in order to bring good to the world, he does not believe that such difficult choices will ever come to affect him personally, perhaps because he sees God as far removed from his life.