Rosemary is totally unsurprised by the fact that her family does not discuss her arrest at Thanksgiving. Her family pretends to be honest and “close-knit,” but this is not actually the case. For example, although her parents—who are both scientists—pretend to have a matter-of-fact attitude toward sex, they never explained anything related to puberty or sexuality to her. In 1996, Rosemary’s parents still live in Bloomington, Indiana, which is where she grew up. Apart from Thanksgiving dinner, she hardly sees her father, who is so busy working on a project sponsored by the National Institute of Health that he barely eats and sleeps. He does not openly drink when he is working this hard, which Rosemary and her mother appreciate, but Rosemary knows that he still drinks in secret.
Here Rosemary expands on the idea that her parents are invested in appearing like a normal family, when in reality they are hiding some (rather serious) secrets. Her parents exclude matters that are deemed scandalous or deviant by society—criminality, sex, alcoholism—from their narrative about their own family. Rosemary indicates that there is a high cost to such dishonesty and denial, not least of which involves the fact that when her family engages in denial about a certain issue (such as her father’s drinking), one person is left to deal with the issue unsupported and alone.
Rosemary and her parents alternate spending Thanksgiving at the houses of her two grandmothers, Grandma Donna and Grandma Fredericka. This year they are at Donna’s house, along with Rosemary’s Uncle Bob, his wife Vivi, and their two children. Fredericka makes heavy food and bullies her guests into having multiple helpings; Donna’s food, however, is delicious, and her house is tastefully decorated. Donna asks Rosemary’s father about his current project, commenting that his mind is clearly elsewhere. Bob also makes a subtle “dig” at Rosemary’s father, but he doesn’t notice.
The presentation of family life in the novel so far is rather scathing. Thanksgiving at Grandma Donna’s house is infused with silent judgement and tension. While Rosemary seems intimately aware of this tension, however, her father is totally oblivious to it. This raises the question of whether it is better to be cognizant of family drama or to remain in an isolated, aloof state of denial.
Rosemary’s father is a psychologist, a profession that has a bad reputation among people of Donna’s age. Rosemary knows that Donna wishes Rosemary’s mother had married someone else. Rosemary does not remember what the family discussed during the 1996 Thanksgiving dinner, but knows that they didn’t discuss her missing siblings. They also do not discuss politics (in order to avoid arguments), Rosemary’s brush with the law, or her cousin Peter’s terrible SAT scores. Peter is very handsome, a talented cellist, and is loved by everyone in the family. He is also exceptionally kind to his little sister, Janice, who is 14, “sullen,” and unattractive.
Throughout the novel, Rosemary pays close attention to silence and absence. Indeed, her focus on what the family does not say conveys far more than a report on what was said at Thanksgiving. This is particularly true given the family’s investment in appearing more normal and close-knit than is actually the case. It is also important to “read” the silence’s in Rosemary’s own narrative. For example, her appreciation of Peter’s kindness to Janice seems to indicate that she wishes her own brother was more similar to Peter in this respect.
Vivi asks Rosemary’s father what he thinks of standardized tests, and he replies that they are “imprecise,” before boasting that Rosemary got excellent SAT scores. Rosemary’s mother attempts to smooth over this faux pas by explaining that Rosemary is an excellent test-taker due to have being tested so frequently as a child. Rosemary’s father continues to brag about her, and Peter kindly comments that he remembers Rosemary’s SAT scores, and that he personally thought that the test was very difficult.
This conversation continues to emphasize the unspoken tensions within ordinary family dynamics. It also introduces the thematic importance of testing. The discussion of the SATs speaks to larger questions about how human beings are evaluated using quantitative techniques. Rosemary’s father’s mixed messages about the SATs indicates his ambivalent relationship to such evaluation.
The next day, Rosemary’s mother comes into Rosemary’s room while she is studying. Rosemary’s family has moved three times since she was born, most recently to this house in Bloomington, because the empty rooms in their old house made Rosemary’s mother feel depressed. At around the age of four, Rosemary invented an imaginary friend called Mary. Rosemary and Mary were inseparable until Rosemary’s mother told them that Mary couldn’t come to school with Rosemary. At first Rosemary worried that while she was gone Mary would “charm” her mother into liking her better; in the end Mary spent all day sleeping, and eventually left the family and was never mentioned again.
Mary is simply a figment of Rosemary’s childhood imagination, yet even as an adult Rosemary speaks about her as if she were real. For example, Rosemary does not consider that her mother’s ban on Mary attending school could be easily overridden by the fact that Mary only does what Rosemary wants her to do. Meanwhile, the idea that Mary left the house and never returned suggests that Mary has a volition of her own, when again Mary is actually subject to Rosemary’s own whims. This demonstrates Rosemary’s tendency to anthropomorphize nonhuman things.
Back in 1996, Rosemary’s mother tells Rosemary that it hurts her father when she doesn’t speak to him. She then adds that Rosemary’s father has suggested that she should donate her old journals to a library, but that she would prefer to give them to Rosemary. Rosemary is moved by the fact that her mother would allow her to read her account of the past. Shortly after, Rosemary’s father comes in and gives her a fortune cookie message he has saved for her that reads: “Don’t forget, you are always on our minds.” For a moment, Rosemary sees her family as “good,” loving, and happy.
The end of the chapter serves as a moving reminder that just because Rosemary’s family is mired in dishonesty and denial, that doesn’t mean that they don’t want to be warm, loving, and supportive. Likewise, Rosemary herself is occasionally tempted to engage in the same dishonesty and denial as her parents in order to think of her family as something that is far happier and more harmonious than is actually the case.