In the middle of the night, three fists knock at the door. Ree looks out the window and sees three women on the porch. She fetches her shotgun and opens the door. Merab and her sisters are out on the porch—they tell Ree to come with them, and that they are going to “fix [her] problem.” Ree tells Merab that she’d have to be crazy to go with them. “We’ll carry you to your daddy’s bones, child,” says Merab. One of the other women tells Ree that, if she refuses them now, they will not return with this offer again. “We need to put a stop to all this upset talk about us we’ve been havin’ to hear,” Merab says.
The Thump women, perturbed by the “upset talk” that’s been following them around since their vicious assault on Ree, offer to repay her for the attack—and, presumably, put an end to the gossip about it—by bringing her to her father’s corpse. However, the fact that the offer is “one time only,” so to speak, highlights the imbalance of power that remains between the Dollys and the Thumps.
Ree hears her brothers come to the door behind her. She tells them to stay inside the house, and leaves the shotgun for them, at Merab’s orders. The women bring Ree to their car, place a burlap sack over her head, and start to drive.
Ree does not want her brothers in harm’s way, and she is willing to forgo her own safety to ensure theirs. The Thump women show Ree that they can still control her physically through the use of the burlap sack.
When they arrive at their destination, Merab tells Ree that once the burlap sack is off her head, she should not try to memorize the place they’ve taken her in order to ever come back. Merab pulls the sack off of Ree’s head and leads her to an icy pond. Merab gives Ree an axe, and tells her she will need it to open the ice—Jessup, Merab says, “ain’t deep.” Ree walks out onto the ice and hacks at the surface of the pond; once she’s opened it up, she takes off her grandmother’s coat and plunges her hands into the water. Soon, she feels her father’s body.
Shielded by her grandmother’s coat, Ree makes her way out onto the ice to begin the work laid out for her; however, it’s more violent and grisly than she could have ever imagined, and as she removes her grandmother’s coat in order to better attend to the task at hand, she symbolically breaks the cycle of secrecy and violence in her family while still, in a way, succumbing to its effects in one final test.
Merab hands Ree a chain saw—“How else you goin’ to get his hands,” she asks. Ree refuses to operate the saw, so Merab takes control of it, sawing off Jessup’s hands while Ree protests, weeps, and vomits. After sawing off both hands, the Thump women walk Ree back to the car, strip her of her wet, freezing clothes, and wrap her in her grandmother’s coat.
The novel’s climax is a nightmarishly violent “exhumation” of the secrets Ree has been confronted with throughout the book. Once Ree is finished with the task of collecting her father’s severed hands, necessary to prove his death to the authorities, the Thump women wrap Ree in her grandmother’s coat, symbolizing that her duty to her family has been fulfilled.