Study Guide

Freedom

Freedom Summary

The book begins with a brief overview of the Berglund family, told from the non-specific perspective of their neighbors. Well, no, really it begins by mentioning that an article has recently appeared in the New York Times – a surprisingly unflattering article about one Walter Berglund. It's strange, because the article portrays Walter as a bad guy doing shady things with coal companies, and yet all his neighbors had always known him as a passionate environmentalist. Weird, right? Well, we're not going to get to this for a while yet, so let's back up.

In the early 1980s, Walter and Patty move to Ramsey Hill, which makes them the initial gentrifying residents of this down-and-out neighborhood in St. Paul, Minnesota. Walter is from a poor family in Hibbing, Minnesota; Patty is from a wealthy family in the New York City suburbs. They have two kids: Joey, for whom everything comes too easily, and Jessica, who is talented in many ways as well, but not quite as effortlessly talented as her brother.

Things go downhill when Joey starts a relationship with Connie, the daughter of the Berglunds' next-door neighbor, Carol. Patty and Joey had been very close, but now things go sour. When he is sixteen, Joey moves in next door with Connie, Carol, and Carol's right-wing boyfriend Blake. The Berglunds feel devastated, furious, and betrayed. Patty takes it particularly hard.

Twenty years after they move in, just after September 11th, the Berglunds sell their house and Walter starts his new job in Washington, D.C. And that's the end of that overview.

Next, we get a third-person autobiography of sorts, a personal history written by Patty (at the suggestion of her therapist). Here's what we learn:

Patty's mother is a politician and her father is a public defender. Her sisters are all very artistic and capable. They get lots of encouragement and support. Patty, on the other hand, is a skilled athlete and highly competitive. No one in her family understands her. When she's seventeen, she gets date-raped by the son of a family friend. Her parents have a difficult time supporting her because they need to maintain relations with the boy's family. Patty feels abandoned, and rightly so.

Patty decides to attend the University of Minnesota to play basketball, and to be as far away from her family as possible. And, turns out, she's really good at basketball. One year she's even named second-team All-American. She is befriended by a student named Eliza, who has a creepy and dangerous obsession with Patty.

Creepy Eliza starts a relationship with a musician named Richard Katz. Their relationship mostly consists of Eliza supplying Richard with drugs and Richard taking them. Eliza tells Patty about how much she hates Richard's weird, nerdy roommate, a law student named Walter. Patty finally meets Walter when Richard's punk band (the Traumatics) is playing at a local club. Walter doesn't seem weird or creepy at all, but instead is very nice, even if not as sexy and mysterious as drugged-out Richard. Walter falls for Patty immediately.

Meanwhile, Richard and Eliza break up. Walter and Patty become very close friends, though it doesn't turn into anything more because Patty sort of has a crush on Richard. Walter is a very passionate liberal, and even though Patty doesn't exactly share his passion, he encourages her in her opinions. Patty and Eliza have a big falling-out, mostly due to Eliza being totally obsessed with her and having a serious drug problem. (Fair enough.)

One night, Richard scolds Patty, telling her to stop stringing Walter along. It's not fair. Patty feels bad, but not bad enough to stop pursuing sexy-mysterious Richard. She and Richard end up taking a road trip to New York, during which she tries to seduce him (in Chicago, if you must know). After he rejects her, she takes the bus back to Minnesota. She joins Walter in Hibbing, where his father is dying and he is needed to help out his family.

Three weeks after Patty graduates from college, she and Walter get married. Walter's father dies, and the newlyweds move to Ramsey Hill. She wants a house and children straight away, and Walter gets a job to support her. Things go like that for about ten or twelve years. They're happy.

Really everything turns around when Joey moves in with Connie next door. Patty becomes frighteningly depressed and bitter, and starts drinking heavily. Walter and Richard become close again, and when Richard needs a place to stay, Walter offers the use of Walter's (deceased) mother's house. (Outside of Grand Rapids, the little house was on a small pond that, years before, in better times, Patty and Joey had called "Nameless Lake.") Richard goes up there for a summer and does renovations. In August, Patty joins him at the house for a few days. After much anxiety and guilt and crazy temptation, they have a brief, torrid affair.

Over the next few years, they're still hung up on each other. They almost rendezvous a few more times. Patty gets more and more depressed; she drinks more and more. Throughout the text, she wonders if she still loves Walter…or if she ever did.

Richard puts out an alt-country album, with his band Walnut Surprise, called Nameless Lake. It's a huge success. Walter is jealous; he wants to do something awesome himself. So he takes an exciting new job and they move to Washington, D.C. As soon as they move in to the new place, Patty sees she has made a huge mistake. And that's where her autobiography ends.

Now it's 2004, and we're going to see things from Richard Katz's point of view. For this chapter, he'll be referred to as "Katz." Katz has had a weird couple of years: after the album's success, he took his band on an endless world tour, then was arrested for DUI and drug possession, and then spent some time in rehab. Now flat-broke, he's living in Jersey City, New Jersey, and has gotten work building rooftop decks in Manhattan. Talk about a reversal of fortunes.

Walter calls him one day and tells him he has a proposal. The next day, Katz meets Walter and his beautiful young assistant, Lalitha, for lunch. They tell him about the organization they've founded, the Cerulean Mountain Trust, in cooperation with a mega-millionaire coal-and-oil-baron named Vin Haven. Haven is a bird enthusiast, and has decided to devote, you know, a few hundred million dollars to protecting a small bird called the cerulean warbler. To do this, he wants to set aside a large wilderness reserve in one of the most important warbler habitats, which is in West Virginia.

The plan is this: they'll buy up one hundred square miles of land, allow it to be mined of all its coal (through mountaintop removal, which is very environmentally damaging, by the way), after which it will be set aside forever and ever. It's sort of a crazy gamble. Also, it turns out that Haven hasn't been entirely honest about his motives. (Want to know all the dirty details? Check out our "Detailed Summary.")

As Walter and Lalitha see it, the ultimate cause of the warbler and for all environmental problems is human overpopulation. So they plan to take a million dollars from their discretionary fund and start a big overpopulation movement. Get it back on the public's radar. Make having lots of kids uncool. How does all this relate to Katz? Well, they want him to headline some sort of politics and music festival in West Virginia. He says he'll think about it.

After the meeting, Katz and Walter catch up. Katz asks him if he realizes that Lalitha is totally in love with him. (He does.) Walter says Patty has been very depressed; she almost can't function anymore. Katz decides he's going to seduce Patty in order to knock some sense into Walter. Right.

OK, time for another big shift: we get to meet Walter and Patty's son Joey. Joey is in his freshman year at college when the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 occur. It's the first time he can remember his life not going exactly as he had planned it. It sort of throws him off.

Things are all right at school. He's still with Connie, though busy trying to find an excuse to break up with her. His roommate Jonathan has a pretty older sister (Jenna), and Joey wants to get together with her. He goes to Jonathan's family's house for Thanksgiving. Jonathan's father runs a right-wing think tank, which is encouraging President Bush to invade Iraq, in order to protect national interests and also protect Israel. Impressed with Joey, he invites the young man to work with his think tank next summer.

A month later, Joey ends up house-sitting at Patty's estranged sister Abigail's apartment in Manhattan. Lonely, he asks Connie to come stay with him. But, oh, he's still pursuing Jenna.

Next up: Walter. And although the reader has so far known Walter as really nice, in this chapter we learn he's actually quite angry. We join him and Lalitha in West Virginia, having just signed the final documents to set aside land for the warbler reserve. Lalitha wants to get drunk and celebrate. But Walter is angry and doesn't feel much like celebrating. They go out to dinner, and Lalitha (very drunk, fine celebrating on her own) confesses her love for him. He's tempted to kiss her, but resists. Instead, he ends up lost in memories, recalling some of the most horrible and painful fights he and Patty have had in the past few years. Their marriage is not going very well at all. Nor is this evening.

The next morning, Walter tells Lalitha he loves her as well. They kiss in the car. Then they drive to the site where the bulldozers are about to start clearing. As it turns out, the miners have gotten there too early and some environmental activists are blocking the road, so this doesn't start off very well. As they drive away, Walter gets a strange phone call from Joey, saying he's in some sort of trouble. Walter laughs and says, hey, he's in trouble too!

OK, with all that in place, we move back to Katz. He takes a train down to D.C., supposedly to attend a meeting with the Trust, but really to seduce Patty again. At the meeting, it's obvious that Lalitha and Jessica (Walter's daughter) hate each other. Also, Lalitha and Patty hate each other. They lay out a plan for the festival and call it Free Space. Katz agrees to everything they ask him to do.

Later that night, Katz finally manages to get some alone time with Patty. It doesn't go well, though. He asks her to come away with him, and she laughs and cries and then gives him the manuscript of her personal history. He stays up all night reading it and then leaves it on Walter's desk for him to find in the morning. Two days later, back in Jersey City, he finds Patty sitting on his front steps. Walter kicked her out.

We return to Joey two years after the last time we saw him. Through his time at the think tank, he made connections that ended up landing him a job with a contractor involved in the Iraq War. He's living in Washington, while Connie is still back in Minnesota, very depressed and perhaps suicidal. And he's still stringing her along, not letting her come live with him, mostly because he's also still pursuing Jenna. Now he has some business in Paraguay next month, and he's using that as an excuse to go on vacation with Jenna in Argentina, in hopes of finally getting her into bed. Oh, and wait, one more thing: he and Connie got married last year, on a whim in New York City. Joey and his father are no longer talking. Joey and Jonathan are no longer talking either.

Joey goes down to Argentina with Jenna. She's not at all nice to him (or anyone else, really). His boss calls and says he has to get to Paraguay immediately, so he leaves. And that's (finally) the end of things with Jenna.

He gets to Paraguay, hoping to buy used parts for an obscure line of Polish trucks that stopped being made twenty years ago, but are now being used by the US Military. They'll pay top dollar for parts. Joey finds lots of parts, but they're all rusted and will probably break. His boss says just send them; it doesn't matter. Joey reluctantly agrees, and then goes back to Washington and feels horribly guilty about what he's done. He calls his father to ask for advice.

Then there's a big back-story about Walter's ancestors, and Walter's childhood, and the way generational relationships tend to repeat themselves. We're also told about the first time Walter spent time at the house on Nameless Lake, and how he came to love nature.

Then we return to the present, as Walter has just finished reading Patty's manuscript. He brings it to her to show her that he's read it. She simultaneously freaks out and tries to explain. Walter is convinced she never loved him. They argue for a while and then Walter asks her to get out. Once she's gone, Lalitha comes upstairs and they have sex for the first time.

In the weeks following, Walter and Joey reconcile. He and Connie visit Walter and Lalitha, and everyone gets along well. Joey decides to give his profits (dirty money) away to charity. Walter and Lalitha give their big press conference, announcing the Cerulean Mountain Trust. Then the New York Times article, the one from the very first sentence of the book, appears. It is, as promised, totally unflattering.

Jessica calls Walter on the telephone, saying that Patty's now living with Richard. He goes to his bedroom and smashes everything that reminds him of Patty (which is pretty much everything in his bedroom). Then he takes a few of Patty's sleeping pills and crashes.

He wakes up and has to go to a grand opening of a body armor factory, run by the same multinational corporation that encouraged Joey to purchase those crappy truck parts. So, instead of giving his nice congratulatory remarks, he goes on a big tirade about the evils of consumer culture and the approach of environmental catastrophe. Unsurprisingly, he gets beaten up by the audience and fired from his job. The video goes viral, making the Free Space movement suddenly appealing to anarchists and other activists.

Walter and Lalitha buy a van and drive across the country, spending lots of time out in nature reserves. They end up in Minnesota. Walter decides to try to find his brother, whom he has not seen in decades. Lalitha flies to West Virginia to help organize the festival. The next day, she dies in a car accident. Walter is busy reconnecting with his older brother when his phone rings with the terrible news.

That's the end of the 2004 section. Next, as a sort of conclusion to her previous personal history, Patty writes a long letter to Walter, catching him up on the last six years of her life (i.e., since he kicked her out). She lives in Brooklyn now, working as a teacher's aide at a private school and coaching basketball and softball at a middle school.

But to back up once again: she lived with Richard for a few months, and things ended badly. Then her father got sick and she went back to her parents' place to help out. After he died, there was a big dispute over the estate he left behind. Patty took the lead in negotiating between family members. So, in a way, she ends up reconnecting with all the family she'd ignored for so long. Joey and Connie, meanwhile, are very successful. They founded a sustainable shade-grown coffee business. Jessica works in literary publishing. And now she's in Brooklyn. Patty has a good relationship with Jessica and not such a good one with Joey. She misses Walter and wishes he would finally take her back. When she runs into Richard Katz one day, he suggests she write Walter a story.

Walter is living in his mother's old house on Nameless Lake. A big housing development has been built up around the lake and the lake has been named Canterbridge Estates Lake. He's still grieving terribly for Lalitha. He's working for the Nature Conservancy, doing the most tedious mindless work possible, just to keep himself occupied. He really hates his neighbors' cats, since they kill and eat his beloved birds. He winds up trapping one particularly ruthless cat and drives it three hours away to an animal shelter.

He receives a package from Patty in the mail, but doesn't open it. Then, a few weeks later, one from Richard. He doesn't open that one either. Then Patty shows up on his doorstep. First he ignores her, then he yells at her, but still he won't let her in. She's shivering uncontrollably. He goes and opens the packages: it's her letter, and a new CD from Richard called Songs for Walter.

Finally, Walter lets Patty in. She's dangerously cold by now. He lays her down in bed and lies down with her to try to warm her up. They stare into each other's eyes and reconnect. She moves back in, and they become very popular in the neighborhood. A few months later, they decide to move back to New York, to be closer to their family.

  • Part 1

    Good Neighbors

    • In the first part of Freedom, we meet the Berglund family. And it makes sense (considering the title of this part is "Good Neighbors") that we meet them through the people who live in their neighborhood.
    • This section functions almost like a prologue, framing many of the events that will follow. So let's dive right in.
    • The novel begins with big news: there's a story about Walter Berglund in the New York Times. He and his wife Patty used to live around here, until moving to D.C. two years earlier. Pretty impressive, being written about in the Times.
    • Before we go on, let's ponder a clue inserted here: the fact that the Berglunds' old neighbors read the New York Times suggests a few things to us: they're probably left-leaning, educated, maybe upper-middle class.
    • And just to make sure we get the point, in the very first sentence Franzen calls this crowd the "urban gentry of Ramsey Hill" (1.1.1).
    • They always thought Walter was a really sweet guy and very passionate about the environment. So it comes as a bit of surprise that the article describes his shady dealings with a coal company and has considerably less-than-positive adjectives for Walter himself.
    • The opening paragraph concludes that "there had always been something not quite right about the Berglunds" (1.1.1).
    • And then, just like that – you've just picked up the book, you probably haven't even taken you first sip of tea – and we're whisked back into Ramsey Hill's past, at the moment Walter and Patty first move to the neighborhood.
    • Remember that word "gentry" above? Well, you know what the verb form of "gentry" is? Gentrify. Walter and Patty move to Ramsey Hill when the area is still down-and-out and has been for about thirty years.
    • They're the first college graduates in the neighborhood. They buy an old Victorian house really cheap and spend years fixing it up.
    • They have it pretty rough at first, but eventually a community of like-minded people develops, who share similar concerns – concerns that, Franzen tells us, were precisely the reason the reader's parents fled the city for the suburbs: "like how to interest the local cops in actually doing their job, and how to protect a bike from a highly motivated thief [...] and how to determine whether a public school sucked too much to bother trying to fix it" (1.1.3).
    • It may seem like we're going on about this a bit too much, but this stuff is really important, we swear. Franzen is painting a very specific picture of life in America, and what sort of world the Berglunds inhabit. So this first chapter informs everything that comes afterwards.
    • Now that all this has been covered, let's meet some characters.
    • We first meet Patty as a young mother, pushing a stroller through the broken glass sidewalks of Ramsey Hill in the late 1970s/early 1980s. Franzen describes her as an archetype for what the rest of the neighborhood will soon become.
    • We get to know Patty through little snapshots – whispers and gossip from her neighbors.
    • Like that she was a second-team All-American basketball player in college. And that she grew up in the New York suburbs (although she doesn't like talking about her parents very much).
    • She's very self-deprecating, but never talks bad about anyone else. The worst word she will ever use to describe someone is "weird" (1.1.6).
    • Patty's also one of few stay-at-home moms in the area and does all sorts of sweet neighborhood-mom type things, like baking cookies for birthdays and stuff.
    • One of the reader's main sources of information in this opening chapter is a couple called the Paulsens: Seth and Merrie. Although they are "far down on [Patty's] list of go-to neighbors" (1.1.8), they still know quite a bit about what's going on down the street.
    • Next we meet the Berglunds' next-door neighbor, Carol Monaghan, who has lived there for almost as long as they have. Otherwise, she's pretty different than them.
    • Carol's back-story goes something like this: she was some big shot's secretary, and got knocked-up by said big shot, so he arranged for her to move out of her district, and paid her rent out here in Ramsey Hill.
    • By the late 1980s, Carol is the only "non-gentrifier" left on the block (1.1.8). She's what we might call "trashy" – or at least she dresses trashy, and doesn't seem to be a very good mother to her daughter-with-the-big-shot, Connie.
    • Although Patty ends up taking care of Connie much of the time (like when Carol is out on Thursday nights, partying), Carol never returns the favor.
    • Nope, instead she flirts with Walter, ignores their daughter Jessica, and "dotes inappropriately" on their son Joey (1.1.8).
    • (Oh yeah, this is how we meet the Berglunds' kids: Joey, the younger son, and Jessica, the elder daughter.)
    • Despite Carol's obnoxious behavior, Patty still refuses to say anything bad about her.
    • Back at the Paulsens' house (remember, the gossiping neighbors down the street), they sure do talk about the Berglunds a lot.
    • Seth seems to have a major crush on Patty, which his wife doesn't appreciate one bit. Merrie takes particular issue with her lack of political (read: liberal) principles, peeved that Patty only seems to care about two things: her house and her children.
    • But the narrator corrects this point somewhat: Patty doesn't really care about her children (plural) so much as she really just cares about her son, Joey.
    • This is... well, let's hear how Franzen puts it: "And Patty was undeniably very into her son. Though Jessica was the more obvious credit to her parents – smitten with books, devoted to wildlife, talented at flute, stalwart on the soccer field, coveted as a babysitter, not so pretty as to be morally deformed by it, admitted even by Merrie Paulsen – Joey was the child Patty could not shut up about" (1.1.10).
    • Problem is, Joey's not really so awesome. He's not even very nice.
    • Patty constantly talks about Joey to neighbors, but most of the time it's talking about "having her heart trampled by him" (1.1.10).
    • One representative example is the time when Joey refused to accept his bedtime, saying there was no reason he should have to go to sleep earlier than his parents. Right…
    • The ensuing commotion in the Berglund home devolved into an argument about whether a family is "a democracy or a benevolent dictatorship" (1.1.15).
    • (Keep this in mind. Don't forget the book's simple but important title.)
    • We learn a little about Joey, but really there's just something about him – something intangible that makes him excel effortlessly, and makes everyone want to please him.
    • Everyone that is, except Walter, whose authority he constantly undermines. Another representative example: Walter punishes Joey with no dessert. So Joey insists he didn't want dessert anyway. Walter tries to prove to him he really did like dessert. Joey says he never wants dessert again. Patty tries to intervene, and make a case for dessert's positive attributes, etc. This is seriously comical stuff.
    • The only person whose love for Joey is even more unhealthy (and unwavering) is Connie, Carol's daughter. She's described as "grave and silent" (1.1.29), and there's even something creepy about her. She basically just follows Joey around all the time, even though she's a year and a half older (which is a big age gap as kids, remember).
    • When Joey is eleven and Connie is twelve, they start having sex (yes, you read that right) – becoming well-known as the first kids in their school to become sexually active.
    • Of course, everyone seems to know about it except Walter and Patty.
    • Then, rather improbably, the young couple goes into business together. Joey has long resented being financially dependent on his parents (since this is Walter's prime method of exerting power over Joey – not just with dessert), and although he mows lawns and shovels driveways like many teenagers, even these jobs bothered him, because they make him feel subordinate to adults.
    • So Joey gets this idea (it's a long story) to sell watches to the girls at Connie's Catholic school – watches with messages embedded into the rubber. They sell a ton of them and make lots of money, until the school outlaws the watches. Joey feels cheated, and of course Walter says it serves him right.
    • That winter, Walter's mother dies, and Walter and Patty go out of town for a while.
    • Joey and Connie spend all that time (ahem) in Joey's bedroom.
    • Jessica tells her parents all about it when they get home, and from that point on, Patty becomes "a very different kind of neighbor, a much more sarcastic neighbor" (1.1.57).
    • In other big news, when she dies, Walter's mother bequeaths to Walter's family a little vacation home, up north on a small lake near Grand Rapids (that's Grand Rapids, Minnesota – maybe you've heard, there are a lot of lakes in Minnesota).
    • The next summer, Patty and Joey go up to the house (Walter and Jessica stay home, doing different things) to clean and paint and do other maintenance.
    • They have a great time. Patty is in good spirits and Joey is sweet and helpful. He discovers that the tiny lake (really it's just a big pond) the house is on doesn't have a name, so he declares it "Nameless Lake."
    • Back in Ramsey Hill, Connie's mom Carol has a new boyfriend, a young (much younger than her) backhoe operator named Blake.
    • What's he like? Well, on the back of his big pick-up truck is a bumper sticker that reads, "I'M WHITE AND I VOTE" (i.e., presumably Republican).
    • Even worse than his blasting music (e.g., Creed) down the street is that he's building a big addition onto Carol's house. Not only is the noise terrible (imagine, loud machinery day and night), but the Berglunds have a totally unobstructed view of the mess.
    • Patty is furious. She complains to neighbors, complains to Blake, complains to the police – all to no avail.
    • Eventually "someone" slashes the tires on Blake's truck. But no one knows who did it for sure.
    • In more positive news, Carol is happier than ever, has cleaned up her image, and doesn't look so trashy anymore. So that's a plus.
    • But we still don't really know much about Walter yet, do we?
    • OK, then, here's his defining adjective. Are you ready? Here is comes: "niceness." Niceness? Can you believe that? Man, what a bland description.
    • Here's what Franzen writes: "Walter's most salient quality, besides his love for Patty, was his niceness" (1.1.119).
    • OK, there's a little more. Walter's also a great listener, a hard worker, a nature lover, and a supporter of the arts.
    • To his neighbors, he says in most cases he is just a "neutral bystander" (1.1.120).
    • But then Jessica leaves for college and Joey begins his junior year of high school. And Joey decides he's going to move next door – that is, move in with Connie, Carol, and Blake.
    • Franzen describes this as "[a] stunning act of sedition and a dagger to Patty's heart – the beginning of the end of her life in Ramsey Hill" (1.1.121).
    • And by the way, the previous summer, two big things had happened with Joey.
    • One, he worked on a ranch in Montana, impressing Walter's Nature Conversancy peeps by his "fearlessness and tirelessness" (1.1.121).
    • But before that, he and Patty had gone back up to the house on Nameless Lake, and things had not gone so well. Actually, they had really been openly cruel to each other. Patty returned home feeling crushed.
    • Anyway, now Joey's moving next door.
    • In case you were wondering, Blake's addition is now finished, and outfitted with "such Blakean gear as PlayStation, Foosball, a refrigerated beer keg, a large-screen TV" (1.1.122) and other such things irresistible to teenage boys.
    • Needless to say, Joey's parents are furious (about Joey moving, not about the beer keg so much). This story we hear from Carol's point of view, so of course it heaps lots of praise on Joey, and how cool he was – so cool, "you couldn't melt butter in his mouth" (1.1.123).
    • She also claims Patty has no respect for either Connie or herself (Carol), and describes Walter finally blowing up and screaming at Joey and kicking him out of the house.
    • Walter and Patty retreat from the neighborhood events where they used to be such fixtures. There's lots of gossip about them (particularly the claim that Patty has started drinking heavily), but no one really knows because "she had never made an actual close friend in Ramsey Hill" 1.134).
    • Joey settles in comfortably with Connie and Carol and begins sharing many of Blake's hobbies (power tools, his truck, etc.). It also looks like he begins to adopt Blake's right-wing politics.
    • Everyone in the neighborhood decides that all of this is Walter's fault. You know, Walter and his niceness. That he should've exerted more authority – over his wife and over his son.
    • Joey graduates from high school in 2001. Patty spends the summer at Nameless Lake. Walter begins commuting to a new job in Washington, D.C. That fall, Joey begins college at the University of Virginia.
    • Soon after the "great national tragedy" of September 11th, the Berglunds sell their house (getting much less money for it than if they'd waited a few years) and move to Washington, D.C. (1.1.137). They stop at their neighbors' houses to say good-bye. Patty, they notice, looks strangely youthful again.
    • Seth Paulsen marvel that the Berglunds managed to stay together all these years. Merrie says she doesn't think they've figured out how to live.
  • Part 2, Chapter 1

    Agreeable

    • The title of Part 2 is "Mistakes Were Made: Autobiography of Patty Berglund, by Patty Berglund (Composed at Her Therapist's Suggestion)." What can we infer from this title? Two things: one, at some point in her adult life, Patty is in therapy. And two, she's not very happy about it.
    • The first thing Patty tells us about herself is that she's an atheist. But it's only in passing, really, to tell us that if she did believe in God, "she would thank the good Lord for school athletic programs, because they basically saved her life and gave her a chance to realize herself as a person" (2.1.1). (Wow, that's a pretty serious endorsement.)
    • She then goes on to specifically list her coaches by name, from whom she "learned disciplines, patience, focus, teamwork, and the ideals of good sportsmanship that helped make up for her morbid competitiveness and low self-esteem" (2.1.1).
    • Patty grew up in Westchester County – an affluent area in the New York City suburbs.
    • She has very little in common with the rest of her family. She's basically the black sheep among her more-favored siblings, who are artistic and A-students, while Patty is athletic and a B-student.
    • She's tall (5'9"), but wishes she were taller. She knows it would have made her a better basketball player, and suspects it would've made her life better in other ways too. But who knows.
    • Patty's mother, Joyce, is a state politician in the Democratic Party. She grew up Joyce Markowitz, in Brooklyn, but Patty suspects she was ashamed of being Jewish.
    • Joyce eventually married the "exceedingly Gentile" Ray Emerson, who comes from a very wealthy family, works as a public defender, and enjoys ridiculing the people he's representing in court.
    • Ray's parents, for all their fabulous wealth, are very stingy – much to the dismay of Patty's greedy siblings, who are spoiled by Joyce and Ray instead.
    • As a reaction to their greed, Patty decides "not to care about anything but sports" (2.1.24).
    • When Patty is seventeen, she gets date-raped at a party. It's her first sexual experience. She goes home that night and cries in the shower. She describes that hour as "the most wretched hour of her life" (2.1.27).
    • In fact, her anger at the injustice of being raped gives voice to many other injustices she feels: in particular, how her mother never attends any of her basketball games, while otherwise never missing any of her sister's artistic performances.
    • The next day, in the locker room, her softball coach notices scratches and bruises on her body, and Patty tells her the whole thing. The coach says they're going to call the police, but first they call Patty's mother.
    • It turns out the boy who raped Patty, Ethan Post, is the son of very wealthy and well-connected political friends of Patty's parents. So Patty's mother is not so enthusiastic about calling the police. Yeah…
    • Patty's mother drives her to Patty's father's law office. He's pretty angry. He curses a lot. But his anger does seem pretty measured, if you ask us. We'd even say he's very practical about the whole thing, thinking about it from a legal point of view.
    • He refuses to consider taking Ethan to court, because they would never win.
    • So they take Patty to the doctor instead, and then they go home.
    • Ethan denies that he raped Patty, and says she's lying.
    • Patty is not so sure that even her parents believe she's telling the truth.
    • Her dad tries to convince her how painful it would be to try to bring Ethan to court. The family is very powerful, etc. He tells her, "Life's not always fair, Pattycakes" (2.1.200).
    • In her senior year at high school, Patty becomes an even better basketball player – stronger, and more aggressive.
    • The following spring, Joyce announced her candidacy for local state assemblywomen, and the Posts (i.e., Ethan's parents) offered to host a fund-raiser at their house. Joyce asked Patty's permission before accepting, and Patty said she was "beyond caring" what Joyce did (2.1.212).
    • But Patty absented herself from the campaign family photo that year.
  • Part 2, Chapter 2

    Best Friends

    • Patty begins the second chapter of her autobiography by speculating that she might have sleepwalked through her first three years of college. That's really the only excuse she can think of for having become best friends with a girl who basically stalked her.
    • The real reason, she admits, probably had more to do with the cocoon of Big Ten athletics, and her lack of any sort of social life outside of practice and hanging out with her teammates.
    • She decided to go to the University of Minnesota – mostly to spite her mother (who wanted her to go somewhere that would be more impressive to her friends), but also to be as far away from her family as possible.
    • Patty's best friend is named Eliza, and the girl's definitely messed-up. But back up for a second (again). One day, this girl sitting behind Patty in her Introductory Earth Science class starts telling her how amazing she is at basketball. She's her biggest fan. Then after her next game, this girl gives her a piece of paper on which she's drawn the word PATTY in big bubble letters all over it.
    • Patty wonders why Eliza wants to be friends with her so badly, since she doesn't seem to actually care about sports. Eliza fancies herself a poet, and likes music Patty has never heard of, like Patti Smith and the Velvet Underground.
    • But Patty enjoys having a friend outside the bubble of the basketball team. Also, she's never really had one best friend – she's always just "friends plural, never anything intense" (2.2.79).
    • And if she's honest with herself, she likes how devoted Eliza is to her – always waiting for her outside the locker room, stuff like that.
    • Eliza likes to drink and smoke, and is constantly pressuring Patty to drink more, and to try smoking pot.
    • Eliza also has a very unhealthy relationship with her parents. They send her lots of money and don't seem to want to have anything to do with her otherwise.
    • The summer after her freshman year, Patty goes back to her parents' place. Her sisters aren't nice to her, and ridicule her for living in Minnesota.
    • When she returns to school, Patty starts a relationship with a boy named Carter. It's her first real relationship.
    • Between class and basketball, Patty really has very little time for a relationship, and sometimes they spent only a few hours a week together.
    • Looking back, Patty considers this, in some ways, an ideal relationship. They're together six months.
    • Unfortunately, it turns out he and Eliza are friends from high school. One night, Patty tries to surprise him at his apartment, and he's there with Eliza and another girl, doing cocaine.
    • Eliza tries to get Patty to join them, and it's pretty classic peer pressure. "You've got to try it," she says. "You won't understand if you don't try it" (2.2.164). Boo.
    • So she breaks ties with Carter, but unfortunately not with Eliza, because Eliza begins one of her "full-court presses" (nice basketball metaphor) that she uses whenever she needs to convince Patty to still be her friend (2.2.170).
    • At the same time, Eliza continues to pressure Patty to take more drugs, sleep with more guys, and come to punk rock shows.
    • The next summer, Eliza begins dating a guy named Richard Katz. He's a musician – a recent graduate who works demolition during the day and is in a punk band called the Traumatics.
    • Eliza has much less kind things to say about Richard's roommate Walter, who Eliza describes as "this nerdy hanger-on guy Walter" (2.2.185).
    • The two had been placed in a dorm room together their first year at Macalester College, and have been close friends ever since. Walter is a "heartbreakingly responsible Minnesota country boy" while Richard is a "self-absorbed, addiction-prone, unreliable, street-smart guitar player from Yonkers, New York" (2.2.186).
    • (Richard, Patty also tells us, bears an uncanny resemblance to Muammar el-Qaddafi , longtime leader of Libya.)
    • The first time Patty meets Richard, it's a hot August morning in the apartment she and Eliza share. Richard is cool and condescending (read: obnoxious).
    • While Eliza is in the shower, he takes obvious pleasure in showing Patty a notebook Eliza keeps with all sorts of clippings and photos of Patty in it. It's classic obsession stuff. Really quite creepy.
    • Despite the fact that Richard's so obnoxious (or, let's be honest, probably because of it), Patty is intrigued by the guy, and asks to attend one of his shows. Richard tells her to bring earplugs.
    • So, come September, Eliza brings her to a smoky club (Patty, being an athlete, is very protective of her lungs – and, remember, this is the 1970s, and people could smoke inside then!) to see the Traumatics open for the Buzzcocks.
    • As soon as they get inside, Eliza less-than-enthusiastically introduces Patty to Walter and then disappears, running off backstage (presumably to do drugs with Richard).
    • Patty doesn't think Walter is nearly as nerdy as Eliza said he was. He has a big curly mop of reddish-blond hair, and reddish cheeks too.
    • Walter asks her if she brought earplugs. She says no, so he tears his in half to share them with her (so polite!). As the crowd surges forward, Patty drops the earplugs on the ground. The band starts playing and it's unbelievably loud. So she runs outside, and eventually Walter comes looking for her.
    • He offers her a ride home – by which, he means, he'll happily escort her home on the bus.
    • Walter asks if she really likes punk rock, and she says she likes Blondie and Patti Smith (translation: not really).
    • So then why did she come, he asks? Because Richard invited me, she says, and he understands.
    • Patty asks if Richard is a nice person. Walter explains a little bit about his friend's upbringing: mom abandoned him and "became a religious nut," and his dad was an alcoholic who got lung cancer when Richard was in high school. Richard took care of his dad until he died.
    • Finally he says, "He's a very loyal person, although maybe not so much with women. He's actually not that nice to women, if that's what you're asking" (2.2.296).
    • Walter then asks Patty if she's a nice person, because he doesn't understand why she's friends with creepy Eliza. Patty admits that part of the reason she likes her is because she knows that she (Patty) is better than her (Eliza).
    • Patty tries to convince Walter that the difference between the two of them (Patty and Walter) is that he is a genuinely nice person, while she is not. But Walter says she seems like a genuinely nice person too, though.
    • And here's what Patty writes about this now, looking back, in her autobiography: "Patty knew, in her heart, that he was wrong in his impression of her. And the mistake she went on to make, the really big life mistake, was to go along with Walter's version of her in spite of knowing that it wasn't right. He seemed so certain of her goodness that eventually he wore her down" (2.2.313).
    • They get back to campus and Patty realizes she's just been talking about herself for an hour; Walter just asks questions and never says a word about himself.
    • Walter asks if he can call her sometime and she tries to evade the question, saying how busy she's going to be, with training and class and the like. He's really persistent, though.
    • But really, as far as Patty's concerned, the most intriguing thing about Walter is that he's friends with Richard Katz. So she's really just thinking of using Walter to get to him.
    • Patty and Eliza have a big of a falling-out, followed by another full-court press.
    • Meanwhile, Walter begins attending Patty's basketball games, and obviously has a crush on her.
    • They go to the theater a few times together, but unfortunately Patty is still not attracted to him.
    • Patty begins to learn about Walter's background. He's from Hibbing, Minnesota (most famous today for being Bob Dylan's hometown). He's in law school because, although he'd really like to study acting and filmmaking, he knows a career in law would be more helpful in supporting his family.
    • He also works construction 25 hours a week. And then wakes up at 4am every day to study.
    • His parents have a motel in Hibbing (called "Whispering Pines"). His father's an alcoholic, his brothers are deadbeats, and his mother is disabled and depressed and can't do much around the motel anymore.
    • Walter takes the bus up on weekends to help out, and basically runs the place during the summer. On top of that, during high school "he managed to star in school plays and musicals, inspire lifelong devotion in numbers childhood friends, learn cooking and basic sewing from his mother, pursue his interest in nature [...] and graduate valedictorian" (2.2.337).
    • He got Ivy League scholarships but decided to go to Macalester so he could stay close to home.
    • So, yeah, Walter is basically the sweetest and awesomest guy ever, and Patty would be so lucky to have him as a boyfriend. Alas, she has a crush on mean old Richard.
    • Next, Richard dumps Eliza. Eliza is not happy about this, and is convinced it's Walter's fault.
    • Patty goes home for Christmas. On Christmas Eve she calls Whispering Pines to talk to Walter. He is, understandably, very excited to hear her voice on the end of the line. But Richard is there with him, and Patty's confused about which guy she's excited to talk to.
    • Meanwhile, Patty's mother is rethinking her decision to abandon Jewish holidays twenty years earlier.
    • The next night (yes, Christmas), Eliza calls. She says she has leukemia.
    • Patty returns to Minnesota and, during the rest of the winter, plays nurse to Eliza – bringing her soup, cleaning her apartment, etc.
    • She refuses to return any of Walter's phone calls, and ignores all red flags that something about Eliza's story doesn't quite make sense.
    • In late February comes the biggest game of the year, against the highly-ranked UCLA squad.
    • That morning, Patty had an unpleasant conversation with her mother, during which her mom just gushed about how awesome Patty's sisters are, and asked nothing about Patty herself.
    • Then Patty runs into Walter outside the library, and he takes her to task for avoiding him for two months. He's really hurt. He seriously almost starts crying.
    • After much arm-twisting, Patty finally tells him about Eliza's leukemia.
    • Walter laughs: "OK. And is she still doing heroin?" (2.2.397)
    • Patty goes to the game. She plays awfully. It's the worst game she's ever played. She just can't focus, and can't play, and can't do anything right.
    • After the game she cries in the locker room for a good half-hour. Then she goes to Eliza's apartment and confronts her about her drug use, finding heroin and needles and other bad stuff.
    • Eliza says that if Patty leaves, she's going to kill herself.
    • Finally, Patty calls Eliza's parents, and they show up after midnight. Eliza tells them everything, about the drugs and the lying, and Patty leaves and never looks back.
    • Outside in the cold winter air, Patty wishes she could go re-play that UCLA game right now! She's sure she'd kick some Bruin butt.
    • She feels so liberated – she's suddenly really excited to hang out with Walter again, and wants to talk to her mom again so she can be nicer, and feels "[r]eady to be an all-around better person" (2.2.511). We're just pulsating with hyper excitement here!
    • She's so excited that she starts running down the path, slips on a patch of black ice, and tears the hell out of her knee. Ah jeez, there that goes.
    • In the next six weeks, she has two operations to fix her knee. Her mom flies out for one of them, but is mean to the doctors. Walter takes great care of her otherwise, coming to visit Patty almost every day (except when he's, you know, doing one of the other ten-thousand awesome things he does).
    • Patty's friends ask her if she has feelings for him. She says sort of, but sort of not. Then she compares him to "a really nice, well-trained dog" (2.2.518). We can safely say that's the last thing a guy wants to hear.
    • One thing Patty does love about him is that, even though he is super smart, he makes Patty feel like her opinions are interesting and valid as well. And Walter is passionately opinionated about just about everything: from energy conservation to Iran's Islamic revolution, from population control to women's rights.
    • One day they're debating about women's rights. Walter is considerably more motivated about this issue than Patty; she doesn't think much about it, except for an embrace of basic fairness.
    • On a similar note, Walter is a little disappointed to hear that she doesn't have any big career ambitions. The most important thing, for her, is "to live in a beautiful old house and [...] to be a really, really great mom" (2.2.541).
    • Patty asks Walter why, if he's such a feminist, he's friends with Richard, who treats women so poorly. Walter says Richard is for equal rights as well, but his relationship with women is like an addiction.
    • One night, they go to the movies: their first real date. (Gentle reminder: during this whole time, Patty is on crutches.)
    • Waiting for the film to start, Walter says Richard is moving to New York City soon, and asks if maybe she'd like to move into his room (i.e., Walter is asking her to move in with him – um, on their first date).
    • Patty feels offended, since Walter has never even tried to kiss her. She also secretly feels sad that Richard is leaving (and not asking her to move in with him). Then the lights go down.
    • After the movie, they go out to dinner and argue about the movie. Patty's drinking wine, and for the first time feels attracted to Walter (without any thoughts about Richard, even). So she suggests they go back to his apartment, so she can "see the room" (wink wink).
    • But when they get there, Richard is there, and that just messes up everything.
    • Now, of course Patty is reminded of her crush on him, and Richard knows it, and Walter is clueless to the whole darn thing.
    • The scene is really awkward. Richard tries to leave and Patty tries to get him not to.
    • How did she do that, you ask? Well, Richard is chewing tobacco and Patty asks to try some and almost vomits. Laying on the charm, indeed.
    • Then Walter is tired and says he has to drive her home. Patty says, no, he should just go to sleep, and how about Richard just drives her home instead. (Ouch!)
    • But first they check out Richard's soon-to-be-vacated bedroom. The walls are painted black.
    • Then it comes out that Richard's going to be driving to New York in two weeks, and Patty needs to be back there for her parents' 25th anniversary party.
    • Patty asks if maybe she could get a ride to it. (Uh-oh.) Richard says he'll think about it. (Walter's so tired he's basically asleep standing up during this conversation. So clearly not aware of what Patty's trying to do.)
    • Then the two of them (minus Walter) walk out to Richard's rusty old car.
    • Before they go anywhere, Richard tells her she'd better stop stringing Walter along – they both know he (Walter) is super into her, and it's not fair to him to lead him on if she doesn't like him back.
    • Richard presses upon her just what an extraordinary person Walter is. Patty says she's well aware.
    • Then Richard gives her some more details about Walter's life, emphasizing how unbelievably impressive (and impossibly difficult) it is for Walter to take care of his parents in Hibbing and work 25 hours a week and get straight A's and somehow magically have lots of free time to hang out with Patty.
    • Well, actually, he says it more like this: "And yet you're apparently unaware that his dad's dying of liver disease and his older brother's in jail for vehicular assault and his other brother's spending his Army paychecks making payments on his vintage Corvette. And Walter's averaging about four hours of sleep while you're being friends and hanging out, just so you can come over here and flirt with me" (2.2.734). Slam.
    • Patty feels bad, and admits she's a jerk, but (rightly) insists Richard is a jerk too.
    • Richard agrees to drive her to New York if she stops leading Walter on. Like that will help.
    • So, for a week, she and Walter don't talk. Then one day he calls and says his dad is in a coma. She blurts out that she misses him. Walter is, of course, totally psyched to hear this.
    • She tells him she might be driving back to New York with Richard. He reminds her she already has a plane ticket, and she lies and says it's refundable.
    • So Patty and Richard set off for New York. The trip doesn't go so well. Richard finds Patty irritating, and Patty finds Richard obnoxious.
    • They talk about Walter most of the way.
    • They get to Chicago and will be staying with some sketchy friends of Richard's. The place is a dump (like, really gross).
    • Richard sets her up on a mattress (with blankets and everything!) and goes off to sleep on the couch. Patty tries to convince him to share her mattress (so to speak), but Richard says no.
    • The rest of the time, Richard ditches her and goes out with other friends. When he finally calls (two days later), it's past the time they were supposed to leave Chicago, and even if they left right then Patty would miss the anniversary party.
    • She calls her mom and her mom gives her a huge guilt trip about missing it.
    • Patty responds to this by deciding to take a Greyhound bus back to Minneapolis, and then another one up to Hibbing. Walter picks her up at the bus station and they share a very passionate kiss (their first).
  • Part 2, Chapter 3

    Free Markets Foster Competition

    • To begin her third chapter, Patty pauses for a moment to apologize for being so persistently negative about her parents. If nothing else, she would like to thank them for not forcing her to be "Creative in the Arts" like they did with her sisters, who are now "in their early forties and living alone in New York, too eccentric and/or entitled-feeling to sustain a long-term relationship, and still accepting parental subsidies while struggling to achieve an artistic success they were made to believe was their special destiny" (2.3.1).
    • Then Patty brings us up to speed on the next stage of her relationship with Walter. Here's another good quote: "He may not have been exactly what she wanted in a man, but he was unsurpassable in providing the rabid fandom which, at the time, she needed even more than romance" (2.3.2).
    • Looking back, Patty recognizes that she should have taken more time after graduation to "develop a career and a more solid post-athletic identity, get some experience with other kinds of men, and generally acquire more maturity before embarking on being a mother" (2.3.3).
    • But, competitive as she was, she felt that marrying a super-nice guy and living in a super-nice house and having super-nice kids and doing exactly what her family would never do was a really good way of feeling successful too.
    • So, Walter and Patty get married three weeks after she graduates from college. They don't invite Patty's family, which makes Walter's mother sad, but Patty swears it's for the best.
    • (Patty also argues against having a real ceremony, since if they did, Richard would end up being the best man, which she wanted to avoid for obvious reasons.)
    • The couple did, however, go out to New York the previous spring, to meet Patty's family.
    • Patty admits she felt a little embarrassed about Walter.
    • She also, in writing a reason for why she "loved" Walter, stops to insist (and either remind or convince herself) that she "doesdoes love him" (2.3.6).
    • They go out to dinner as a family. Patty's father gets drunk. Her sister Abigail is completely self-centered and obnoxious. Walter lectures Joyce (politely) about the Club of Rome, a group that argues that economic growth might not be as beneficial as it is always assumed, since, if it is continued as practiced today, it will have devastating effects on the environment.
    • So, yeah, the dinner is a disaster. They go back one more time, for Thanksgiving, and then swear they'll make their own family instead.
    • Now Patty writes, simply, "Poor Walter" (2.3.34). After ditching his own artistic ambition out of "a sense of financial obligation to his parents," now as soon as his dad dies, he has to once again put aside his own dreams and aspirations, since Patty wants a nice house and babies, and someone needs to support them.
    • But let's back up for a moment, because Walter and Patty have been waiting in the car outside the bus station since the end of the last chapter, and the engine's running. So let's join them in checking out the Berglunds' motel, Whispering Pines.
    • They arrive. The place is, to put it gently, not so fancy. (To put it bluntly: it's a dump.)
    • Walter shows her to her room, Room 21 (Walter's mother wouldn't approve of them sleeping in the same room). They make out a little bit and then Walter sits up and asks her point blank why she'd gone on the road trip with Richard.
    • Patty says there was something she needed to figure out. Walter asks what that was, and Patty says who she wanted to be with. And that's Walter.
    • Then she starts crying and admits that Richard wasn't nice to her.
    • Walter promises he'll be nice, and Patty swears he won't be sorry.
    • Patty makes a note of this in her autobiography, that those were her exact words: "I swear you won't be sorry" (2.3.76).
    • Then Walter grabs her rather violently and pushes her back on the bed and tells her he has loved her since the moment he saw her. But says that although he loves Richard, he doesn't trust him.
    • He demands to know again why she went to Chicago with him. He says he isn't stupid (implying that he knows she's attracted to Richard). He's really angry. Whoa.
    • Eventually Walter tries to stop freaking out and Patty takes a bath. When she comes out, Walter is still there, sitting on the bed with his head in his hands.
    • Patty apologizes again and says she needs some sleep, and asks for a kiss goodnight. And kissing is much more fun than fighting, so they end up in bed together: "And so began the happiest years of their life" (2.3.107).
    • A few days later, Walter's dad dies, which is a big relief to Walter.
    • He and Patty frolic in Room 21.
    • Four hundred people show up to Walter's dad's funeral. Richard is not one of them. Walter is way hurt.
    • Walter tells Patty about the beginning of his friendship with Richard, when they were freshmen roommates in college. Most impressive to Richard, at the time, was that Walter was from Hibbing – best-known for being Bob Dylan's hometown.
    • They both really liked the Bob Dylan documentary Don't Look Back.
    • Years later, Patty watches it with Walter, and is fascinated by the famous scene in which the folk singer Donovan plays a song at a party and then Dylan takes great pleasure in playing an infinitely awesomer song and making Donovan look and feel bad.
    • Walter feels pity for Donovan; Patty is fascinated by Dylan's competitiveness.
    • Patty reminds us that Richard has no relationship whatsoever with his mom (who, again, walked out on his dad and him when Richard was really young).
    • Then we get a more expanded version of a story alluded to earlier, in which Walter is dating a girl who's taking advantage of him. So Richard sleeps with her in order to prove to Walter that the girl's totally unworthy (i.e., disloyal).
    • But at this point, when Walter and Patty are newlyweds, Richard has moved back East and settled in Jersey City, and they don't hear from him for a few years. (Richard starts drinking, which he had avoided for years because of his father's alcoholism, and this doesn't go well.)
    • The Traumatics release three albums. The first two go largely ignored; the third gets some press attention.
    • Eventually, the band comes through Minnesota on tour, and Richard comes by the Berglunds' house for lunch (bringing with him the Traumatics' new female band member, Molly, who may or may not be Richard's girlfriend).
    • This is pretty awesome for both Walter and Patty, but especially Walter. He feels happy and successful, in the home he's fixing up himself, and with their beautiful little kids. Richard tells him about all the new hip indie bands, and Walter goes out and buys their albums to impress his neighbors.
    • Then Patty gives us a big foreshadow: "At that point, the only thing that could have thrown Walter back into the bad ways he'd felt in college [...] would have been some bizarre pathological sequence of events. Things at home would have had to sour very badly. Walter would have had to have terrible conflicts with Joey, and fail to understand him and earn his respect, and generally find himself replicating his relationship with his own dad, and Richard's career would have had to take an unexpected latter-day turn for the better, and Patty would have had to fall violently in love with Richard. What were the chances of all that happening? Alas, not zero" (2.3.154).
    • Once again, we say: uh-oh.
    • Next Patty forces herself to say something about sex – specifically, her disinterest in it, and her guilt over this disinterest, and the problems created by her disinterest (and, of course, Walter's non-disinterest). Most of the time, she'd just rather be doing other things.
    • Regarding Joey and that whole drama, Patty declines to write anything: "the autobiographer fears that it would make her lie down on the floor and never get up" (2.3.156).
    • Walter and Richard then become close again. (At this point it's around 1991, as the men are discussing the situation with Iraq and Kuwait.)
    • Richard drops by Ramsey Hill whenever he's on tour. He really likes Jessica, who he thinks has a lot of Walter's mother in her. (Patty, on the other hand, wishes Jessica were more like her.)
    • Richard and Molly break up, and it turns out her mother is an Arts editor at the New York Times, which explains what little positive press their most recent album had received. So the next one, sans Molly, doesn't attract much attention at all.
    • The next time the Traumatics play in Minnesota, Walter and Patty go to the show. Not many other people do. Richard's songs are aggressively and abrasively anti-capitalist. Patty is happy to see him regardless.
    • That night, Walter and Patty have a very satisfying night in bed. Patty writes, "in autobiographical retrospect it now looks almost like the high point of their together" (2.3.177), but at the time it gave her hope that their marriage was really in great shape.
    • A few weeks later, Walter's mother dies suddenly. (As we learned at the book's opening, this is when Joey and Connie have their adolescent free-for-all in the house while Walter and Patty are away.)
    • Patty tells us that, from her point of view, this is really when everything fell apart.
    • For one thing, she goes into the alley behind the house and slashes the tires of Blake's truck.
    • Patty internally engages in an imagined court battle, arguing for and against whether, despite her many mistakes, she is truly a horrible person.
    • Anyway, by now it's a couple of years later, around the time of Bill Clinton's impeachment (late 1998).
    • Things continue falling apart. Patty begins drinking heavily.
    • OK, now she's going to say something about Joey. She says the real problem is that Walter couldn't accept that Joey was nothing at all like him: cool, confident, studly. And that Walter ruined her friendship with Joey, which was probably the most important thing in her life.
    • So she blames Walter, and Walter blames her. Big surprise.
    • The Traumatics break up for good, and Richard forms a new band: an alt-country band called Walnut Surprise.
    • A bunch of other complicated stuff happens in Richard's life, and he finds himself 44 years old and with nowhere to live. So Walter makes him an offer: he can stay rent-free at the house on Nameless Lake, if he'll start on the renovations Walter has been planning, most importantly building a deck.
    • Richard accepts. On the way up, he stops for a night in Ramsey Hill. Patty gets wasted and totally embarrasses herself. She and Walter bicker and it's just an ugly scene all-around.
    • But it knocks some sense into Patty: she stops drinking and starts eating again (great idea!), gets back into exercising, and gets herself a new haircut. She starts seeing her old basketball friends more too, and they give her nice compliments. Life is awesome.
    • Then in June, Walter and Patty go up to Nameless Lake. He goes just for a few days, on the way to a big fund-raising fishing trip with his new job at the Nature Conservancy.
    • Patty reads War and Peace (yes, really), while Walter and Richard play chess.
    • Then Walter leaves for his fishing trip in Saskatchewan. Patty is really nervous being in the house alone with Richard. Her heart is racing. She's so nervous she drops an egg on the floor.
    • Patty goes to the grocery store and almost has a nervous breakdown. She's trying so hard to act normal around Richard, but is being a total spaz instead.
    • Finally Richard calls her out on it, and she admits to being really nervous around him. He offers to leave. She asks him to please stay.
    • But still she's freaking out. She drinks a big glass of cooking sherry (yuck!).
    • They have a very frank discussion: about Walter, and about their marriage, and about the strange relationship the two of them (that is, Richard and Patty) have.
    • Richard says that Walter trusts her, and if she trusts Walter, they'll be OK. Patty isn't so sure.
    • He asks if she doesn't want to be with Walter anymore, and she says she doesn't want to lose him, which isn't exactly a ringing endorsement.
    • Then, after all this tension, Richard just tells her point blank: "I'm not going to be the person who wrecks my best friend's marriage" (2.3.367).
    • Patty describes herself as "nearly weeping with disappointment" (2.3.368).
    • Then she goes to bed and reads War and Peace. And then, in the middle of the night, she climbs into bed with Richard. She claims she's sleepwalking. He tries to get her out of his bed, but she persists. They have sex.
    • The next morning is very awkward. Then they have sex again, very much wide awake this time.
    • Afterwards, Patty starts cracking jokes, and Richard gets very angry with her. He starts pacing and smoking cigarettes and freaking out about what's just happened.
    • Richard admits that he's liked her since college, and wanted to sleep with her that night in Chicago, but didn't because he didn't want to betray Walter.
    • Knowing Richard has feelings for her makes Patty realize that the situation is even more complicated than she first realized.
    • Patty cries a little more. Then they have sex one more time. And then they decide that Richard should leave. But first Patty makes him a few sandwiches, and he plays her a few songs. (He's taught himself the banjo over the summer.)
    • Richard leaves. Walter returns. Patty is very excited to see him (Walter). She says being alone with Richard was really awkward, which isn't exactly a lie – because it was, at least for a while.
    • The rest of the summer feels almost like a second honeymoon for the Berglunds.
    • Except for when Patty and Richard begin exchanging e-mails. They plan another rendezvous at Nameless Lake.
    • Patty goes up a week in advance and drinks heavily and horribly. She can't stop shaking, and feels so badly about the situation that she calls Richard and tells him not to come.
    • Then she keeps calling him back, putting him through some agonizingly tortured phone calls.
    • After that, once again, Patty feels renewed. She cleans and reads and when Walter arrives from another fishing trip, she almost overwhelms him with affection.
    • Patty realizes that, at this point, "what she should have done then was find a job or go back to school or become a volunteer" (2.3.553). But she doesn't, and she makes lots of excuses why not.
    • A few weeks later, she flies to Philadelphia for Parents' Weekend at Jessica's college. Walter can't go, but he's psyched that Patty wants to go.
    • Perhaps unsurprisingly, she secretly makes plans to meet up with Richard at her hotel and have a day alone with him while she's there.
    • She arrives. Really excited. Richard doesn't show. Eventually he calls and says something's come up. More specifically, Walter had called him that morning and told him about how wonderfully he and Patty had been getting along lately: "'Happiest in many years,' I believe his phrase was" (2.3.566).
    • Patty tries to change Richard's mind. Then, as usual, she wallows in self-pity.
    • She briefly goes down to the hotel bar and thinks about trying to pick somebody up. But then she remembers being drunk and raped when she was seventeen. So she goes back to her room alone.
    • The next morning she heads out to Jessica's college. Patty notes that although she made a point of taking great interest in Jessica's life growing up (unlike her own mother had), they had never really been close – both because Jessica wasn't a very needy kid, and because Patty so obviously preferred Joey.
    • Patty is really looking forward to spending some quality time alone with Jessica. Unfortunately for her, Jessica and her new boyfriend William have other ideas, and he spends the whole day with them. Third wheel much?
    • That night, they go out to dinner. Patty, once again, gets disgustingly drunk and starts bragging about her athletic successes in college, which leads to her telling the whole story about Eliza.
    • Jessica is equal parts hurt (that she's never heard the story before) and humiliated (that her mom's telling her now, loudly, at the restaurant).
    • The next day, Patty feels really guilty, and tries to make amends. She wants, again, to spend the day alone with Jessica, and maybe have some fun just the two of them that night. Girl time, you know?
    • Jessica says no – she and William have to study.
    • Patty begs her. Jessica still says no, and then says, "Mom, I make your life so easy for you. Do you have any idea how easy? I don't do drugs, I don't do any of the shit that Joey does, I don't embarrass you [...]" (2.3.613).
    • Well, if Patty thought she couldn't feel any worse, she sure does now.
    • She goes back to St. Paul and her depression deepens. She sends desperate emails to Richard.
    • Around this same time, Richard's ex-girlfriend and ex-band mate commits suicide.
    • Shortly after that, Richard and Walnut Surprise release a new album, meaningfully titled Nameless Lake. Lots of hip musicians (Jeff Tweedy, Michael Stipe) praise the album, and claim to have been longtime Traumatics fans. Critics go totally crazy for it.
    • For Walter, this is like when an obscure band only you know about suddenly gets popular, but a thousand times worse. He wants credit! And he wants to feel better than Richard again, like he did back when Richard was broke. They stop talking.
    • Little does he know, all the songs on the album that he thinks are about Molly are really about Patty.
    • A few weeks after the album comes out, Walter flies down to Houston to meet with some mysterious super-wealthy guy named Vin Haven, and starts spending lots of time in D.C.
    • And as is clear to Patty, at least, Walter's sudden ambition to found something called the Cerulean Mountain Trust is fueled mostly by his long-time competition with Richard.
    • Not long after that, they sell the house in Ramsey Hill and move to D.C.
    • Patty thinks maybe this will be a new beginning. They'll be close to Joey at college, and maybe this will give her and Richard a grand second chance.
    • As soon as she arrives in D.C., she realizes she's made yet another big mistake.
  • Book 3, Chapter 1

    Mountaintop Removal

    • OK, ready? Two big switches here: 1) it's 2004; and 2) now we're going to hear things from Richard Katz's point of view.
    • Oh, also: "Richard" will now be referred to only as "Katz."
    • First we catch up on the last three years of his life. Nameless Lake was a huge success. Walnut Surprise went on tour for a long time.
    • Katz was arrested for DUI and drug possession, and spent some time in rehab.
    • Particularly traumatic (!) experiences related to the success of Nameless Lake include a Grammy nomination and hearing his music played on National Public Radio. To someone who for so long had been so far from the mainstream, it actually makes him feels like a sell-out.
    • When Katz can't put it off any longer, he realizes he really has to return to the studio to record a follow-up with his band... so he decides to stop playing music and instead goes back to work building rooftop decks.
    • (Incredibly, after all that success, he's flat broke.)
    • Katz sees his own depressive personality as part of a genetic line leading back to his Jewish ancestors in Northern Europe.
    • He perversely notes that in the past, his best years musically had come during what he considered the country's worst: "Reagan I, Reagan II, and Bush I" (3.1.3).
    • He compares himself to a carp (that is, the fish), which thrives in dark, murky waters.
    • Now, as he writes, it's "Bush II, the worst regime of all" (3.1.3).
    • If it hadn't been for that pesky big-time success, he'd be making great music again. Alas, the thought of it makes him sick.
    • He sees going back to building decks as an alternative to suicide (good choice!).
    • His clients are wealthy downtown Manhattan folks. The third one is a huge Traumatics fan, as it turns out, and doesn't so much want a deck as he wants to be able to tell his yuppie friends that the famous Richard Katz built him one. Whatever works.
    • The guy's wife flirts with Katz arrogantly. The guy's kid is an enthusiastic guitarist and all-around music geek. He peppers Katz with questions about obscure punk rock bands he's never even heard of.
    • Then he asks if he can interview Katz, to impress a girl he likes at his high school. Katz says he will, if the kid agrees to bring the girl to his house the following day. (His plan is to sleep with the girl to crush the kid's spirit. Yeah, we're not even joking. Terrible.)
    • So at the end of the workday, Katz goes down to the kid's home studio (yuck), filled with expensive guitars (yuck), and the kid starts asking him questions.
    • Katz essentially goes on a sarcastic rant, arguing that all musicians (himself included) care only about making money, and are good Republicans, and should do their best to encourage consumer consumption.
    • Here's a good snippet of what he says: "Apple Computers must be way more committed to a better world, because iPods are so much cooler-looking than other MP3 players, which is why they're so much more expensive and incompatible with other companies' software, because – well, it's a little unclear why, in a better world, the very coolest products have to bring the very most obscene profits to a tiny number of residents of the better world" (3.1.84).
    • He concludes that "the iPod is the true face of Republican politics," says the interview is over, and then leaves (3.1.84).
    • He gets a gross dinner at a gyro place and takes the train back to Jersey City. The phone rings; the caller ID says it's Walter. They haven't spoken in two years.
    • Katz doesn't pick up.
    • On the voicemail, Walter says he's in town until tomorrow, and he has "a proposal" for Katz (3.1.107). Maybe he'd like to get together?
    • Katz sits and thinks about Patty for a while – specifically, how he rejected her in order to save her marriage. And although this was definitely the virtuous thing to do, it just ended up making everyone miserable.
    • Katz calls him back immediately, and updates him on his situation. Walter is, to say the least, surprised. He says instead of building decks he should be trashing hotel rooms and going back to writing offensive punk rock songs and all that.
    • Walter asks if Katz can meet him and his assistant tomorrow afternoon.
    • Your assistant? Katz asks.
    • Walter says he has a beautiful young Bengali-American assistant, named Lalitha. She lives in the apartment above Patty and him.
    • The proposal, he says finally, is about "saving the planet" (3.1.145).
    • Katz calls the high school kid and says he can't make it tomorrow after all (which, although the kid is surely disappointed, is absolutely for the best).
    • The next day he meets Walter and Lalitha at a luncheonette.
    • Lalitha is indeed very beautiful, but, incredibly (to him), from the moment Katz sees her, it's obvious she's totally in love with Walter. (This is definitely new territory for Katz, to have a woman uninterested in him, and very interested in Walter.)
    • After some pleasantries, Walter explains he's working for a super-wealthy Big Oil man named Vin Haven. Old-school Republican. Friends with the Bushes and the Cheneys. (In other words, he's the antithesis of everything Walter and Katz have always believed in.)
    • OK, now bear with us, because this is sort of complicated:
    • What Walter does for Mr. Haven is run the Cerulean Mountain Trust. Haven is an enthusiastic birder (that is, he likes watching little birds and shooting big birds), and has decided to devote a whole lot of money (around $100 million) to save just one threatened bird species: the cerulean warbler.
    • The most important habitat for the cerulean warbler is in central Appalachia, particularly in southern West Virginia.
    • Since Vin Haven has lots of buddies in the coal industry (lots of coal in West Virginia, of course), he thinks he'll be able to partner with some coal companies to create a large, permanent wilderness reserve for the cerulean warbler (and, needless to say, other birds) in West Virginia.
    • But the concern for the coal companies is that if the warbler continues to decline it will be declared an endangered species, which means it will be protected, which means they'd be prevented from mining an even larger area than the reserve they'd be creating.
    • One big problem with this plan, Walter admits, is that before they'd be allowed to set aside this reserve (a hundred square miles big), the coal companies would be allowed to fully mine one-third of it, via mountaintop removal (you'll remember the title of this chapter).
    • For those of you who've never heard about mountaintop removal, well here's a handy summary: "Mountaintop removal as currently practiced was ecologically deplorable – ridge top rock blasted away to expose the underling seams of coal, surrounding valleys filled with rubble, biologically rich streams obliterated" (3.1.187).
    • (Also, as a side note, here's an example of what it looks like.)
    • At the same time that he's working to create this reserve in West Virginia, Walter has also been travelling to Colombia (South America), setting up another reserve there, because that's where the warbler migrates to in winter. So at least that part's done.
    • But here are the problems on the West Virginia side.
    • One, setting aside the reserve will mean having to relocate 200 families that live in the area.
    • A considerably bigger problem is that Vin Haven has not been entirely honest with Walter about his motivations.
    • It turns out that back in 2001, Haven's good buddy Vice President Cheney gave him some secret insider information: that President Bush would soon change the laws surrounding natural gas extraction that would suddenly make natural gas economically feasible in West Virginia. And surprise, surprise, Vin Haven went ahead about bought up a whole bunch of mineral rights in the area. His cover for this secret information, of course, is the Trust. (Big thumbs down, Haven.)
    • And now he's starting to sell off pieces of that land, which will start getting drilled very soon.
    • Walter admits that he got duped. But now, he says, he and Lalitha are doing some sneaky business of their own. The plot thickens.
    • Walter then goes off a little bit about why he took the job in the first place – basically because he was furious that President Clinton had done nothing about the environment, and then Bush was making things much worse and he couldn't stand to see his neighbors SUVs and lush green chemically-treated lawns without doing something about it.
    • Katz is actually quite surprised by how angry Walter has become.
    • But Katz asks how saving one little blue bird has anything to do with what they had always agreed, back in college, was the ultimate environmental problem: overpopulation.
    • And Lalitha says that tackling overpopulation is exactly why they asked him to meet today.
    • Walter argues that overpopulation is the "final cause" of the warbler's decline (basically because lots of people have lots of cats, and lots of cats eat lots of birds. It's sort of a stretch, but hey).
    • Walter and Lalitha feed Katz some scary numbers about Earth's population: "we're going to add another three billion [people] by 2050" (3.1.273).
    • Walter also rants a little more about the state of politics in America: "The conservatives won. They turned the Democrats into a center-right party. They got the entire country singing 'God Bless America,' stress on God, at every single major-league baseball game. They won on every fucking front, but they especially won culturally" (3.1.283).
    • Walter says that although people used to talk about overpopulation, no one mentions it anymore.
    • So their plan, as they explain it, is to make overpopulation cool. They want Katz to headline "some sort of music-and-politics festival, maybe in West Virginia, with a bunch of very cool headliners, to raise awareness of population issues. All focused entirely on young people" (3.1.303).
    • Richard is less than enthusiastic. But he says he'll think about it.
    • He and Walter travel together to Penn Station.
    • Walter talks about how much he loves New York and how much he hates Washington.
    • Katz asks him if he realizes Lalitha is totally in love with him. He also asks Walter if he fantasizes about her.
    • They get on the subway. A young fan spots Katz and tells him how great he is.
    • They get to Penn Station and finally talk about Patty.
    • Walter gives this update: She's terribly depressed. She's working at a gym. She had been seeing a therapist in St. Paul (which we already know) and he had her writing some sort of personal history (which we've already read).
    • While she was working on that, things were OK. But in the two years since, they've been awful. She tried an antidepressant, but didn't like it. She thought about starting a second career, but she really doesn't have any skills. So Walter forced her to get a job. So now she's addicted to exercising. And when she comes home she asks Walter why he isn't sleeping with Lalitha yet.
    • Katz interprets all of this, unsurprisingly, as hidden messages to him from Patty, telling him it isn't over between them.
    • He notes the parallels between her life and his own. Focus, Katz!
    • Walter mentions finally that Patty and Lalitha don't even speak. Like, they refuse to be in the same room together. How pleasant that must be to live together!
    • The guys agree it feels great to catch up. Walter chokes up a little bit. Katz internally vows to clean up the unfinished business with Patty, for all of their sakes.
  • Book 3, Chapter 2

    Womanland

    • Hey, look, it's Joey Berglund! Finally, after hearing so much about him, we get to see what this kid is really all about.
    • As Joey begins his first year at the University of Virginia, he reflects on what a charmed life he has had. For eighteen years now, everything has just seemed to work out in his favor.
    • At college, things continue in this same way for about a month… and then September 11th happens.
    • This seems to Joey to be a great injustice – almost like a personal slight against Joey himself.
    • (Does this sound a little weird to you too?)
    • The next few weeks, when everyone else in America is feeling a real sense of connection and togetherness, Joey just feels bitter and alone.
    • So he calls Connie and gives her "permission" to "take a Greyhound bus to come visit him in Charlottesville, thereby undoing a summer's worth of spadework to prepare her for their inevitable breakup" (3.2.3).
    • See, Joey had been so sure he'd meet someone better at college, and Connie would just be a distant memory back in Minnesota.
    • But 9/11 changes all of this.
    • So Connie hops on that bus. They smoke lots of pot and end up talking about her future. Joey encourages her to go to college, try to get started on a career.
    • Connie is pretty unhealthily devoted to Joey, and tells him she'll do whatever he tells her to do, and the only reason she'll do it is because he wants her to.
    • Then Joey decides that, once she leaves, they shouldn't talk for at least a week. And, you guessed it – she consents to whatever he says.
    • Joey immerses himself in the collegiate social scene. He makes friends with guys "from prosperous families who believed in carpet bombing the Islamic world until it learned to behave itself. He wasn't right-wind himself but was comfortable with those who were" (3.2.27).
    • A few weeks later, Connie's mother Carol calls. She scolds him for ignoring her daughter, saying that Connie has sunken into a deep depression (sleeping all day, not eating, etc.).
    • Carol gives him a big guilt trip (deservedly so) for treating them so poorly after he'd lived with them for two years (for Pete's sake!), and being practically married to Connie all these years.
    • She also mentions that she (Carol) is pregnant.
    • Carol insists that Joey come out to spend Thanksgiving with them in St. Paul.
    • Joey refuses, and then goes outside and sits down on a bench and cries a little in the dark.
    • Then he calls his mother (a.k.a. Patty). Seems like it's been a long time since he's called his parents too.
    • They try to make small-talk. It's all just awkward.
    • Patty asks if Joey needs money, and he says yes. She says she'll send him a check made out to "Cash," so that Walter won't know.
    • She wants to tell him something really important, about love, but he cuts her off and hangs up. Brutal. And yet not surprising.
    • Joey goes back to his dorm and cries some more, and recalls what it was like living with Carol and Blake. In particular, he remembers the insightful ridicule Connie had for Blake. Although she's quiet and sullen, he knows she's actually really smart.
    • Next he recalls some pivotal moments from his relationship with his mom: like when she told him the story about Eliza, and when she told him the story about being date-raped.
    • He also remembers when his grandmother died and he behaved so obviously cruelly (even to himself).
    • Joey goes back to his dorm room and chats with his roommate, Jonathan. Joey mentions in passing that his grandmother is Jewish (which means, since Judaism runs through matrilineal descent, that Joey is Jewish as well).
    • Jonathan is really excited, and says now that his family is going to love him even more. (They've made plans for Joey to spend Thanksgiving with his family.) Also, they argue a little bit about Israel/Palestine.
    • The next day, Joey is sitting around trying to decide whether or not to call Connie. While still deciding, he goes onto Jonathan's computer and uploads a couple of photos of Jonathan's hot older sister Jenna.
    • The he calls Connie. She sounds better than Carol described her, but admits she's been depressed.
    • She tells him he can sleep with other girls if he wants. Then they have phone sex.
    • From then on, Joey and Connie speak on the phone much more often (wink, wink).
    • Then it's Thanksgiving, and Joey and Jonathan take Jonathan's fancy SUV to his family's house.
    • Jonathan's dad, it's important to note, is "the founder and luminary president of a think tank devoted to advocating the unilateral exercise of American military supremacy to make the world freer and safer, especially for America and Israel" (3.2.314).
    • He'd been on TV a lot recently, and in the Op-Ed sections of newspapers, railing against "the menace of radical Islam" (3.2.314).
    • The house is huge, and ridiculously opulent. They're really rich.
    • The boys go down to the basement and play billiards. Jonathan's sister Jenna comes downstairs, and Joey immediately realizes she's the most beautiful girl he's ever seen (but it's described in much less bland, hackneyed terms than that – we just thought we'd cut to the chase).
    • The three of them make plans to drive to Manhattan in two days, and stay at Jenna's boyfriend's apartment. (The boyfriend, Nick, works for the investment bank Goldman Sachs, and is off in Singapore on business.)
    • At Thanksgiving dinner the next night, Jonathan's father holds court: "He referred to members of the President's cabinet by their first names, explaining how 'we' had been 'leaning on' the President to exploit this unique historical moment to resolve an intractable geopolitical deadlock and radically expand the sphere of freedom" (3.2.374).
    • He also argues that it is OK to manipulate the truth about Iraq's nuclear capabilities – in the name of a greater purpose, of course.
    • Joey, keen to impress Jenna, speaks up at the dinner table, mildly challenging him on this point but in the end agreeing that he's right.
    • After dinner, Jonathan's dad comes to the basement to talk to Joey more: asking him his career plans, and encouraging him to apply for a job at his think tank.
    • After this conversation, Jonathan turns on Joey. He's really angry with him for sucking up to his dad. He's basically a jerk from here on out.
    • The next morning, Joey calls his mom's sister Abigail, whom he's never met. He says he's going to be in New York, and maybe they can get together. She agrees.
    • Then the kids all drive to New York. (Yup, Jonathan's still being a jerk.)
    • Joey goes out walking around midtown Manhattan by himself. Lonely once again, he calls Connie on the phone. (Seeing a pattern here?)
    • The next morning, Joey and Jenna wake up first, and Joey manages to charm her at least a little bit.
    • She admits that her number one priority in life is to be really rich.
    • Next we jump ahead four weeks (i.e., now we're at Christmastime), and Joey is house-sitting for his aunt Abigail in Greenwich Village.
    • (We're briefly brought up to speed on their initial meeting, in which she is mostly as Patty described her: eccentric, bitter, and self-centered.)
    • Then she goes away and asks Jonathan to stay at her apartment and take care of her cats. (There's also a totally gross problem with the drains coughing up sewage, but we'll skip right past that part.)
    • He plans to stay there two weeks, drainage problem or not.
    • Eventually, Joey calls his parents and tells them where he is. As you might expect, they're furious.
    • Once again alone in the apartment, Joey doesn't know what to do with himself: so he downloads pornography, masturbates, and drinks brandy.
    • Then he calls Connie and asks her to come join him. (Guess what she says!)
    • She shows up the next day, and admits she just quit her job. Also that she told Patty she was coming to see him. And, finally, that she's thinking of applying to some colleges close to Joey's, so they can see each other more often.
    • It turns out she has a trust fund in her name, from her deadbeat father, with lots money in it.
    • Joey tries to talk her out of applying to all those schools. She asks him why he doesn't want her near him. He tries to deny it.
    • They have more sex. Then Joey receives an e-mail from Jenna, and reads it over and over again. He feels very dirty, and thinks of the e-mail as being very clean.
    • Then Connie walks over naked holding a joint and Joey smokes it.
  • Book 3, Chapter 3

    The Nice Man's Anger

    • Walter and Lalitha are in West Virginia.
    • Walter is angry, but it seems these days he's always angry.
    • He gets particularly angry while driving. So Lalitha is driving instead. But she drives like a maniac too: fast and reckless.
    • Lalitha wants to celebrate. She thinks the two of them should get drunk.
    • Early that day, they'd signed the documents finalizing the deal between the Trust and the coal companies. It'll open up 14,000 acres to mountaintop removal immediately, and then be set aside as a wilderness reserve.
    • Walter is feeling very negative – cynical and remorseful – about the whole thing.
    • It has been very difficult to finalize the deal. The last sticking point was a group of families – led by a guy named Coyle Mathis – who refused to leave their houses. The Trust made them very generous offers, of cash and relocation, but they still wouldn't budge (understandably, since they'd lived there for generations).
    • Walter and Lalitha had gone to meet Mathis once. Walter called the guy stupid, and the thing devolved from there. Lalitha had to defuse the situation on her own.
    • The bright idea that ends the impasse is an unexpected one. LBI, a big oil services multinational, has a contract to provide (long overdue) body armor to troops in Iraq.
    • A deal has been made through which the Trust will subsidize LBI to hire these West Virginians to manufacture that body armor. And they'll be relocated to another town, thus making way for the bulldozers.
    • So now the deal is done and they're preparing for a big press conference that Walter will give on Monday.
    • He agrees to drink a beer with Lalitha later that night. He's actually never had a drink in his life.
    • It's become increasingly difficult to travel with Lalitha. They sleep in separate hotel rooms, but the tension is horrible.
    • Before he left for this trip, Patty had told Walter that he had her "permission" (that is, to sleep with Lalitha) (3.3.102). He says he doesn't know what she's talking about, and whatever she's talking about, he doesn't want it.
    • He tells her he loves her. Then he wonders: "How many thousand more times [...] am I going to let this woman stab me in the heart?" (3.3.109)
    • He reflects on Patty's shortcomings, and how much better a person Lalitha is than Patty. This can't end well.
    • He gets an email from Richard Katz. He reflects on Richard's shortcomings as well.
    • Then they go out to a chain restaurant for dinner. Lalitha drinks 2.5 gin martinis way too quickly, while Walter nurses a beer.
    • Lalitha gets drunk and the conversation quickly turns to her being in love with him.
    • Walter trips over himself trying to respond appropriately.
    • Then he goes to the bathroom, where he gets accosted by a racist local man angry at him for appearing in public with "that nigger girl" Lalitha (3.3.178).
    • Walter avoids the local racist and goes back to the table. Lalitha is wasted. Walter tries to explain some more the difficulty of his situation (other than getting accosted in public): he's married, he loves his wife, the usual.
    • She can barely sit up straight. He gets their food to go. The racist guy assaults him on the way out too, pushing him into a glass door.
    • Walter manages to escape and he carries Lalitha back to the hotel. He tucks her into bed and paces the room.
    • He turns on the TV. There's something about John Kerry's war record, part of the 2004 presidential campaign.
    • Walter worries about getting the "anti-overpopulation" festival together as soon as possible, so they can convince all the liberal college students to sign up with them, before they go work for the Kerry campaign instead.
    • Walter is consumed by thought of the planet's approaching environmental catastrophes. He hates radio, hates TV, hates just about everything.
    • His phone rings. It's Jessica, his daughter.
    • She tells him a story about a skeezy boss hitting on his co-workers, which knocks some sense into him about just how much younger than him Lalitha is.
    • He checks his email, and there's a message from a New York Times reporter, who somehow has gotten tipped off about their supposedly secret deal (not to be divulged until the Monday press conference). There had been an article in the paper that morning.
    • He calls Patty. They argue.
    • This reminds him of a previous argument, when he'd discovered the monthly $500 checks she'd been sending to Joey behind his (Walter's) back. Which turned into an argument about how she should get a job, to have something to do with her days (besides give away his money).
    • And then there was another argument, when she took the job at the gym, about that particular job not being appropriate. And another argument, about her thinking about getting a boob job (totally wrong "job," Patty).
    • Finally he goes to sleep.
    • The next morning, he and Lalitha wake at 4am and eat breakfast at a truck stop across the street. Then they get into the car to drive to Forster Hollow, where mining will commence.
    • While they're putting their seatbelts on, Lalitha suddenly grabs Walter and kisses him. He kisses her back. They kiss with crazy passion and abandon!
    • Lalitha asks him if he might be in love with her. He says yes.
    • They drive to Forster Hollow. The mining companies have sneakily arrived earlier than they were supposed to. Also, environmental activists have blocked the road, and Walter and Lalitha are unable to pass.
    • (Walter discovers in passing that one of the activists, Jocelyn Zorn, leaked the story to the Times.)
    • A big argument – and literal roadblock – ensues, between their rental car and the activists' blockade and the miners' bulldozers.
    • Walter gets really angry and Lalitha orders him to get back in the car and once again she solves the problem.
    • Walter and Lalitha drive away. When they have cell phone reception again, Walter's phone rings. It's his son Joey, saying he's in some trouble. Walter says, "Hey, so am I! So is everybody!" (3.3.459).
  • Book 3, Chapter 4

    Enough Already

    • It's been one week since Katz gave the interview to the high school kid. The kid posted it on his blog and now Katz has been getting interview requests from everywhere.
    • He goes back to the kid's house to meet the pretty girl the kid wants to impress – you know, the one Katz had planned on sleeping with to teach the kid a lesson. (That's your idea of a "lesson," Katz?)
    • The girl shows up with two friends. He's polite, but Katz can't bring himself to put forth the effort to flirt with her. In fact, he takes pleasure in ignoring the pretty girl and giving attention to her less-pretty friends.
    • Katz takes a train to Washington. He's supposedly going so he can meet with Walter and Lalitha and Jessica about the Trust. But really he's going so he can sleep with Patty and destroy their family.
    • He arrives at the mansion that serves as the Berglunds' house, Lalitha's apartment, and the Cerulean Warbler Trust headquarters.
    • Jessica answers the door, and immediately excuses herself to go continue an argument with Lalitha. It's immediately clear that the women don't like each other – or, more specifically, that Jessica hates Lalitha.
    • Jessica comes back and sits down with Katz, and vents a little bit.
    • She says her mother is still really depressed, and doesn't do anything around the house anymore. She says Joey is a Republican now. She thinks Lalitha is in love with Walter and will destroy her parents' marriage. Oh, and she also hates living in New York.
    • The next morning, Katz walks downstairs and everyone else is already there for the meeting. Walter looks nervous. Jessica and Lalitha bicker. Katz chews tobacco.
    • They brainstorm ways to make overpopulation an issue that young people want to devote their energy towards solving. How to discourage people from having so many babies?
    • In particular, they focus on the fact that freedom to reproduce is a fundamental personal freedom, and American is totally obsessed with personal freedom.
    • Patty comes down in the middle of the meeting. She's dressed up. And then, having "speedily irritated, ignored, or disappointed each of the four of them," she walks out the door (3.4.311).
    • The group agrees on the name "Free Space" for their movement. Maybe with an extra space, like this: "Free Space."
    • They also decide to have a series of local "battle of the bands" competitions around the country, culminating in one big event in West Virginia. Katz agrees to do everything he's asked to do.
    • That night, he and Walter go out to dinner, and then to a concert, to see the young indie rock band Bright Eyes. Katz is disgusted by the scene: the band's obvious talent, the enthusiastic crowd, everything. Bah.
    • He tells Walter he's thinking about writing some new songs.
    • They get home and Walter goes to bed. Katz creeps outside Patty's door and calls her name. No response. He stays awake for a few hours, then at 2am walks into her room. She's sitting on a sofa, just staring into the dark. She suggests they go downstairs.
    • Patty makes tea. She complains about things she hates about young people, like flip-flops and credit cards.
    • Then they talk about the serious stuff: about their relationship, and her relationship with Walter, and his relationship with Walter. And the past. Which of course is totally messy and miserable.
    • Katz tells her he came down here for her, and asks her to come away with him. She calls him a liar.
    • Patty says that watching Walter fall for Lalitha has been "quite extraordinarily painful [...] quite devastatingly painful" (3.4.354).
    • Patty says she senses that Walter's preparing to leave her.
    • Katz encourages her to be "a good wife" (3.4.357) and make Walter hers again.
    • Patty scoffs and says goodnight.
    • When Katz goes upstairs, he finds Patty's manuscript "Mistakes Were Made" on his pillow.
    • He stays up all night reading it, and then, at dawn, leaves it on Walter's desk for him to find in the morning.
    • Then he leaves and thinks he'll never see the Berglunds again.
    • He walks over a bridge and thinks about jumping off and killing himself. But doesn't.
    • Finally, he gets back to Jersey City. He cleans his apartment and calls his old drummer on the phone. He takes a sedative and sleeps heavily.
    • The next morning he goes shopping for some groceries, plays guitar for a few hours and then goes out for lunch. When he gets back, food bag in hand, he finds none other than Patty sitting on his front steps, with a suitcase and a pile of clothes.
  • Book 3, Chapter 5

    Bad News

    • We return to Joey's world, two years after we last saw him.
    • Here's the surprising information we learn right off the bat:
    • He and Jonathan's sister Jenna have been talking and texting a lot over the past couple of years. And now he's made plans to go to Argentina with her, for a big horseback riding adventure. (She had been planning on going with her mother, but she broke her leg skiing and can't go.)
    • Jenna recently broke up with her boyfriend Nick once and for all.
    • He needs to go to Paraguay for business, so, you know, he'll be down there anyway.
    • Oh, and five months earlier, on a whim, he and Connie got married.
    • Make sense? No? Not to us either.
    • So obviously he's still cruelly dangling poor Connie. She's back in Minnesota again, and he's just deflecting all her attempts to live together, and go on a honeymoon, and have anything close to a real, healthy (married!) relationship.
    • Instead he's busy chasing Jenna, and chasing cash. But we're getting ahead of ourselves.
    • The chapter begins with a brief summary of the situation, and then a pretty brutal phone call with Connie. She's seriously depressed.
    • Connie asks him if he's wearing his wedding ring, and he admits he isn't. She asks him to put it on. So he does, while they're on the phone. But then when they hang up, he puts it in his mouth and rolls it around with his tongue.
    • And then he swallows it.
    • He tries to vomit it up, but he can't.
    • So he walks to the emergency room.
    • On the way there, he passes the office building where he's been working: a subsidiary of LBI (yes, the same multinational supplying the body armor factory for Walter's displaced West Virginians) called Restore Iraqi Secular Enterprise Now (RISEN).
    • Joey's job has been "researching ways in which LBI might commercially exploit an American invasion and takeover of Iraq, and then writing up these commercial possibilities as arguments for invading" (3.5.55).
    • (The summer before this one, Joey had indeed ended up with a position at Jonathan's father's think tank.)
    • After a long wait in the emergency room, he finally gets in to see a doctor, who tells him he'll just have to wait until, you know, the ring comes out the other end.
    • Joey goes back to his apartment and tries to sleep. He has lots of memories. In fact, he has so many memories, that we'll just do a big flashback to two years ago, OK?
    • Flashback time:
    • Jonathan finally meets Connie, and he really likes her.
    • Joey has a phone conversation with his mother (Patty) in which she insists that in healthy relationships people need to get in (verbal) fights.
    • He remembers how much his mom hates Connie, even though Connie has always been so sweet to her. For some reason this reminds him of why he prefers the Republican Party to the Democratic Party.
    • We then run through all the chances he's had to break up with Connie.
    • The following Christmas, Joey goes out to Minnesota. Connie has started taking an antidepressant. Also, he talks to his mother on the phone and she too is on antidepressants. He wonders why all the women in his life are depressed, and wonder if it's maybe his fault.
    • Joey and Jonathan make a $100 bet about whether or not American forces would find Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq by the end of the year. (Spoiler alert: they don't.)
    • Joey had assumed the people at the think tank were secretly interested in invading Iraq to protect Israel, but now he realizes it's probably more of a financial interest, like his own.
    • (Joey's particular area of research involves setting up bakeries in Iraq – something he obviously knows nothing about.)
    • He goes to his parents' place for the Fourth of July and has a big argument with Walter, mostly about the Iraq War. It concludes with Walter saying, "I don't even want to know what you're doing anymore. It makes me too sick" (3.5.160).
    • And throughout these two years, Jenna just keeps stringing him along, and being not-so-nice in general.
    • Then one night on the phone, Connie tells Joey two big things:
    • 1) She's stopped taking the antidepressant.
    • 2) She's started sleeping with the manager of her restaurant (a married guy, with two kids).
    • Joey is really hurt and angry... even though he himself has been unfaithful a bunch of times, and is of course still actively pursuing Jenna.
    • They don't speak for a few weeks.
    • Oh, and he gets a few more important phone calls: Patty calls to tell him she won't be sending any more $500 checks, as Walter had found out about them and isn't thrilled.
    • His aunt Abigail calls to offer him another cat-sitting opportunity.
    • His boss calls him with sort of a sketchy business opportunity: tracking down parts for an obscure outdated Polish truck the Americans are driving in Iraq: the Pladsky A10. There are parts in Eastern Europe and South America. If he can find some and ship them to Iraq, he'll make loads of money.
    • Oh, but first, he needs to come up with $50,000 to buy the parts in the first place.
    • So he calls Connie and tells her the situation, and Connie offers to give him the $50,000 saved up in her trust fund. He accepts.
    • A few days later, they meet in New York City. He notices small red scars on Connie's arm: she'd been cutting herself every night he hadn't called since she told him about her affair.
    • Caught in a whirlwind of crazy emotions, they get married. Joey almost backs out, but doesn't.
    • OK, and that brings us back to the present.
    • Joey's wedding ring is somewhere inside his intestines, and he's on his way to the VIP lounge at the airport to meet Jenna.
    • Jenna is very rude to him. When he finally calls her on it, she kisses him. Mixed signals!
    • They get to Argentina. They're staying in a super swanky resort hotel.
    • Jenna speaks great Spanish; Joey does not. She's an expert horseback rider; he is not. In short, he's miserable.
    • The first night, they drink lots of wine at dinner, and then go back to the room they're sharing. He is very drunk and is... unable to perform. They go to sleep.
    • The next morning, he feels his bowels move. So he rushes to the bathroom, preparing to locate his wedding ring somewhere within his excrement.
    • Oh, yes, it's an incredible scene – hilarious, disgusting, vindicating. He finds the ring. He almost vomits from the smell. Jenna is horrified.
    • That afternoon, he checks his voicemail. One message from Carol, Connie's mother, telling him Connie has confessed to her that they're married.
    • The second one is from his boss, Kenny, telling him he needs to get to Paraguay immediately.
    • He tells Jenna he has to leave. She is not happy about it. Actually, she's really quite mean about it.
    • Joey gets to Paraguay. It's a pretty sketchy situation, dealing with a sketchy guy who owns a sketchy military-supply business.
    • He takes Joey to a field strewn with Pladsky A10 parts. Parts are just everywhere. That's the good news. The bad news is that they're seriously rusted. Like, almost unusable.
    • Joey bargains him down to a good price, $20,000, and feels good about that. But he feels really terrible about selling such crappy parts to the U.S. military. Like, tremendously guilty.
    • He calls Connie for advice, but she only wants him to do what'll make him happy.
    • So he calls Jonathan for advice. Jonathan says definitely don't do it; that stuff is evil.
    • Then he calls Kenny and says it's rusty and he feels bad, and Kenny says he doesn't care because they'll still get paid.
    • Finally he calls the leadership at LBI, and tells them about the situation. They say they understand, but if he doesn't deliver the parts, he'll be in breach of his contract, so he really should do it.
    • So he does it. But then he calls Jonathan (who works for the Washington Post now) and asks if maybe he could act as a whistle-blower and tell the paper about the rusted parts and the dishonest no-bid contracts in Iraq.
    • Joey sinks into a deep depression, the first of his life. Connie comes to live with him, and supports them both while they wait for their $850,000 (!) to arrive.
    • And then we end this chapter the same place we ended Walter's last chapter, with Joey calling Walter and saying he's in trouble.
  • Book 3, Chapter 6

    The Fiend of Washington

    • This chapter (a Walter chapter) begins by taking a giant step back and introducing us to Walter's ancestors.
    • Biggest flashback thus far:
    • Walter's grandfather, Einar Berglund, comes to America from Sweden, and settles in Minnesota.
    • He does menial jobs for a while, and makes bad money. Then he hears about communism, and the idea that his labor was being exploited for someone else's gain.
    • This gives him the idea of exploiting some labor himself. So he starts a road-building company, and opens a small general store.
    • The store immediately starts losing money, and he's about to sell it... when a former friend opens up a rival store across the street. Intent on defeating this scummy backstabber, he holds onto the store and goes deep into debt.
    • He's obsessed with the idea of American freedom, and that through hard work anyone can get ahead (also known as "the American Dream"). When this dream doesn't happen for him, he becomes very bitter. He ends up hating both Sweden and America equally.
    • A dangerously aggressive driver, as an old man, he crashes their car and kills both his wife and himself.
    • His son Gene stays close to home, plays hockey, serves in World War II. He returns home and marries his girlfriend Dorothy (mostly because she's pregnant). But he vows to treat her better than his father treated his mother. Sounds like that should be easy to do.
    • But Gene ends up every bit as spiteful as his father. Also, very mean to Dorothy.
    • Gene has always dreamed of running a motel. When a very dilapidated one comes on the market, he buys it. It's not such a great place. This is "Whispering Pines."
    • Gene and Dorothy have three sons. Walter, the middle child, is the least like his father. He's sensitive and intellectual and more like his city cousins. For this, Gene treats him horribly: gives him the grossest jobs, makes fun of him with his brothers.
    • Gene becomes an alcoholic, and only treats Walter and Dorothy worse.
    • When Walter is in high school, Dorothy's father dies and leaves her the little house on what will later be called "Nameless Lake."
    • Gene insists they sell it, to help make ends meet. Walter argues against this, saying he'll go live there for a summer and fix the place up, and then they can rent it out.
    • He also argues that his mechanic brother Mitch should help out around the motel instead blowing all his paychecks on girls and guns and booze. (Gene doesn't hassle Mitch because he's just like his old man, which makes Gene happy to see.)
    • Walter tries to pressure Mitch. Mitch blows him off.
    • Walter succeeds in convincing his parents to let him spend his summer there. He cleans it out and makes improvements.
    • But the time alone there also gives him a passionate appreciation of nature and silence and solitude. He brings a Super 8 camera to shoot films of birds.
    • On his tenth day there, Mitch shows up unexpectedly, with a bunch of friends, blasting music and drinking beer and being obnoxious. He says he's renting the place.
    • Walter is devastated. He feels betrayed by nature, for having allowed himself to be so open and vulnerable. And look what came of that.
    • This moment, he thinks, is at the root of not only his deciding to become a city person, but more importantly his lifelong devotion to creating wilderness areas: places where people like Mitch can't disturb the peace and beauty.
    • Walter leaves the house and Mitch lives there for six years, until Gene dies. Mitch never pays any rent.
    • OK, back to 2004.
    • You'll recall that when we last saw Walter, Richard Katz had just left Patty's autobiography on his desk. Well, Walter finds it in the morning and, of course, reads it.
    • And he's absolutely devastated. He carries it up to Patty's room, where she's still in pajamas watching basketball highlights.
    • She sees what he's holding in his hand, and simultaneously freaks out and tries to explain. She says she never meant for him to read it. That she gave it to Richard so that he would go away. That it was her therapist's idea, and helpful for her to write all this down.
    • He starts quoting some of the things she wrote about him to her. The most painful things.
    • She begs him not to, but he does anyway.
    • Then Walter says he never wants to see her again. She has to leave the house today and never come back.
    • He also says this: "You did the worst thing you could possibly do to me [...] The worst thing, and you knew very well it was the worst thing, and you did it anyway" (3.6.133).
    • Patty agrees to leave, but wants him to know how painful it is to see Walter falling for Lalitha.
    • Walter says she drove him to it, because he's lives his entire life not being good enough for her, knowing she really wanted Richard all those years ago.
    • Walter goes downstairs and says good-bye to Jessica. He doesn't tell her about what's just happened, only that they had a fight.
    • After Patty leaves, rolling her suitcase, Lalitha knocks on Walter's door. They have sex. Lots of it. Walter cries at various times.
    • They do the press conference Monday morning. It goes fine.
    • Walter tells Lalitha that he doesn't want Richard working on the Free Space project anymore. She says that's not possible – his name is the biggest draw they have.
    • Then Walter thinks about LBI for a while (the company that's both starting the body armor factory for Walter and selling the truck parts for Joey). It's obvious to him that they're totally evil. He feels horrible about working with them in any way.
    • He tells Joey about his mom. He's already spoken to her.
    • Then the infamous New York Times article – the one we first heard about 500 pages (!) ago – comes out. It's got the headline, "Coal-Friendly Land Trust Destroys Mountains to Save Them" (3.6.234), and is not very complimentary of Walter, to say the least.
    • He calls Vin Haven on the phone. He invites Walter to the grand opening of the body armor plant. Walter says he'll be there.
    • Joey and Connie come to visit. Joey says that Patty claims that Walter kicked her out just so he could be with Lalitha.
    • Ah, this explains why Jessica is refusing to answer his phone calls.
    • They go out to dinner, the four of them (Joey, Connie, Walter, and Lalitha).
    • Walter is very impressed by both Joey and Connie.
    • The following week, Joey calls to say he has decided to give away all the money he made from selling the rusty truck parts.
    • Joey also mentions he saw Patty recently.
    • In Jersey City.
    • With Richard.
    • Walter, of course, is not so happy to hear this. He goes up to their bedroom and destroys the place: smashes Patty's photos, bashes his head against the wall (yes, literally).
    • Then he takes three of Patty's sleeping pills and falls asleep.
    • Hours later, Lalitha is shaking him violently to try to wake him up. They're late; they're going to miss their flight to West Virginia.
    • Walter is all messed up. He can't stay awake. He feels really weird.
    • Walter says he's "tired of being Mr. Good," and is thinking of becoming "Mr. Bad" (3.6.332, 334).
    • They arrive late to the grand opening. Walter sees Coyle Mathis sitting and smirking at him in the front row.
    • When Walter is asked to step to the podium and say a few words, he ditches his prepared remarks.
    • Instead, he gives a sarcastic and cynical speech, basically about how happy he is about all these West Virginians getting jobs at this body armor factory, because now they'll be able to be good middle-class consumers, and be able to buy lots of products and help grow the economy and destroy the environment.
    • "Wait, huh?" thinks the crowd. People start booing.
    • Then he calls LBI "one of the most corrupt and savage corporations in the world," who don't care if their sons and daughters die in Iraq (3.6.353). But, hey, at least they'll have money now and their kids won't have to go to war.
    • Then the microphone is cut, so Walter just starts shouting. He ends his diatribe by talking about overpopulation and finite resources and how humans are "A CANCER ON THE PLANET! A CANCER ON THE PLANET!" (3.6.354).
    • Then Coyle Mathis punches Walter in the face. And a whole bunch of guys jump on him and start kicking.
    • He spends some time in the hospital: dislocated jaw, bruised ribs, etc.
    • They assume the Free Space project is dead, but all of a sudden applications start pouring in like crazy. But instead of attracting college students, like before, now they're attracting anarchists and other revolutionary activists.
    • It seems Walter's speech has gone viral, and is appealing to a whole different group of kids.
    • Joey says he'll donate $100,000 of his dirty money to help finance Free Space.
    • Walter is really proud of Joey, for the first time ever.
    • Walter finally speaks to Jessica, and notices she's sounding more and more like Patty…
    • Oh, and Walter gets fired.
    • Then Walter and Lalitha buy a van and spend a few weeks driving across the country, spending time in nature reserves and bird-watching. (Lalitha doesn't care much about birds, but she's happy that Walter's happy.)
    • They go meet Walter's younger brother Brent at the Air Force base in California where he lives.
    • They drive through Minnesota, and have dinner with Seth and Merrie Paulsen. (Hey, remember them? Crazy blast from the past!)
    • Walter asks Lalitha to come with him to see Hibbing and Nameless Lake, and try to find his brother Mitch. But she says that people have started arriving at the festival in West Virginia, and the situation is already getting messy. So they agree that Lalitha will fly to West Virginia now, and Walter will drive there soon.
    • Walter goes to see Connie's mother, Carol, who's still living in Ramsey Hill.
    • Lalitha calls to say that things in West Virginia are, indeed, insane. They have a very sweet phone conversation.
    • And then, the next morning, Lalitha is killed in a car accident.
    • Walter, out of touch, doesn't hear the news right away. He manages to track down his brother, who's living in a campground. Mitch doesn't look so good. They have a nice brotherly chat. Mitch has softened, and Walter has grown up.
    • Walter thinks about how blessed his life has been, and is now.
    • The chapter ends with his phone ringing, to deliver the news about Lalitha.
  • Part 2, Chapter 4

    Mistakes Were Made (Conclusion), A Sort of Letter to Her Reader

    • Nope, we didn't make a mistake. After Part 3 in this book comes the last chapter of Part 2.
    • Patty decides to write Walter a summary of the six years since they separated.
    • Here's the summary:
    • After leaving their house, she spends the night in a hotel. She considers killing herself by taking an overdose of sleeping pills, but just can't do it. She claims this was the worst night of her life.
    • She goes to live with Richard because it was his fault that she was in this situation in the first place, and also the only one who would understand where she was at.
    • She's totally furious with Walter, and thinks it's unfair that he threw her out. She's, again, very jealous of Lalitha. Sure, she may have Richard, but Richard cannot truly love anyone.
    • So she lives with Richard in Jersey City for about four or five months. She just thinks about Walter the whole time.
    • When she hears about his crazy speech in West Virginia, she feels like she'd been holding him back all these years.
    • Then she hears about Lalitha's death, and feels "great sorrow and compassion for Walter, great guilt about the many times she'd wishes Lalitha dead, sudden fear of her own death, a momentary flicker of selfish hope that Walter might take her back now, and then sickening regret for having gone to Richard and thereby ensured that Walter would never take her back" (2.4.5).
    • Richard is doing his best to be a good partner, consenting to the domestic life Patty wants to have with him.
    • She works as a barista.
    • Eventually she leaves, after a very messy and bitter break-up with Richard.
    • She stays with her old basketball friend Cathy and her partner, who live in Wisconsin and have twins. Patty helps take care of the kids and realizes how much she loves young children.
    • Then her father gets sick – very sick, very quickly. Cancer. She goes back to Westchester to be with her parents.
    • It's intense. She hasn't been there in years and years. Not much has changed.
    • Seeing her father Ray so sick, she feels regret for having been so unforgiving all these years.
    • They try to reconnect, but, again, it's been so long, so it's just awkward.
    • She sits by his bedside and allows herself to love her dad.
    • Then he dies. Five hundred people attend the funeral, including many of the disadvantaged minority clients he'd helped over the years, offering his services for free (remember, he was a public defender).
    • All of Ray's colleagues talk about what an amazing guy he was. Abigail gives an inappropriate eulogy.
    • Jessica resents her mother for having denied her the opportunity to have a relationship with her grandfather.
    • And once Ray is gone, a bitter feud ensues over his estate. Here's a summary of that horribleness (a summary within a summary, yes):
    • Ray's father had inherited from his father a big country estate in northwest New Jersey. With Ray gone, now it's Joyce's.
    • Patty's two sisters want her to sell it and give them some of the money.
    • Problem is, Patty's brother (Edgar) is living there, with his wife and children.
    • Patty says she'll take care of the problem. If nothing else, it's a good excuse to catch up with her family.
    • Joyce wonders how Patty became so strong and independent. This is one of the highlights of Patty's life.
    • OK, more back-story: Edgar (Patty's bro, in case you already forgot) had made a fortune in stocks, and then lost it. He married a young Russian Jewish woman named Galina. She insisted on spending lots of money on expensive clothes and things. And then she embraced Orthodox Judaism and insisted on having lots of babies.
    • Patty goes to visit her sister Abigail. She's as self-involved as ever. She wants the money from the estate to start a female comedy troupe and tour Europe.
    • She also explains that Galena recently hit a school crossing guard with her car. And they didn't have insurance, so now they owe lots and lots of money to the insurance companies. So any income they have will go towards that debt. So they shouldn't get any piece of the house.
    • Abigail also says lots of mean things to Patty, about herself and Walter.
    • Then Patty goes to see Edgar and Galina. The estate is a strange sight: big pallets of wholesale food outside, donated by their local rabbi and synagogue. Cows on the tennis court. Edgar on a tractor. Galena surrounded by cute, messy little kids.
    • They claim that the grandfather wanted the house to stay in the family, and be a farm. Galena does most of the talking, and basically talks smack about the other family members. This isn't helping anything.
    • Patty is discouraged and leaves. She goes to see Veronica, her other sister, who until now we have never met. She lives in Manhattan.
    • She was previously a painter and dancer. Now she's a secretary who sometimes still paints. She wants the money so she can quit working, because working is a big drag.
    • She doesn't like having to spend time with Abigail, either.
    • Finally she goes back to Westchester, and wonders why all her siblings are so unsuccessful, when their parents managed to achieve so much.
    • Also, she finally asks Joyce why she never attended any of her basketball games.
    • Joyce doesn't have a good reason. She says it was totally selfish and wrong, and takes full responsibility for that.
    • Finally, Patty devises a plan: the estate will be sold, and Joyce will give half of the money to Ray's brothers. Joyce will also keep some of the money herself, to dispense funds to Edgar and Galina as they need them. Abigail and Veronica get the money they want.
    • Patty accepts $75,000 herself, to help start a new life on her own.
    • Surprisingly enough, pretty much everyone in the family gets what they want, and puts it to good use. Wowza.
    • Patty settles down in Brooklyn, and stays for five years, "working as a teacher's aide in a private school, helping first-graders with their language skills and coaching softball and basketball in the middle school" (2.4.7).
    • She speaks to Jessica very often, and has (finally) developed a great relationship with her.
    • Things with Joey are rather less perfect, mostly because of her strained relationship with Connie.
    • Joey has become enormously successful, starting his own sustainable, shade-grown coffee business.
    • Jessica is in literary publishing: not the most lucrative industry.
    • Patty ends this last chapter by saying she's 52 now, and really wishes Walter would take her back.
    • Oh, but first, one last thing: where she got the idea to write this last chapter.
    • She ran into Richard Katz on the street one day, in downtown Manhattan. He looks older, and his glasses make him look almost sophisticated.
    • He has a steady girlfriend, and has been doing classy orchestral pieces and scoring work.
    • They go for a drink and catch up. She tells him how much she misses Walter.
    • He suggests that she write him a story.
  • Part 4

    Canterbridge Estates Lake

    • Remember how the Berglunds had that nice little house on that nice little pond that called Nameless Lake? Well, we're back there now for the end of the book.
    • But it's not called (rather, nicknamed) Nameless Lake anymore; now it's officially called Canterbridge Estates Lake, and the twelve homes around it are, you guessed it, Canterbridge Estates. All sounds very regal.
    • Walter lives here, in his mom's old house.
    • As if the sudden appearance of twelve "McMansions" financed with peculiarly low mortgage rates (and the two years of construction it took to build them) wasn't enough, now he's fighting a losing battle against his neighbors' cats, that hunt and kill his beloved birds. Bah.
    • The most vicious of these cats is Bobby, who belongs to his Evangelical neighbor Linda Hoffbauer. Walter asks her to please keep the darn cat indoors, so he won't kill so many birds. She thinks he's crazy, and dismisses him.
    • Everyone thinks Walter's crazy. He has a big white beard. This doesn't help anything.
    • We see much of this chapter from Linda's point of view. We watch from across the lake as Joey and Connie come up from St. Paul to visit Walter, driving their shiny new Volvo.
    • The following year, Walter tries to hand out "bibs" for the neighborhood cats. The neighbors ignore him again.
    • Then he blankets the neighborhood with leaflets, with photos of some birds killed by their cats.
    • He is, as you've probably guessed, not very popular.
    • In winter, Linda's husband plows Canterbridge Court and purposefully blocks Walter's driveway.
    • When Bobby the cat disappears, and Linda is sure Walter killed him.
    • Next we shift slightly and see things from Walter's point of view. Man, does he hate cats. He hates them so much! Mr. Nice Man really has turned angry.
    • He doesn't kill Bobby, but does trap him and drive him to a shelter in Minneapolis.
    • Walter's doing OK. He's surviving. He works for the Nature Conservancy, doing the most tedious and mind-numbing tasks they can give him. He's still grieving.
    • He has a pretty good relationship with Joey. Jessica, on the other hand, is harder to hear from.
    • She calls often, and pleads with him to either take Patty back or to divorce her once and for all. She says Patty has really changed, much for the better.
    • He still refuses to see Patty, though.
    • After one particularly painful phone conversation with Jessica, he recalls the circumstances of Lalitha's death. Times like this bring him pretty close to believing that nothing matters. Not birds, not cats, nothing.
    • In August, he receives Patty's new manuscript in the mail. He doesn't open it.
    • A few weeks later, he receives something from Richard too. He doesn't open that either.
    • Then in October, Patty shows up. She spends the night in the car until Walter notices her, but he ignores her and goes to work.
    • When he comes home, she's sitting on the front steps, shivering in the cold.
    • He lets her stay there. A long time. It gets colder.
    • He goes inside and furiously opens up her package. Seeing what it is, he brings it outside and yells at her that he's uninterested; he doesn't want to read it.
    • Then he goes inside and opens Richard's package: it's a new CD, called Songs for Walter. He smiles and cries.
    • Finally, he goes outside to get Patty. She has stopped shivering, and can't stand up. He has to carry her inside. He tries to have her drink something warm, but she can't.
    • So he takes her clothes off, and puts her in bed. She still won't warm up. So he takes his own clothes off and lies down next to her. After a long while, she jolts back to life. They stare into each other's eyes, for a long time. He kisses her sweetly.
    • And then, with that, we're back across the lake with Linda Hoffbauer. Patty has moved in with Walter, and succeeded in charming all the neighbors. Everyone loves her. She and Walter are now friends with everyone in the neighborhood: hosted barbecues, attending other people's barbecues. (Not taking anyone's cats.)
    • And then after a couple of years, they decide to move back to New York, to be close to Jessica, Patty's family, and Richard Katz. Everyone in the neighborhood is sad to see them go.
    • They donate the house to a local land trust to become a bird sanctuary. Once they're out of the house, they gut it, leaving it as a potential nesting place for birds. They erect a high fence around the property. On the gate, above the lock, there's a small picture of Lalitha, after whom the preserve is named.