The narrative comes to us via an unnamed narrator, who happens to be bringing three friends to the area of Northern Quebec where she grew up. The group includes her boyfriend Joe and another couple, David and Anna. The story begins with the group's trek through the more populated areas in the narrator's old stomping grounds (e.g., an unnamed "city" and a place she refers to as "the company town") to reach the remote cabin where her father had been living—that is, before he disappeared (dunDUNDUN).
We soon learn that the narrator had received a letter from a family friend, Paul, informing her of her father's disappearance—hence the homecoming after what appears to have been a long absence. The narrator had hoped her father would have turned up by the time she got there (so she could just scoot right back home), but no such luck.
When she and the others arrive at the cabin, she finds evidence that her father hasn't been there for a while. They look for him a little bit, but the narrator quickly comes to believe that the search is futile—they'd need a lot more people-power to search the entire island for him.
So, they occupy themselves with fishing, swimming, shooting film for a future amateur cinematic project, and reading—oh, and some pretty intense psychological warfare-romantic drama, too. For example, Joe decides that this recon mission to find the narrator's (probably) deceased father is the perfect opportunity to declare his love and propose. (Hey, why not?) The narrator apparently has some issues with the "L word," so she is less than receptive—which does not go over well with Joe.
Meanwhile, David and Anna seem to have a lot of tension between them. David is, shall we say, not the nicest guy; his main joy in life seems to be making fun of Anna and even humiliating her in front of others. To make matters worse (read: skeezier), he openly hits on the narrator in front of Anna and Joe, and at one point he even propositions her for sex (he justifies the invitation by telling the narrator that Joe is off having sex with Anna). Ew.
So, yeah, if they had had Facebook back then, "It's Complicated" would have been the relationship status for this wacky quartet, and the faults and fractures in these relationships increasingly take center stage as the novel progresses.
Alongside all of this, the narrator is digging deep into her memories, thinking about her family, her childhood, and a husband-child that she had left behind at some unspecified moment in the past. Despite the fact that she gives up searching for her dad almost immediately and assumes he is dead, she still wants to know what could have happened to him. When she finds some drawings her father made of weird-looking, seemingly mythical beasts, she briefly considers the possibility that he might just have gone crazy (and might still be alive). However, she soon realizes that the drawings were tracings of nearby rock paintings, not figments of a demented mind, so she goes back to thinking he's probably dead.
She decides to go in search of the rock paintings, trying to gain confirmation for this little bit of the "real" story she's pieced together from what her father left behind. She doesn't have much luck when she takes the others out looking for the first one, but her second attempt—which involves going on a solo dive to look at the side of a nearby cliff—is a bit more… interesting, shall we say. While she's down there, she sees something (she believes it to be the fetus of a baby she had aborted years before) that inspires certain memories or realities to "surface" in her own brain, and we learn that not everything she's told us is entirely accurate.
For example, speaking of the fetus, we learn that the child she supposedly abandoned with her ex-husband was actually never born; she had an abortion (and the father of the child wasn't her husband, but a married man with whom she was carrying on an affair). So, that's some news. After this incident, the narrator comes to believe her father wasn't just cataloguing these existing rock paintings, but also compiling a list of places where these kind of spiritual events or "oracles" (17.26) could occur.
In the wake of this underwater epiphany, she's suddenly not in such a hurry to leave. So, the day she and the others are slated to head home, she opts to stay behind. What happens from there is definitely up for interpretation, but she appears to pursue some kind of spiritual communion with her deceased parents (oh yeah, and we should mention that her father's body was found the day before they were supposed to go home).
To get that ball rolling, she engages in a lot of ritualistic behavior, looking for "signs" for what she should be doing at any given moment to gain access to her parents. In her view, this process means getting a lot cozier with nature and her more animalistic side. She destroys basically all of the belongings inside the cabin, strips her clothes off, and makes herself a lair outside. Um… yeah, grief is powerful, y'all.
Eventually, she appears to get what she wants and has visions of both her parents. After that occurs, she seems ready to kind of return to the world. She comes to the realization that she needs to stop being a victim and understands that she is not powerless (a belief she had used to convince herself that she couldn't hurt other people). With that epiphany, she goes inside and gets dressed in her clothes (even though she had slashed them all up).
A boat arrives with Paul and Joe, and Joe calls for her. She seems to realize she loves him, and she thinks about what going back with him would mean as she watches him. We are left on a cliffhanger, as we don't know if she ever answers his call.
Section 1, Chapter 1
- An unnamed narrator is driving through a "city" (although she immediately undermines its claims to being one). Apparently, the narrator used to live around here.
- We learn that she's in the car with a married couple named David and Anna (it's their car they're driving) and her boyfriend, Joe. They've been driving several hours.
- It turns out that David and Joe are making a movie called Random Samples. It will consist of random stuff they feel like photographing (the title checks out, then). When they run out of film, they're going to cut it together.
- They stop at a place called the Bottle Villa, which is a house made entirely out of bottles (cozy). The boys get some film of it.
- Then they enter the company town, from which they are trying to find the road to somewhere else—however, the way the narrator knew to go is blocked.
- She stops into a store to ask directions and buy some ice cream.
- The narrator is a bit antsy. It seems she's coming home to find her father (to whom something has happened). She's kind of wishing she could just go back to "the city" and never find out what happened to him.
- They then come to a gas station with some stuffed moose dressed in people clothes. They of course get out of the car to check it out.
- They are almost to "the village" when the chapter closes.
- The group pulls up to a motel that, in addition to room vacancies, is advertising beer. The narrator suggests that the rest of the group go in to have a drink while she takes off somewhere else.
- It turns out she's going to visit Paul, who was-is a friend of her family. She asks if her father has turned up, but Paul says no.
- Paul invites the narrator in for some tea. His wife, who is referred to only as "Madame," is also there. The narrator tries to use French to address Madame, but feels awkward about it. The encounter launches her into memories of her mother and her mother's encounters with Madame (her mother had died of some unnamed illness some time before).
- She also asks Paul more questions about her father's disappearance. Apparently, he was just gone one day; Paul went to visit him and found the door to his house open, and the boat still there. He told the police, who looked around—but found nothing.
- Paul asks if the narrator's husband is there with her. (Wait, what? We thought she had a boyfriend.) She says no.
- Through the narrator's inner monologue, we learn the explanation: she had been married, but she was now divorced. She had never bothered to tell her parents the latter.
- We then learn that the narrator also has a baby (she's waiting for Madame to ask about it), but she claims (inwardly—Madame never does ask) that she left "it" in "a different city" with her ex. Hmm…
- The chapter ends with the narrator hopeful that the previous search parties have missed something, and she'll find her father waiting for them when they get to the cabin.
- Headed back toward the motel where her friends are boozing, the narrator stops off at the store to get some food. She feels super-awkward speaking French to them, since apparently she has a "school accent" that marks her as not their kind. She wishes she had just pretended to be American.
- After leaving the store, she retrieves her friends from the motel bar. David, Anna, and Joe have made friends with the son's owner, Claude. Claude gets the narrator a beer.
- Joe asks if there was any news about her dad, and she says no. She tells the others she'd like to go down the lake for a couple of days, and they agree; David wants to do some fishing.
- We then learn that the narrator's plan is to run away without seeing her father—if they get there and find he's okay, that is. Apparently she doesn't want to talk to him about her failed marriage and divorce, which she thinks her parents never forgave her for.
- They get Evans, a local business owner, to run them down the lake to the island where the narrator's family cabin is.
- As they pull up to the dock by the cabin, the narrator remembers her brother drowning after falling off that dock. Yikes—there's a lot of sadness and drama going on with this family.
- The characters arrive at the cabin and settle in, as the narrator becomes immersed in memories and other thoughts about her family and childhood.
- She finds that the house doesn't look recently lived in.
- She goes out to the garden to get some food for them. Anna comes by looking for the outhouse.
- The narrator then goes inside and cooks dinner. Afterwards, they're thinking about stuff to do. David pulls out some pot and lights up.
- They then go outside to sit on the dock and hang out there.
- It's the next day and the narrator is waking up, thinking about her feelings for Joe (as well as the past). She rolls over and goes back to sleep.
- When she wakes back up, Joe is awake. They talk about the fact that he talked in his sleep the night before.
- When the narrator goes out to start the fire, she finds Anna there doing her makeup. The narrator assures her that she doesn't "need" makeup there. Anna claims David doesn't like to see her without it.
- The narrator then goes outside to collect some food from their various storage units and then goes in to make breakfast.
- After breakfast, they discuss the game plan for the day. It includes looking for the narrator's father.
- As they're washing the breakfast dishes, Anna and the narrator discuss marriage and divorce. Through their conversation, it's clear the narrator never told Anna (her supposed best friend?) about her baby.
- The four then set out together on the trail, which has all kinds of obstacles (dense foliage, mosquitos, etc.). After walking for a bit, the narrator tells the others she doesn't think anyone else (like her father) has passed through here.
- They head back, and the narrator realizes that it's going to be hard to find her father on the island.
- The narrator is reflecting that she's now fulfilled her duties by doing what she could to find her dad. They will leave the next day.
- The others are occupying themselves; Anna is sunbathing at the dock and the boys are in canoes.
- Meanwhile, the narrator is working. She is a commercial artist, and she's currently working on illustrations for a book of Quebec fairy tales. However, she's having some serious artist's block. We learn a bit more about how she got into that field.
- As she tries to work (unsuccessfully), she thinks about her upbringing, particularly in terms of religion.
- She also ends up thinking about Joe and her relationship with him.
- Anna comes back in and asks what her father was doing out here at the cabin, all isolated and such. The narrator doesn't really have a great answer.
- She reflects on how her life was divided when she lived out there; apparently, they went between the "company town" and the cabin.
- Also, there's this stack of papers up on a shelf that she saw when she arrived. Initially she hadn't wanted to go through it, but now that she had (apparently) decided her father was dead, she decides to peek.
- The papers aren't what she would have expected—they're drawings of weird creatures. This discovery makes her reconsider the "dead" theory. Perhaps, she thinks, her dad just went insane.
- Anna then asks what's for dinner, as the others arrive back inside.
- Since it's their last night at the cabin, David wants to go fishing. So, the narrator goes into the garden to collect some worms. She also gets a frog to bring along.
- They canoe out on the lake and try to catch fish, initially having zero luck. The worms aren't working, so eventually the narrator grabs the frog and puts it on David's line to use as bait. That does the trick and they get one.
- David then wants to try for some more, but has no luck. While they're still out, a boat with Claude and some Americans comes by. The Americans ask if they've caught anything, and the narrator says no.
- They then head back, and the narrator imagines what the rest of the evening will hold and what she'll do before she leaves.
- It's the next day, and Joe and the narrator are having sex before they start their day.
- Afterwards, the narrator gets up to prepare the fish, which has been hanging outside all night.
- They eat the fish for breakfast. Afterwards, the narrator goes into her room to pack.
- While she's in there, she hears David announce that he's having such a good time he wants to stay another week. Anna isn't too keen on it, but Joe is down.
- Listening to all this, the narrator is kind of wondering why no one is bothering to ask her, since, you know, it's her family's cabin.
- The narrator doesn't seem particularly inclined to stay, but she doesn't tell them that. She simply opens the door from her bedroom and reminds David that he'll still have to pay Evans for making the trip to get them (even though they're just going to send him back).
- When Evans comes, she lets David and Joe handle the explanations while she hides in the outhouse. While she's in there, she thinks a lot about the past.
- Eventually, David notices she's gone and comes to knock on the door to get her out.
- Before lunch, she tells the others she's going for a swim. She again refers back to when her brother drowned, but this time she mentions that he didn't actually die. Whew, way to bury that lede, nameless narrator.
- After thinking about all this, she forces herself into the cold lake.
Section 2, Chapter 9
- Tense Shift Alert: Although the narrator has been using the present tense to describe the trip so far, she now switches into the past tense. Hmm, we wonder what that's about…
- Even beyond the tense change, things are starting to get a little, well, weird. The narrator says, "I'm not sure when I began to suspect the truth, about myself and about them, what I was and what they were turning into" (9.2). We don't yet have enough context to have any idea of what that means.
- She then switches back into the present long enough to say she can currently hear the others talking and playing cards through a closed door.
- Then she goes back to the past tense, talking about "that day" when Evans came and left again when he was told the group was staying longer. She remembers that she was uneasy about staying the additional time.
- Then she describes finishing lunch, still in past tense: Joe had followed her out afterwards, apparently wanting to talk to her. However, David interrupted, and then he and Joe went off to chop some wood.
- She and Anna then went to weed the garden.
- While they were weeding, the narrator thought about the past. Anna interrupted her thoughts by asking her if she was on the pill. The narrator said no, and Anna said she'd had to stop because of a blood clot.
- This led the narrator into memories of childbirth, which sound far from pleasant.
- David and Joe reappeared with a log they had chopped down. David wanted to take some film of them with their log for Random Samples.
- That night, they had played bridge.
- When they went to bed, the narrator listened to the sounds of Anna and David having sex in the next room.
- The next day, the narrator was still feeling nervous about being there still.
- David went fishing from the dock in the morning while Anna read.
- The narrator tried to work, but she kept noticing that Joe was watching her. She asked what was up, but he denied having anything on his mind.
- After lunch, she suggested that they go pick blueberries.
- While they were out picking, Joe announced to the narrator that he thought they should get married. His proposal? "We might as well." Wow—color us not swooning.
- Anyway, she declined (of course). In response, he claimed that she didn't care about him. She denied that charge, but she still held strong on the "No."
- This led the narrator into memories of her first wedding, which is odd—probably doubly odd for Joe. In her retelling, her husband treated her more like an invalid than a bride.
- Then she got upset, telling Joe he was going to "ruin it" with all these questions and ideas. He then claimed that he wasn't "good enough" for her.
- Later, they ate blueberry pie outside (in a fenced-in enclosure that had been used to house the narrator's brother at some point). Joe, having finished, was playing in the sandbox with his back half away from the group. Pouty much?
- When the narrator got up to collect the dishes, David started complimenting her rear end. Joe's response was to say David could "have it." The narrator appeared to ignore all of this.
- When people came back inside, they settled into reading in the living room, and the narrator went into David and Anna's room to look for more magazines. While she was there, she looked through some of the family's old things, including an album and some scrapbooks.
- David eventually came in and inquired why she was in his bed, asking if she was a "customer." She apologized (lady, it's your house…) and left with the scrapbooks.
- Later that same night, when everyone went to bed, Joe was still annoyed with the narrator and refusing to be affectionate. He continued to ignore her (as well as the others) the next day.
- A bit later, Paul arrived in a boat to bring the narrator and her friends some veggies from his garden.
- There was another man with him named Malmstrom. He was an American. As a member of the Wildlife Protection Association of America (Detroit branch), he was interested in buying the narrator's cabin as a retreat for his fellow wildlife enthusiasts. She declined.
- She tried to give Paul some veggies from her father's garden in exchange, but the pickin's were slim.
- She explained to Paul that she couldn't sell because she believed her father was still alive. Paul didn't seem to believe her.
- Then the group had lunch, and the narrator explained to the others who the men who visited were, and what they wanted. This sent David into a rant about the "Yanks" and Canadian Nationalism.
- David then made some complimentary comments about the narrator's physical appearance and told Anna she was getting too fat.
- While Anna and the narrator were doing dishes, Anna called her husband a "schmuck." The narrator, inexplicably, asked what was "wrong" that would make her say that.
- This led into a conversation about David's roving eye (which has been roving over to the narrator, as we already know) and infidelities, and how he justifies it to her.
- The narrator, who seemed baffled by the situation and disappointed that David and Anna didn't have the solid marriage she had thought they had, thanked Anna for the intel. Anna kindly assured the narrator that David's attentions were all about her (Anna) and not the narrator. Um, how nice and comforting.
- At some point after that heartwarming heart-to-heart with Anna, the narrator headed out with the slop pail. While there, she encountered Joe sulking on the dock. On her way back in, she met Anna (who was on her way out).
- Back inside, David started hitting on her again. She put him off, so he left.
- She then resumed her search for family papers. She decided to go through the stack of her father's drawings more thoroughly to see if any were in there.
- In the process, she came across a letter to her father. It seems that he had been corresponding with an academic about some rock paintings, sending the professor photographs and tracings. As a result of this discovery, she realized that her father's crazy drawings weren't from his imagination; they were copies of rock paintings. Having found proof that he was sane, she once again believed that he was dead.
- She then realized that some notes and numbers on the drawings were location codes. She decided she wanted to go to the places indicated she could decipher and verify that the drawings were there.
- Then, Anna came in and asked what was wrong with Joe. The narrator explained the situation and then went outside to talk to him.
- She asked him if they could just go back to the city and pick up where they left off. He claimed he wanted a straight answer about whether the narrator loved him first. She wasn't able to tell him that, exactly, and so they fought.
- She left him there to go back inside, where she looked at a photo album.
- On what is apparently the next day, the group went out in the canoe again. That morning, prior to going out, Joe and the narrator had decided that she would move out of their joint apartment when they returned to the city.
- They stopped on another island to have lunch.
- While they were out there, some Americans went by in a boat. David got up and yelled "Pigs!" at them, but he wasn't audible over the motor of their boat, so they just smiled and waved.
- They then set off again and headed to a portage (a place where you can carry your boat over land). They came across some surveyors along the way. They portaged the canoes, and the narrator promised that they were going to see an Indian rock painting.
- When they reached a second portage, they came across a rotting heron that had been strung up upside down and was getting very smelly. Ew.
- David was excited about the discovery of the dead bird and wanted to film it. While he set up the camera, the narrator thought about who had killed the heron and why—the bird clearly hadn't been eaten or used for any other purpose. She attributed the violence to the Americans they'd seen coming by on the boat.
- They then took the second portage to the "lac des verges blanches."
- They set up the camp and then headed out fishing, leaving Anna behind. David caught a fish.
- While they were out, the Americans came by to chat with them. When they were done and had caught a few fish, they went back to the camp. Anna freaked out to the narrator that she had forgotten her makeup, which she swore David would punish her for. This led into more talk between Anna and the narrator about her marriage.
- Later that night, when Joe and the narrator were in their tent together, Joe said he was giving in, and they could just go back to the city and resume living the way they had been. However, the narrator was no longer willing to do that, which made him really mad.
- In the middle of the night, Joe had a nightmare. The narrator tried to comfort him, but he wasn't really having it, since he was mad at her.
- She got up in the morning and woke the others. She started preparing the fish and coffee for breakfast.
- They then headed out to find the rock painting. However, it wasn't there, so they headed back.
- Along the way, they came across the Americans—who turned out not to be Americans at all; in fact, they were both from different parts of Ontario. However, the narrator still thought they had killed the blue heron, so she still thought of them as "Americans" (who, judging from this and David's hatred, have quite the bad reputation for bad behavior in Canada). Heading back to the cabin, the narrator was immersed in memories of her family and her brother.
- On the sixth day, the narrator resolved to "find out" (presumably about the rock paintings) before Evans came to get them the next day.
- She had re-checked the map and decided that she hadn't made a mistake—the x's on her dad's map might also mean these were places that were "suitable for paintings but hadn't examined yet."
- She decided to check another point on the map, the cliff where they had gone fishing on the first evening. She would have to dive down to see if there was a drawing there.
- Heading outside, she stopped before reaching the dock, noticing David and Anna in the middle of an argument (with Joe kind of looking on). David wanted Anna to take her bikini off for the camera, alternately insulting her body and then asking why she was ashamed to show it off for his film project.
- Joe said he should leave her alone, but David told him to shut up. Anna eventually agreed under duress. After undressing, she went and jumped into the water, crying and panting. She then went into the cabin, passing the narrator without a word.
- The narrator then headed down to the canoe. She and David talked about his behavior, and he tried to offer excuses. She got in the canoe while they were talking, and he offered to come with. She declined.
- She headed for the cliff in the canoe. When she reached the right spot, she got in the water.
- After a couple of unsuccessful dives down trying to spot the painting, she finally did see something, but it wasn't exactly what she expected.
- Things get pretty abstract from there, but the narrator describes what she saw as follows: "It was there but it wasn't a painting, it wasn't on the rock. It was below me, drifting towards me from the furthest level where there was no life, a dark oval trailing limbs. It was blurred but it had eyes, they were open, it was something I knew about, a dead thing, it was dead" (17.8). Hmm, now what does that mean?
- She surfaced and found that Joe had rowed out in the other canoe to find her.
- She lay out on the bottom of the canoe and thought about what she'd seen. She claimed that the figure swimming beneath her had been a fetus she aborted. She then realizes that this is child she has been referring to this entire novel: "I knew when it was, it was in a bottle curled up, staring out at me like a cat pickled; it had huge jelly eyes and fins instead of hands, fish gills, I couldn't let it out, it was dead already, it had drowned in air. It was there when I woke up, suspended in the air above me like a chalice, an evil grail and I thought, Whatever it is, part of myself or a separate creature, I killed it. It wasn't a child but it could have been one, I didn't allow it" (17.14).
- She then admits that that memory is a little off as well—she never actually saw the fetus. She slowly pieces together what actually (?) happened:
- She had apparently come up with a fake memory or series of memories to cover up the pain and unpleasantness of this segment of her life.
- From there, we get some more revisions to the memories she has been relaying to us. We learn that the dude she was supposedly married to was actually married to someone else. She had worn a ring as a cover, it seems. He hadn't been with her for the procedure, but he came to get her afterwards. From some of the key details about the day (for example, the fountain she and her "husband" see while exiting the clinic), it becomes clear that the narrator's memory of getting married was actually of the day she had the abortion, which explains why her "husband" was treating her like an "invalid" (or rather, a patient) as they left the building. She claims she couldn't go home after that and blew out of town, apparently just sending her parents a postcard afterwards from her destination. They never found out what had happened.
- That's all the memory revision for now. Joe asked her if she was okay. She didn't answer. She just kept thinking about the past.
- Also, she thought she understood her dad's map now—he had started out looking for existing paintings, but then he had discovered "new oracles" (17.26) that made him see that kind of revelatory visions that she encountered underwater.
- She then decided to leave an offering, paddling toward a stone shelf where she could leave her sweatshirt.
- Joe had followed, asking again if she was okay. Finally she said yes. He kissed her, to which she responded that she didn't love him, but apparently he didn't hear that. He tried to get her to have sex, but she refused. She explained by saying that she would get pregnant, since it was the "right time" for that kind of thing (17.38). So, rejected yet again, he left her there.
- Now she was back in the cabin, remembering the dude she now realized hadn't been her husband.
- She then decided that it would make sense for her mother to have left her some kind of token for her, since her dad had "left" her the drawings. She started out looking for it, running into David (who was looking for Anna) along the way. Not wanting to interact with him, she headed for the trail. He followed.
- He then propositioned her for sex, but she declined. He tried to convince her by telling her that Joe and Anna were off engaging in their own "extracurriculars," so why shouldn't they? She still declined, and he got insulting with her before recovering his phony composure and saying he admired her restraint (and asking her not to tell Anna).
- Later, they all sat around the dinner table. Somehow, when the subject of David hitting on the narrator came up, David and Anna ended up joining forces to rag on the narrator for being a cold prude. Anna claimed Joe had told her Anna wasn't putting out anymore. Then, David and Anna called her a man-hater and inhuman. With friends like these—right?
- After dinner, Anna offered to do the dishes. Meanwhile, the narrator went in search of the gift she was sure her mother had left for her. She came to the conclusion that the gift was in the scrapbooks.
- While that was going on, a boat arrived down at the dock. Joe, Anna, and David talked to the four men who had arrived (two official-looking gentlemen, plus men she believed to be Claude and Paul).
- David then ran up to the cabin to tell the narrator that some American dudes had found her father's body in the lake. Paul had identified it.
- The narrator seemed to be in denial about the news, thinking that David was trying to trick her to be mean. In order to avoid giving them the "satisfaction" of seeing her riled, she declined David's suggestion that she talk to the men. She told David to tell Paul she would come see him the next day to make arrangements for her father's burial.
- Then she went into the other room and resumed looking at the scrapbook. She was sure that her mother's gift was there. A picture, one she had made as a child, fell out, which she supposed to be the "gift."
- Tense Shift Alert (again): This brings us back up to the narrator's "present," where she is sitting in her room listening to the others in the next room. She continues from here using the present tense. (Let's hope she finds a tense she likes and sticks with it.)
Section 3, Chapter 20
- When Joe comes to bed, she decides it's time to get frisky. She leads him outside, and they have sex. She reveals that she's trying to get pregnant.
- Afterwards, Joe assures her that his earlier tryst with Anna didn't mean anything. Also, he says he loves her, and wants to know if she feels the same way.
- The next morning, Joe and the narrator wake up late. Joe starts trying to get busy again, but she cuts that off quickly and gets up.
- They get ready to leave. David discusses what will happen with his film, and then Anna suggests that they shoot the narrator (in the cinematic sense, that is). David realizes they don't have her on film yet—and that they haven't filmed anyone having sex—so he suggests that he and the narrator do that while Joe films. It appears that he's joking, and he and Joe soon go off to put away one of the canoes before the boat comes to pick them up.
- While they're off doing that, the narrator starts taking David's film out and throwing it in the lake. She then hops in the remaining canoe and takes off without the rest of them, hiding until the boat has taken her "friends" away. She then comes and realizes she's alone.
- Now that the narrator has successfully guaranteed herself some "me" time at her family cabin, she just needs to figure out how to get back in (since her trio of "friends" locked up after themselves). She breaks in through a window.
- Things get pretty abstract from here, but the bottom line appears to be that the narrator wants to try to connect with her deceased parents and "bring them back" (22.16).
- She eats dinner. Then, she visits the outhouse. Along the way, she feels afraid and threatened by an unnamed force.
- Later, she worries that the others are going to come back for her.
- In the middle of the night, she wakes up with a sense that people are outside trying to get in, but she's too afraid (and unsure of who might actually be there) to "let" them.
- The next day, the narrator carries out a series of actions and behaviors out of a sense of "what is required" (23.8)—that is, to bring her parents back (presumably). Among the highlights:
- She burns her drawings for the Quebec Folk Tales book.
- She throws the fake wedding ring her "husband" had given her into the fire.
- She tears up the scrapbooks.
- She throws the map and her father's drawings of the rock painting into the fire, as well as some photographs.
- She smashes all the glasses and plates and the lamp. Anything she can't break gets thrown on the floor.
- She slashes things like coats and blankets with a knife.
- After that's all done (whew), she goes out—carrying only a blanket—and gets in the water. There, she takes off her clothes and lets them float there.
- She comes to believe that certain actions or places are now "forbidden" to her (23.17), so she has certain limitations on where she can be and where she can pursue food. Within those boundaries, she manages to find herself some lunch.
- Then, she makes herself a "lair" outside near the woodpile and hides there.
- The next day, the "rules" governing her new animal life mean that she's not allowed in the garden to get food. The reason? The gate to it is shut. Okay then...
- From this, and from the other "rules" she had sniffed out the previous day, she realizes that "they" can't be anywhere enclosed, which is why she can't be in the cabin or the garden anymore.
- So, she forages for food outside.
- As the day progresses, she says her vision has somehow changed—for example, she can now see through her own skin. It all sounds a little bit like a hallucination. Well, she did eat some mushrooms the day before…
- A bit later, she sees her mother in front of the cabin. As the narrator walks toward her, she (the mother) disappears.
- The next day, the narrator is woken up by the sound of a boat approaching. She's afraid, lamenting, "They'll mistake me for a human being, a naked woman wrapped in a blanket: possibly that's what they've come here for, if it's running around loose, ownerless, why not take it. They won't be able to tell what I really am. But if they guess my true form, identity, they will shoot me or bludgeon in my skill and hang me up by the feet from a tree" (25.3). So, she hides and watches them.
- She sees four or five people arrive. She thinks she spots Joe, but she's not sure she would recognize him at this point.
- While hiding and watching, she starts laughing audibly at them, which sends the visitors in her direction. She wonders who they are, in her mind throwing out the names David, Joe, Claude, Evans, and Malmstrom. Whoever they are, she runs away from them and waits until they leave to return to the cabin.
- When she gets there, she sees someone she thinks is her father standing there. She approaches and says "Father," but when he turns around, it seems (to her) that she's mistaken: "He turns towards me and it's not my father. It is what my father saw, the thing you meet when you've stayed here too long alone" (25.20).
- She comes to the conclusion that while this vision isn't her father, it is what he has become. So she knows that he's dead.
- That night, she makes another lair and sleeps there.
- The next morning, she awakes knowing that "they have gone finally, back into the earth, the air, the water, wherever they were when I summoned them" (26.2). As a result, all those rules are over and she can do whatever she wants.
- So, she heads back to the cabin, where she thinks about what to do next and eats. She considers heading back to the city.
- She appears to be where we left her in the previous chapter. She resolves not to be a victim and to feel powerless, which means she has to acknowledge that she is capable of hurting other people. Apparently, that's a pretty major revelation for her.
- She goes back into her room and gets dressed in her (slashed) clothes.
- She thinks about the baby she believes is in her belly, which she suggests might actually end up being the "first true human" (27.3).
- When she's outside in the garden, she hears a boat arrive. It's Paul and Joe.
- Joe gets out and calls for her. She thinks about what to do, saying that her "love for him" is useless. Wait, now she loves him?
- She considers what will happen if she goes with him. She's not sure if she should, but she does say, "But he isn't an American, I can see that now; he isn't anything, he is only half-formed, and for that reason I can trust him" (27.9). Half-formed? What a compliment.
- As he calls for her and seems to get increasingly annoyed, she watches him.