Chapters 30–35

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Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1172

Chapter 30: Hand of the Almighty

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Back at Cambridge, Tara's academic and practical education continues. She begins to study feminist theory for the first time, embracing proto-feminist works by Mary Wollstonecraft and John Stuart Mill as validation of her own internal conflict as both a woman and a scholar.

Returning home to Buck's Peak at Christmas, she finds that the family house has expanded significantly. Gene has been crediting his miraculous recovery to Faye's essential oils, and business is booming. "Our oils are so good," he tells Tara joyfully, "we've started eating into the profits of the large corporate producers. They know all about them Westovers in Idaho."

One particularly cold, snowy evening, Emily turns up barefoot and crying at the Westover home. She tells them that she and Shawn had a fight and that he locked her out of their trailer. Tara, embarrassed that Richard's wife is witnessing this moment, tells her they should leave and let Gene handle it. They do, and Gene calls Shawn and insists that he come get Emily. Gene lectures Shawn and sends them both home.

Chapter 31: Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

Tara returns to Cambridge after Christmas and pushes herself beyond her sphere of comfort. She buys contemporary clothing, actively befriends the other students, and has a very successful academic term. When she hands in an essay on John Stuart Mill, her supervisor encourages her to consider pursuing a Ph.D. At the next break, she even joins several other students for a week in Rome.

She returns to campus to find an unexpected email from her sister, Audrey. With candor, she tells Tara how much she regrets not stopping Shawn before he could do to Tara what he'd done to her. "When my own mother didn't believe me," she says, "I stopped believing myself." She informs Tara that she intends to confront the family, and she hopes they can unite to do it together. Tara agrees but asks Audrey to wait until she can return to Idaho.

Before long, Tara hears from Faye, too. Audrey has shared Tara's confirmation with her. "It's painful to face reality," Faye tells Tara, "to realize that there was something ugly, and I refused to see it." Astonished by her mother's open admission, Tara tells her how worried she is for Emily. Faye is, too, and together they agree to address the situation. 

Chapter 32: A Brawling Woman in a Wide House

Tara returns to Buck's Peak that autumn as Grandma-down-the-hill is losing her battle with bone cancer. Drew, Tara's new long-distance boyfriend, meets her at the airport and takes her to the hospital to see her grandmother one last time. When they arrive at the Westover home afterward, they find it bustling with activity. Faye's remedies are so successful that the family has hired a full complement of staff.

The family receives word that Grandma-down-the-hill has passed. Gene becomes volatile and depressed, arguing constantly with the staff, his children, and Faye. Tara finds her mother crying in the bathroom, and they share an embrace.

Chapter 33: Sorcery of Physics

Tara returns to Cambridge a week later, despite Audrey's protestations. Shawn is too strong to handle alone, she tells Tara. Tara reminds Audrey that Faye is on their side, and Audrey tells her she isn't. Tara brushes her off, insisting that their parents have changed.

Though she feels more and more at home at Cambridge with friends, colleagues, and now Drew, who has moved, Tara is haunted by the nagging feeling that she has somehow betrayed Buck's Peak by leaving. She struggles to reconcile her feelings toward her chosen family with her feelings toward her genetic one. "No natural sister should love a stranger more than a brother," she worries, "and what sort of daughter prefers a teacher to her own father?"

Tara returns to Buck's Peak for Christmas, and Shawn asks her if she'd like to go for milkshakes. Shortly before they return home, Shawn takes a sharp turn and swerves into a parking lot. "You talk much to Audrey?" he demands. Tara says no, and he tells Tara what a liar her sister is. "I'd put a bullet in her head," he remarks. He then asks a silent Tara if she'd like to watch a movie.

Chapter 34: The Substance of Things

Tara approaches Gene, intent on telling him about Shawn's threats toward Audrey, but Gene takes Shawn's side. Angry at her for speaking out against her brother, Gene demands proof. "You don't need proof," Tara tells him. "You've seen it." Furious, Gene accuses her of coming back from Cambridge just to cause trouble. Tara looks at Faye for help. When her mother won't make eye contact with her, she realizes she’s on her own.

Distraught, Tara runs to the bathroom to collect herself. Staring at her reflection, she sees just how far she has come since she left home for college. It is the same mirror she has stared into for years, but she is not the same person. She is a woman, and she has made conscious and active choices to shape her life to her will.

Gene tells Tara that Shawn is on his way and demands she sit back down. Shawn arrives, sitting down next to Tara, and drops a knife into her hand. On it is a smear of blood. "If you're smart," he tells her, "you'll use this on yourself. Because it will be better than what I'll do to you if you don't."

Gene begins a long lecture, but Tara can't focus on much of what he's saying. She notes only that he mentions that little girls need to learn how to behave properly around men. When he's finished, Shawn tells Tara he's sorry to have hurt her. They hug, and Tara fakes a smile.

Chapter 35: West of the Sun

When Tara returns to campus after the new year, she's shaken by her experience in Buck's Peak and her anxiety causes her to withdraw. "I had seen the earth tremble, felt the preliminary shock," she recalls, and "now I waited for the seismic event that would transform the landscape."

In early March, it happens. She gets an email from Shawn and then a phone call. "I can't decide whether I should kill you myself, or hire an assassin," he tells her. Her parents, when she calls them later, are cavalier. "He didn't mean it," Faye tells her. "Anyway, he doesn't have that kind of money."

Before long, Tara receives another email from Shawn. This one, she learns, is to inform her that he's cutting her out of his life for good. Despite the acrimony of their relationship, Tara is surprised to find that she mourns its loss.

That summer, Tara hears from Audrey again as well. Their father has testified to her, she reports, and she has been cleansed. She says that she has forgiven Shawn, who is now a new man, and it is God’s will that Tara should forgive him too. Until then, Tara is no longer welcome in Audrey's home.

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Chapters 36–40