Chapters 36–40

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Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 837

Chapter 36: Four Long Arms Whirling

Tara arrives at Harvard in September for a visiting fellowship and soon receives an email from Faye. She and Gene are planning a visit, she tells her, and they intend to stay in her dorm. When they arrive, Tara realizes the purpose of the...

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Chapter 36: Four Long Arms Whirling

Tara arrives at Harvard in September for a visiting fellowship and soon receives an email from Faye. She and Gene are planning a visit, she tells her, and they intend to stay in her dorm. When they arrive, Tara realizes the purpose of the trip: they intend to convert her and take her home. She considers allowing them to do so, but she can't accept that the sacrifice would erase her own experience. "All I had to do was swap my memories for theirs," she recalls, "and I could have my family."

They visit a holy Mormon site together, and Gene is upset to see that it seems to mean so little to Tara. She then takes them to see Niagara Falls, where the mood is lighter, but Tara still won't acquiesce. On their last night at Harvard, Gene asks if he can bestow a priesthood blessing on Tara to cast out her demons. To his chagrin, she refuses. Furious, Gene and Faye leave to spend their last night elsewhere.

Chapter 37: Gambling for Redemption

Tara struggles with her coursework in the midst of a depression, and by December, she is far enough behind in her work that her Ph.D. is in jeopardy. Wondering if she made a mistake in refusing her father's blessing, she decides to surprise the family by returning to Buck's Peak for Christmas.

When she arrives at the Westover home, she sits down at the family computer to let Drew know she has arrived safely. But before she can navigate to a browser, she sees that her mother has just sent an email about her: "My poor child has given herself over to fear[...] I do not know if she is a danger to our family, but I have reasons to think she might be." With this, Tara realizes that there's nothing left in Buck's Peak for her to save. Taking the only thing she needs from the house—her journals—she leaves. She gets a call from Tyler, who has just heard from Faye, and is surprised to learn that he believes Tara's side of the story.

Tara returns and finishes her fellowship at Harvard in the spring. Still struggling upon her arrival back at Cambridge, she writes her parents to inform them she's cutting off contact.

Chapter 38: Strangers and Pilgrims

While Tara is struggling to keep up with her doctoral work, Tyler confronts Gene. At first, Tyler’s efforts seem promising, but they soon backfire, as they did for Tara. Gene yells at him, Shawn threatens him, and Faye ignores him. Tara braces herself for the result that she feels is inevitable: Tyler will disown her as well.

Shortly thereafter, she receives a copy of a letter Tyler has written to her parents. Expecting to see him denounce her, she's surprised by what she reads. Tyler corroborates Tara's accusations and condemns the manipulation and abuse that goes on within the family.

Tara enrolls in the university's counseling service and begins to catch up with her coursework. Soon, she has narrowed the focus of her dissertation to something familiar: varying ideological perspectives on family obligation. She celebrates her twenty-seventh birthday by submitting it, and when she defends it in December, she passes.

Chapter 39: Watching the Buffalo

Tara returns to Idaho as Grandma-over-in-town begins to succumb to Alzheimer's. Tara visits, and then asks Faye if she might like to come out to see Grandma-over-in-town as well. "A wife does not go where her husband is not welcome," Faye responds.

On Mother's Day, Grandma-over-in-town dies. Tara asks her mother's estranged sister Angie if she might stay there until the funeral, and Angie welcomes her in. Tara begins spending time with her mother's siblings. Getting to know them helps her know her grandmother, too. "With every story my grandmother came into sharper focus," she recalls. "In the space of a day, I had reclaimed a family—not mine, hers."

At the funeral, Tara stands in the corner and observes her family as they file in. She talks to Luke and exchanges smiles with Richard. Audrey stops only long enough to condemn her for refusing to see their father. Shawn refuses to make eye contact.

Chapter 40: Educated

Tara reflects on the years that have passed, noting that she hasn't seen her parents since her grandmother's funeral. In the time since, she has come to understand the struggle between them with newfound grace:

When my father was in my life, wrestling me for control of that life, I perceived him with the eyes of a soldier, through a fog of conflict. I could not make out his tender qualities… I can only remember those things now, with a span of miles and years between us.

As she closes the memoir, she considers how she, too, has changed—how the work she has put in has amounted to not only an education but an identity. "You could call this selfhood many things," she reflects. "Transformation. Metamorphosis. Falsity. Betrayal. I call it an education."

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Chapters 30–35