Good Neighbors (Pages 13-21)

News of a scandal involving Walter Berglund and his shady business practices comes as a surprise to the Ramsey Hill community in St. Paul, Minnesota. Walter had always been both incredibly moral and concerned about the environment (his scandal involved corruption with the coal industry). Still, when the Ramsey Hill community reflects back, not everything about the Berglunds was as picture-perfect as it might seem. The story flashes back to the early days of Ramsey Hill when Walter and his wife, Patty, first move to the neighborhood.

In a way, the Berglunds are the forefront of a gentrification movement in Ramsey Hill. They buy an old Victorian house in an otherwise disreputable neighborhood and then slowly and meticulously renovate it. As a young mother to two children, Joe and Jessica, Patty becomes an integral social force in the neighborhood. She seems unfazed by the rougher constituency in her neighborhood, and her friendliness helps her ongoing efforts to improve the community. As more and more people move to Ramsey Hill (and continue its collective renovation), Patty befriends them and helps out whenever she can. Patty finds it nearly impossible to speak ill of any of her neighbors, instead preferring to make self-deprecating comments. Patty’s closed-mouth approach to neighborly relations includes even Carol Monaghan, the last remnant of pre-gentrified Ramsey Hill. Carol is a trashy single mother whose existence is partially funded by the public figure who fathered her daughter, Connie; he continues to pay Carol to prevent his family from discovering his indiscretion. Patty regularly babysits Connie, and overlooks Carol’s overt flirtations with Walter. Patty was once an athlete, before a career-ending injury. She hails from New York, where her mother is a state assemblywoman; however, Patty rarely speaks of them and does not seem to leave St. Paul to visit them or anyone else.

Instead, Patty invests all of her energy in her children. As the children begin to grow up (in the 1980s and 1990s), Jessica develops into a well-rounded girl who succeeds in most of her endeavors. Unfortunately, Patty dotes on Joey—sometimes at the expense of Jessica. From an early age, Joe is a precocious child, and Patty finds his difficult nature charming instead of trying to correct it. Joe regularly contests his parent’s authority, starting from a young age, which Patty complains and brags about in equal measure. The consensus in the neighborhood is that Patty is too permissive and Walter’s intense work schedule keeps him away from the home too much to allow him to intervene.

Good Neighbors (Pages 22-34)

Merrie Paulson prides herself on being the one person in the neighborhood who sees through Patty’s warm exterior. A decade older than the Berglunds, Merrie frequently reminds her husband, Seth, of Patty’s shortcomings. This becomes especially important to her when she registers that Seth finds Patty attractive. Frequently after Patty stops by, Merrie will find something critical to say about Patty. By the late 1990s, the kids grow up, and Joey becomes increasingly resistant to authority, especially his father’s. Walter is beside himself when Joey gets in trouble for selling marked-up watches at school, especially when the boy’s only regret is that his newfound income has been halted. Patty finds Joey’s resistance humorous, and Merrie notes Patty’s tendency to turn a blind eye to her son’s faults. For example, as teenagers, Joey and Connie Monaghan begin a sexual relationship. Despite the fact that Patty still watches Connie while her mother, Carol, is at work, Patty does not observe Connie’s doting on Joey.

Patty doesn’t catch wind of Joey’s relationship with Connie until Walter’s mother falls ill. When the old woman collapses and has to be hospitalized, Joey throws an orgiastic party at the house, much to Jessica’s chagrin. When their parents return, Patty learns of some of her son’s activities and promptly blames Connie and her mother, Carol. In response, Patty begins to canvas the neighborhood complaining about the Monaghans. Patty, who was once known for remembering the birthdays of all the kids in the neighborhood, is now regularly avoided by neighbors tired of her ranting. To reconnect with her son, Patty schedules a getaway the following summer. Walter’s mother left him a house on a lake that Walter decided to keep as a family retreat. Since the lake is mostly unknown except to locals, Patty refers to it as Nameless Lake. Patty takes Joey up for most of the summer, where he works at refurbishing and restoring the house. Merrie and other neighbors wonder if Patty has to pay her son to get him to agree to this quality time.

Carol, meanwhile, has found herself a steady boyfriend after years of weekend partying and short-term gentlemen guests. As a result, she cleans herself up, dresses more discreetly, and takes a greater interest in town politics. Her new boyfriend, Blake, is a construction worker who is considerably younger than she is. When Patty returns from her summer vacation with Joey, she is disgruntled to find out that Carol has bought her home after years of renting, which means she has become a more permanent fixture in the neighborhood.

Good Neighbors (Pages 35-48)

Carol’s entrenchment in Ramsey Hill exacerbates Patty’s volatile behavior and she becomes increasingly hostile towards Carol, Connie, and especially Blake. While Patty was away, Blake began an extensive addition onto the back of Carol’s house since she is now its owner. The construction is noisy and often continues into the night. Walter, who frequently works late, takes little notice and the Paulsens don’t want to get involved; however, Patty is driven to distraction by the racket. She repeatedly confronts Blake about the noise and he dismisses her. When she calls the police on several occasions, they stop by but take no real action. Patty is now not the only one trolling the neighborhood looking for information and spreading gossip; Carol makes it a point to deliver her side of the story to her neighbors as well.

The tension between the two households builds to a head when Joey informs his parents that he is going to move next door and live in Carol’s house now that the addition is nearly done. Walter, who tends to explode during conflict with his son, repeatedly attempts to wield his authority only to have Joey dismiss it. Patty, now on the verge of a breakdown, also screams at Joey to no avail. Eventually, Joey moves into the addition, only stopping by home when necessary or for brief stays around the holidays. Carol paints the story as an act of charity on her part, noting Patty’s apparent instability. She also voices the opinion shared by many in the neighborhood that Walter has never asserted full control over either his wife or his son. The neighbors note the odd new arrangement, which includes an unsettling sexual tension between Joey and Carol.

The next summer, a despondent Patty spends time alone at the Lake House and shortly thereafter, Joey heads off to school. The neighborhood is both surprised and unsurprised when the Berglunds put their house on the market just days after 9/11. Walter’s career with the Nature Conservancy led to a prestigious job in Washington. Walter, ever polite and dutiful, escorts Patty around the neighborhood to say goodbye to all of the families. The prospect of moving seems to have renewed Patty, even though they have to sell their house at a low price because of the poor housing market. Seth and Merrie, who is now running for city council, wonder what will become of the Berglunds, noting that they both seem so ill-suited to each other.

Agreeable (Pages 49-62)

The story flashes back to Patty’s childhood in New York; what follows is an autobiography Patty has written of her life based on her therapist’s recommendation; she has tentatively titled the work Mistakes Were Made. Patty is one of four children and always feels like an outsider growing up, both at school and in her own home. Patty grows up to be tall and athletic, which often makes her stand out uncomfortably among her less developed peers. As a result, athletics become an important part of her life. She excels at them, and her size is put to good use. Patty’s mother, Joyce, is a state politician who is always obsessed with appearances. Though she is of Jewish descent, Joyce hides her ancestry by using her married name and attempting to downplay her accent. She frequently finds Patty’s athletic pursuits unladylike, and rebukes Patty for the aggression she displays during games.

Patty’s father, Ray Emerson, is an attorney whose career puts him in contact with lots of shady characters. Ray also has a penchant for mockery and aims his humor primarily at Patty. As a result of his constant jabs, Patty develops the opinion that her intelligence is lower than average. Ray also regularly makes fun of Eulalie, the Barbadian housekeeper who lives in their basement. This mortifies Patty, who is very close to Eulalie. Patty’s siblings are all artistically inclined (and largely disinclined in all other areas), and Joyce frequently marvels at their abilities while virtually ignoring Patty.

Patty develops an agreeable personality as a result of her parents’ dismissiveness. She has no trouble making friends, but finds boys more challenging. One night, Patty decides to attend a party with some of her friends. While at the party, she gets extremely drunk, which is a first for Patty. Later in the party, a senior named Ethan Post takes her to a secluded place and rapes her. The virginal Patty is unsure what is happening, but starts to fight as Ethan becomes more violent. The still inebriated Patty arrives home late and goes to sleep in the room she shares with her little sister. It is only the next morning, when her head is clearer, that she fully comprehends she was raped. She weeps silently in the shower and then goes to see the one person she feels like she can tell: her coach. Mrs. Nagel, Patty’s coach, is shocked by the violence Patty endured and wants to make sure that Patty is okay. She tells Patty that she should go to the hospital to get a full examination; afterwards, she recommends Patty press charges against Ethan for rape. She then calls Patty’s mother to explain the situation. Despite Mrs. Nagel’s recommendations, Joyce and Ray have other plans about how to deal with Patty’s situation.

Agreeable (Pages 63-75)

Joyce soon arrives and picks up Patty to take her home. During the drive home, Joyce questions Patty about the night’s events and Joyce’s hypothetical language reveals that she doesn’t want to believe Patty was raped. Patty immediately understands the source of Joyce’s hesitation: the Posts are major political figures who help fund Joyce’s campaigns. If Patty were to file charges against their son, it would compromise Joyce’s political career. Joyce asks Patty if she would be satisfied if Ethan simply apologized for his actions. Patty informs her mother that Ethan did apologize after it was over, but it wasn’t particularly meaningful to Patty and didn’t make her being raped okay.

Once they arrive home, they tell Ray about Patty, and he initially seems more outraged than Patty’s mother. Despite Patty’s reiteration of Coach Nagel’s recommendation that she go to the hospital, Joyce takes Patty to see Dr. Sipperstein, her pediatrician. Dr. Sipperstein examines Patty to make sure that she is okay; he tells her not to base her opinions of sex on this horrible experience. Ray, meanwhile, is resistant to the idea of pressing charges against Ethan. He explains to Patty that Posts are a wealthy family; they most likely will hire the best lawyers whose strategy will be to prolong and delay the trial until Patty’s family runs out of money. For this reason, Ray recommends to Patty that they try to handle it privately. While she is being examined by Dr. Sipperstein, Ray calls Chester Post, Ethan’s father.

When Patty returns home, Ray explains to his daughter that Ethan (through his father, Chester) has denied the allegations. Ethan maintains it was consensual sex that was a little rough. Patty desperately wants her father to stand up for her, but he explains it won’t do any good. Patty was at a party full of Ethan’s friends who saw them together for most of the night; Patty fought Ethan but didn’t scream, which means no one heard her; Ethan used contraception, which will make it look more consensual; Ethan has a good reputation, and the fact that he drove Patty home makes it look like a date. Despite his daughter’s outrage, Ray tells Patty to forget about it and have a great senior year (instead of a messy, invasive trial if she pressed charges).

Patty’s senior year is full of athletic successes; she regularly breaks athletic records in a variety of sports. Towards the end of her year, Joyce runs for assemblywoman and the Posts host a fundraiser at their home. Joyce pretends to ask Patty if it is okay, but goes ahead with the fundraiser and even makes Patty attend. The event culminates in group photo with both families; Patty declines to participate.

Best Friends (Pages 76-90)

In college, Patty dives headfirst into athletics and proves to be as successful as she was in high school, particularly at basketball. She was offered a number of athletic scholarships at prestigious East Coast Universities, but decides to go to Minnesota both to be away from her parents and punish them with the school’s lack of prestige. Early in her first year, Patty meets Eliza, an odd young woman who has seen her play and marvels at her skills. Eliza seems to have no interest in athletics, but a distinct interest in befriending Patty. They run into each other several times before Patty even learns her name. Patty is initially flattered by the attention Eliza offers and becomes her friend. Eliza is an indifferent student who favors partying and dates with various pseudo-boyfriends to completing her studies. She also has little use for Patty’s athletic friends and refers to them as lesbians; she seems most happy when she and Patty hang out together alone. Part of the way Eliza insinuates herself into Patty’s life is by recognizing Patty’s personality. She chides Patty for being too vulnerable when she catches Patty off-guard and is able to guess that she is a rape survivor. Patty assumes that her unguarded nature is part of what makes her a good player because she keeps her mind clear and focused.

At the end of the year, Eliza is bummed that Patty is going home for the summer to work for her father. Eliza cannot imagine how Patty could have fun living with her family whom she knows Patty doesn’t like very much. Nevertheless, Patty returns home for an uneventful summer (and a much-needed break from Eliza). While she is away, Eliza writes to her obsessively, regardless of Patty’s less frequent responses. One of Patty’s artsy sisters, Abigail, mocks Eliza’s obsessive letter-writing and suggests that Patty is a lesbian; as always, Patty feels isolated from her sisters, who obviously look down on her.

One of Eliza’s near-daily letters includes a detailed series of rules for their friendship, including that Patty should only drink in Eliza’s company and run any major decisions by Eliza. Patty, playing along, sends rules to Eliza about reducing her smoking, exercising more, and attending her classes regularly. The girls are reunited in the fall and are given the first opportunity to see what, if any, impact the new rules of their friendship will have.

Best Friends (Pages 91-100)

In the fall, Patty begins another successful athletic year and begins to date Carter, who may or may not be an ex of Eliza’s. Patty’s busy sports schedule leaves her with limited availability, but this doesn’t present a problem for Carter. Often, their dates will consist of an afternoon or evening of sex during one of Patty’s infrequent windows of free time. Patty likes the casualness of the relationship, but finds herself liking Carter more than casually. She decides not to think about the possibility that Carter might have any other casual sex partners with no strings attached.

In April, Patty decides to return early from Spring Break to surprise Carter. When she shows up at Carter’s apartment building, she is surprised when Eliza answers the intercom. Eliza sounds incredibly surprised by Patty’s arrival and shows up downstairs after a seemingly interminable wait. At the door, Patty senses something is up and asks Eliza why she didn’t buzz Patty in. Eliza tries to dodge the questions and suggests that she and Patty go out to catch up. Patty realizes that Carter has another woman up there, and Eliza confirms it. In fact, Carter, the girl, and Eliza have been having a private party involving a lot of cocaine. Eliza briefly tries to interest Patty in the drugs, and then chastises Patty for not telling Eliza of her plan to come home early. Inexplicably, Patty keeps Eliza as a friend even after dropping Carter. Looking back on it, Patty feels sure that the drug party most likely included a ménage à trois among Carter, Eliza and the mystery girl. As always, Patty decides not to consider the specifics of Eliza’s involvement.

Eliza, full of guilt and fear of losing Patty’s friendship, begins campaigning for Patty’s time and attention. She attempts to be more serious about her studies and even takes up exercise to prove that she is following Patty’s rules for her. Eliza’s renewed vigor convinces Patty to stay in Minnesota for the summer. Once Patty agrees to live with Eliza, she is shocked by how little time Eliza spends with her. While Patty is home, Eliza goes out partying—drinking, doing drugs, hooking up with guys—and completely ignores her roommate. Only when Patty threatens to go home for the rest of the summer does Eliza begin another friendship campaign. After the dreariness of the summer, Patty is optimistic when Eliza finally seems to get serious about a guy that fall. The guy is a musician, which accounts for Eliza’s infatuation, and Patty soon learns he has a roommate named Walter.

Best Friends (Pages 101-115)

Richard, the punk musician dating Eliza, could not be more of an opposite from Walter. Richard is a lothario who plays in a punk band, while his best friend/roommate is wholesome to a fault. Richard’s first encounter with Patty is tense, as he questions her with rude directness while Eliza showers. In the middle of their conversation, Richard goes into Eliza’s room and brings back a scrapbook that Eliza keeps hidden. The entire scrapbook is dedicated to Patty—her life, her accomplishments and her friendship with Eliza. Richard tries to get Patty to admit that Eliza is an unbalanced stalker, but Patty defers, sensing a judgment of Eliza is also a judgment of Patty’s decision to be friends together. Hearing Eliza finish her...

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Best Friends (Pages 116-134)

Patty agrees to spend time with Walter in part because it guarantees her proximity to Richard. Patty learns that Walter is a very decent guy: his family runs a small motel, and Walter works long hours in addition to his schoolwork and extracurricular activities. His mother is handicapped and his father is an alcoholic, which doesn’t seem to have a negative impact on Walter’s good nature. Patty enjoys Walter’s fawning since she now receives less of it from Eliza; at times, Patty even considers that she might like Walter independently of his connection to Richard.

The entire dynamic changes when Richard dumps Eliza. Eliza goes into crisis mode without Richard and admits that she hasn’t been going to any of her...

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Best Friends (Pages 135-168)

When Patty leaves Eliza’s apartment, she feels elated by her freedom and breaks into a run. Unfortunately, she slips on some ice and falls, tearing her knee in the process. She has multiple surgeries and a long recovery in the immediate period after her fall. Walter shows up at her bedside, keeps her company and helps care for her during her recovery. Once she is out of the hospital, she reluctantly accepts an offer for a movie date with Walter. Patty tells her friend Cathy about her overall indifference to Walter, along with her confused feelings about Richard. At the theatre, Walter explains that Richard is moving back to New York so he suggests she move into his room. She gets Walter to admit his attraction but doesn’t offer...

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Free Markets Foster Competition (Pages 169-177)

As Patty thinks of her family while writing this therapeutic autobiography, she puts some of her mistakes with Walter in context. Growing up, Patty often felt like an outsider who was boring and not terribly bright in comparison to her brother and two artistic sisters. She also knew that her complicated feelings for Richard further obscured her thinking when it came to him and Walter. What Patty now realizes is that her decision making was often motivated by a desire to prove something to her family by one-upping their low expectations of her. Marrying a nice guy like Walter, having children, and raising them gives Patty a kind of success that eludes her sisters. As adults, they remain unsuccessful and partially dependent on their...

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Free Markets Foster Competition (Pages 178-199)

The pivotal moment in Walter and Patty’s life, her return to Minnesota as his father was dying, began with a different kind of competition. If Patty’s competitive nature found its outlet in her family relationships, Walter’s competition was rooted in his friendship with Richard. Patty discovers this when Walter takes her to his home. Patty, who does not initially realize how privileged her New York upbringing was, is genuinely surprised by Walter’s meager origins. The family’s motel was presentable, but their home, situated behind the hotel, was not in great shape. The house was damp and seemed to be nearly falling into a creek behind the house. Walter’s mother, Dorothy, was a sweet, humble woman who was incredibly...

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Free Markets Foster Competition (Pages 200-211)

Initially, the competitiveness between them subsides because Walter is more successful than Richard. As he builds his career and family, Richard’s attempts at being a musician largely fail to yield any results. Richard’s personal life is no better than his professional one. Richard has an ongoing relationship with Molly, a member of his band, the Traumatics. Walter dislikes Molly, who is depressive and has different goals for her relationship than Richard. Despite his insistence that they agreed upon something casual, Molly begins to think of what they have as something more permanent. When their differing viewpoints become incompatible, they fight and break up; Molly leaves the Traumatics.

The unexpected side...

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Free Markets Foster Competition (Pages 212-223)

Patty now attributes her lack of career to her alcoholism. When the kids were young, they occupied more of her time; as teenagers, she has more time to herself and finds that the amount of alcohol she consumes increases steadily, glass by glass. The ensuing friction with Joey only exacerbates the situation. She often finds herself in a state of jittery insomnia in the middle of the night and drinks to calm her nerves. Even in her increasingly altered state, she realizes that Walter’s inability to relate to Joey stems from the fact that Joey isn’t like Walter. The added blow that Joey’s personality is much more similar to Richard’s attitude only makes the situation worse.

Richard finally bottoms out with his...

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Free Markets Foster Competition (Pages 224-248)

Patty’s pulse quickens immediately when she is alone with Richard. She finds her thoughts consumed by him and then rebukes herself for imagining some fantasy scenario in her head. Their first day alone is filled with awkwardness as Patty is unsure how to act. Realizing the danger of the situation, she suggests to Richard that he can return to New York and should not feel obligated to stay and finish the deck; it is almost done and Walter can finish it when he returns. Richard is unsure whether Patty wants him to leave or is simply offering him a way out of finishing the work.

As the awkwardness continues, Patty finally admits her discomfort. She tells Richard that she is not able to be honest with Walter, and knows...

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Free Markets Foster Competition (Pages 249-266)

Patty dives into reading to distract her from her feelings for Richard. When Walter returns, he ascribes the nearly-finished deck to Richard’s typical behavior—abandoning something just as it nears completion. Patty’s renewed interest in sex from her affair with Richard benefits Walter, who again does not seem to connect Richard’s presence to Patty’s sudden passion. They return home in a better place, but Patty and Richard’s plan to put the affair behind them does not go as smoothly as they intended. The two exchange secret emails and even plan another visit to Nameless Lake. Patty heads up there alone while the ever-working Walter stays behind. Richard is supposed to fly out to rendezvous at the house. Alone at first,...

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Mountaintop Removal (Pages 267-286)

By 2004, Richard and his band have achieved a certain degree of fame. Walnut Surprise’s initial success brings out the worst in Richard’s character. He spends as much (or more) as he makes and indulges in alcohol and drugs to great excess, alienating his band mates in the process. Eventually, Richard is arrested in Florida for Driving While Intoxicated and charged with possessing a controlled substance. He is placed on probation and forced to do extensive community service. When he finally returns to New York, he decides that his music career is over and goes back to building decks. His clients all tend to be hipster rich people who like the idea of having an artist build something for their houses. His current client makes...

(The entire section is 457 words.)

Mountaintop Removal (Pages 287-313)

At home, Richard’s phone rings, and he sees on the caller ID that the number belongs to Walter Berglund. Worried that Patty might be contacting him and still invested in his own isolation, Richard doesn’t answer; however, the message is from Walter, who is going to be in New York the next day and wants to meet with Richard to talk over an idea with him. At the last moment, Richard picks up and the awkwardness between them is evidence of their nearly two years without contact. Richard resists the urge to ask about Patty because he is unsure whether or not Patty confessed her tryst with Richard to Walter. Walter doesn’t seem to know anything about it, and Richard agrees to meet him the next day. Walter makes a point of...

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Mountaintop Removal (Pages 314-324)

Outside the bar, Richard and Walter say goodbye to Lalitha and walk to the train station together. Still hesitant to ask about Patty, Richard instead questions him about Lalitha. Walter reveals that she is in a long-distance relationship with a guy who lives in Nashville; however, Walter thinks the relationship is close to ending. He confides in Richard that the guy’s old-school Indian values conflict with Lalitha’s desire for independence and a career. Walter has advised Lalitha that she doesn’t have to sacrifice her needs for his. As Walter explains what he calls a father-daughter dynamic between the two of them, Richard interjects to ask if Walter is aware that Lalitha is in love with him. Walter is embarrassed, but senses...

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Womanland (Pages 325-338)

The novel shifts to Joey’s perspective as he enters his first year of college in Virginia, backtracking to the time before his parents moved to Washington, DC. Joey recalls his touchy relationship with his parents, Walter and Patty, when he decided to move next door into the Monaghan’s house. Though he wouldn’t call Connie his girlfriend, Joey knew that she was one of the reasons he moved into the house, which Blake (Carol’s younger boyfriend) had renovated. Joey’s first semester of college begins with the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. The campus responds quickly with talks, vigils and other services and meetings, all of which Joey finds hypocritical and disdainful. Despite his attempts to seem...

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Womanland (Pages 339-351)

Joey is shaken by Carol’s clear understanding of his selfishness. After the dressing down, he decides to call his mother, Patty. As they make chit-chat about nothing in particular, Joey finds himself reflecting on their relationship. As a young child, Patty had indulged Joey and gone to great lengths to forge a close relationship with him. As he became a teenager, he fought against that closeness and tried to assert his independence. She fought back by criticizing anything that seemed like a threat, like something that he might find more interesting than her. When his grandmother was dying and his parents went away, Joey deliberately threw a party to retaliate against his parents and his goody-two-shoes sister, Jessica. He even...

(The entire section is 448 words.)

Womanland (Pages 352-371)

Joey returns to his dorm room and finds Jonathan, his roommate, agonizing over New York’s dire baseball situation. Joey, who has always made it a point to be relatively guarded about his family life, finds himself opening up to Jonathan. He tells Jonathan that his mother hates New York because her family is there; Joey knows a little bit about his grandmother’s political career, but only met her briefly as a young child. He also has several aunts whom he has never met. In the course of the discussion, he mentions that Patty is half Jewish, making Joey one quarter Jewish. Jonathan, who is also Jewish, is astounded by the news. Since Joey will be spending Thanksgiving break with Jonathan’s family, Joey will have an opportunity...

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Womanland (Pages 372-404)

At dinner with Jonathan’s parents, Jonathan’s father pontificates about Middle Eastern politics and its impact on Israel. Joey, eager to get Jenna’s attention, participates in the discussion and Jonathan’s father seems impressed by Joey’s acumen. After dinner, Jonathan’s father joins them for a billiard game called Cowboy Pool. During the game, Jonathan’s father offers Joey a well-paying summer job working for him. That, coupled with Jonathan’s losing the game, puts Jonathan in a bad mood. After his father left, he turns on Joey, obviously jealous of Joey earning so much of his father’s attention so quickly. The two had planned to accompany Jenna to New York City to stay in her absent boyfriend’s apartment, but...

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The Nice Man’s Anger (Pages 405-422)

As Walter travels with Lalitha, he marvels at her fast, slightly dangerous driving style. He cedes the driving duties to her because traffic issues tend to aggravate his temper. Lalitha’s wild driving, however hair-raising, was preferable (and only added to her mystique). As they await the first day of razing at the land they’ve acquired for the Cerulean Mountain Trust (the fund Walter manages for his boss, Vin Haven), Lalitha begs Walter to celebrate by getting some drinks. Walter, whose father and incarcerated brother were alcoholics, needs some persuading.

The most challenging aspect of securing the land was convincing the people living on the land to sell their homes to the trust and move. Initially, Lalitha and...

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The Nice Man’s Anger (Pages 423-446)

Walter and Lalitha stop at a motel for the night, and Walter notes the temptation of sleeping in an adjoining room next to Lalitha. They freshen up and head downstairs for dinner and drinks; Walter checks his email and sees a message from Richard indicating that he is ready to meet with him about the proposed music festival. They both order rich, indulgent meals and Lalitha talks Walter into ordering a beer. As they wait for their dinner, Lalitha has several drinks and loosens up. Walter can feel the sexual and romantic tension between them building, and feels guilty out of his duty to Patty. However unhappy Patty may be, Walter feels it is his responsibility to love her and try to make her feel better.

During the...

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The Nice Man’s Anger (Pages 447-465)

In his room, Walter receives an email from a Times reporter wanting to ask him about the Trust. Walter is concerned that information about the project (which he and Lalitha have strived to keep under wraps) has leaked to the press. He tells the reporter of the press conference on Monday, but secretly worries that they should move it up in case any more details leak. Mistakenly, Walter calls Patty for comfort. Walter tries to justify what the trust is doing, but Patty remains noncommittal, again insinuating that Walter is sleeping with Lalitha. Before they went on the trip, Patty attempted to give Walter “permission” to initiate a sexual relationship with Lalitha. No amount of protest from Walter could convince Patty,...

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The Nice Man’s Anger (Pages 466-480)

The next morning, Walter and Lalitha both wake up extremely hung over. Breakfast between them is tense as Lalitha is still stinging from Walter’s rejection the previous night; he doesn’t help matters by mentioning he spoke with Patty. In fact, Patty told Walter about an article in the paper that explains some of what the Trust has been up to. Lalitha reads the article on her phone and insists the damage will be minimal. She, too, thinks the press conference could be moved up, but Walter needs the weekend meeting to gear up for it. When they get to the car, Walter breaks the tension by telling Lalitha how much he needs her on the project. Suddenly, she climbs into his seat, straddles him, and kisses him passionately. Walter...

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Enough Already (Pages 481-499)

While Richard finishes building the deck for Zachary’s father and attempts to "skylight-peep" on the man’s wife, Zachary posts his interview with Richard online to impress Caitlyn. One day, Caitlyn and two of her girlfriends show up to talk to Richard. While Caitlyn and one of her friends try maintain a too-cool-for-school attitude, the chubbier, plainer friend gushes over Richard and brings him homemade bread. Despite his earlier vow to claim Caitlyn as a sexual conquest to express his didain for both her and Zachary, Richard now finds himself consumed with thoughts of Patty again. Disgusted by Caitlyn’s disdain for her chubby friend (named Sarah), Richard purposefully lavishes all of his attention on Sarah and ignores...

(The entire section is 417 words.)

Enough Already (Pages 500-515)

The next morning, Richard finds Walter, Jessica, and Lalitha sitting around the table waiting for him to arrive so that they can begin their meeting. Richard, unaware that they were starting that early, decides to settle in quietly to get the lay of the land before offering much feedback. He also finds himself preoccupied with Patty, wondering when he will see her and what both his and her reaction will be. He has all but decided to win Patty back and run away with her no matter the cost.

The beginning of the meeting reveals some of the tension between Lalitha and Jessica, who picks at all of her ideas while barely masking her resentment for the woman she holds responsible for her parents’ dysfunctional marriage. The...

(The entire section is 476 words.)

Enough Already (Pages 516-530)

That night, after Walter has gone to bed, Richard continues to prowl around the house, both from his ongoing nicotine rush and a desire to see Patty. He stops by a workroom that Patty sometimes sleeps in and listens for her. Later, her returns and lets himself in; the two go down to have tea (a move Patty insists will preserve propriety). After some mild chitchat about their mutual exasperation with twenty-first-century youth culture, they finally get to the purpose of their meeting: their repeatedly aborted relationship. Richard begs Patty to go with him and start over but she refuses. Richard cannot fathom why she wants to stay with Walter when the both make each other so unhappy. She tells Richard that when he took on the road...

(The entire section is 443 words.)

Bad News (Pages 531–548)

Joey spent the remainder of his college career juggling the two very different women: the obedient, alarmingly selfless Connie and the beautiful but materialistic Jenna (whose brother, Jonathan, was still none too pleased at his roommate’s interest in his sister). The situation becomes more complicated when Joey secretly marries Connie in a moment of romantic whimsy. Now several months later, he is working hard to convince her to keep it a secret and remain apart, which she agrees to do despite it obviously making her unhappy.

Joey also starts a disreputable relationship with Kenny Bartles, a connection he made while working at the summer job Jonathan’s dad provided him. Initially, he and Kenny become involved with...

(The entire section is 424 words.)

Bad News (Pages 549–574)

The story flashes back a year to the events leading up to Joey and Connie’s wedding. Connie’s depression is compounded by her recent withdrawal from college. In the fall semester, Connie attends a college within driving distance of Joey’s school. Despite their proximity, Joey still insists on minimal contact between them. In addition, Connie’s roommates prove to be difficult and torment her (in part about her missing boyfriend). Connie ends up on academic probation when she fails to show up for some of her exams (despite doing very well on the others). She returns briefly in the spring, but refuses to leave her room. Eventually, Health Services sends her home to Minnesota and she withdraws from college.


(The entire section is 446 words.)

Bad News (Pages 575–594)

Connie is overjoyed to be reunited with Joey in New York. One of the first things Joey notices, however, is a series of self-inflicted cuts on her arms. Connie downplays them and insists she hasn’t been suicidal; she simply cut herself for each day Joey didn’t call. She gives him a cashier’s check with her trust-fund money and the two of them make love repeatedly. Joey, feeling the need to give something back to Connie that is equivalent to her gift, asks her to marry him. They find a Hassidic jeweler and pick out rings for their ceremony. Outside the jewelry shop, they run into Casey, and old friend of Joey’s from college. He jokingly asks if they’re picking out engagement rings and Joey denies it; later, Connie worries...

(The entire section is 453 words.)

Bad News (Pages 595–616)

Once they are firmly ensconced in the resort, Felix takes Jenna and Joey to see the horses since Jenna wants to spend most of her vacation on horseback. Joey is irritated by how Felix speaks Spanish to Jenna and his coworkers in front of him. That night, Joey and Jenna have a luxurious dinner and Joey indulges with a lot of wine. At the hotel that night, they repeatedly try to make love but Joey has difficulty performing. He ascribes it to the wine, but his guilt about Connie weighs heavily on him. Jenna, whose own sexuality has been altered by her antidepressant, does not seem overly concerned.

The next morning, Joey wakes up having to go to the bathroom. He knows he must find the ring in his waste, and when a fork...

(The entire section is 517 words.)

The Fiend of Washington (Pages 617-637)

As a child, Walter was not aware of the long line of stubborn Swedish men from whom he came, but reflecting on it as an adult he sees the relationship clearly. Walter’s grandfather, Einar, was a stern and exacting man and none of his children felt this as keenly as Gene, Walter’s father. Gene grew up determined to be as unlike his own father as possible. Einar had forsaken his whole family and moved to the United States to start a new life. Einar’s drive for success ironically fueled Gene’s alcoholism as he grew up. When Gene married Dorothy, he soon bought the rundown motel that became the family business. As the largely unsuccessful business mired the family in debt and poverty, Gene retreated further into the liquor...

(The entire section is 410 words.)

The Fiend of Washington (Pages 638-658)

The night in 2004 when Richard leaves the Berglund’s house, he drops the manuscript of Patty’s autobiography in Walter’s home office. Walter discovers it early in the morning and tears through the entire document with increasing outrage. He storms upstairs to Patty’s room and she blanches when she sees the manuscript in his hands. She bursts into tears and tries to explain, but Walter throws phrase after phrase of her less than flattering description of him back at her. She tells him that she wrote the manuscript as part of her therapy, but he is even angrier that she felt it was okay for Richard to read it but not himself. He declares their marriage over and demands she vacate the house. He locks himself away until he...

(The entire section is 431 words.)

The Fiend of Washington (Pages 659-677)

Professionally, Walter goes through a difficult patch just as his marriage is ending. He does the press conference as planned as well as a lengthy interview with the Times reporter. In both cases, he sticks to his talking points and hopes to sell the benefits of the project while sidestepping the controversy over MTR. When the article is published, the piece is a scathing criticism of the entire project, replete with quotes from Zorn painting Walter as a megalomaniac. Despite these apparent setbacks, Vin Haven doesn’t seem to be displeased. He believes the bad press will subside and the positive outcomes in the near future will speak for themselves. Vin invites Walter and Lalitha to a press conference celebrating the...

(The entire section is 412 words.)

The Fiend of Washington (Pages 678-704)

Remarkably, Walter’s dismissal does not put an end to the Free Space movement. In 2004, viral videos are starting to become popular and Walter’s environmental rant about the hypocrisy of the Trust and the West Virginians who sold out to it spreads quickly. Suddenly, Lalitha is inundated with applications for internships and requests to volunteer for the concert. In addition, Joey gives Free Space $100,000 of his car-parts money (after paying back Connie and the bank, and donating the remainder to veterans). Walter sells his house (in part because Vin Haven evicts him), and he and Lalitha buy a van and go camping across the United States.

During a stop in Florida, Walter shares his passion for birds and bird...

(The entire section is 441 words.)

Six Years (Pages 705-719)

Six years later, in 2010, Patty writes an addendum to her autobiography, acknowledging the intended audience (Walter) and the likely responses (anger, disinterest). In 2004, Patty lives with Richard for a few months after Lalitha’s death. They get a lot of sex out of their systems, and Richard tries to be a one-woman, settled-down man for Patty’s sake; however, she recognizes that his desire to emulate Walter’s decency will not last. She leaves him to his increasingly successful music career, and goes to Wisconsin to live with a college friend named Cathy, Cathy’s partner, and their two children. While nannying for the two kids, Patty finds her career calling (teaching and working with young children), but this career...

(The entire section is 427 words.)

Six Years (Pages 720-750)

After the funeral, Joyce confides in Patty that she is having difficulty figuring out what to do with a highly valuable upstate manse that Ray has been managing. Ray’s living siblings feel that they are entitled to it, while Patty’s sisters, Veronica and Abigail want their mother to sell it and give them a portion of the profits. Complicating matters is Patty’s brother, Edgar, who lives on the property with his Russian wife, Galina, and their growing brood of children. Patty proposes selling the estate and dividing up the proceeds, but Joyce does not want to get involved.

Patty first visits her older sister, Abigail, who is obviously spearheading the campaign to sell the house for money. She does not want to share...

(The entire section is 477 words.)

Canterbridge Estate Lakes (Pages 751-781)

Walter now lives in the house on Nameless Lake full-time. A new development has cropped up on the opposite side of the lake called Canterbridge Estates. Walter largely keeps to himself and spends hours in the woods looking at birds and taking in nature. He soon begins to show up at Canterbridge Estates out of environmental concern. He goes door to door asking each homeowner not to let his/her cat outside because they kill birds, possibly endangering certain types. One resident, Linda Hoffbauer, takes particular offense to Walter’s request and insists that her cat, Bobby, has the right to go outdoors and bird. When Walter later papers the neighborhood with flyers, he becomes even less popular. When Bobby suddenly goes missing,...

(The entire section is 492 words.)