Chapters 12–13 Summary and Analysis
Last Updated on February 10, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1347
As Alkaitis spends more time in prison, he accrues more and more ghosts. He begins to see spectral visions of all the people who died as a result of his Ponzi scheme, whether he has met them personally or not. In addition to Faisal, he begins seeing Yvette Bertoli, a fellow investment manager who died of a heart attack after her clients lost a combined $230 million in Alkaitis’s scheme.
Alkaitis has maintained the position over the years that he acted alone in the scheme, though the legal evidence has proved otherwise. Julie Freeman keeps him apprised of the consequences faced by his associates, and she asks him what he thinks of Oskar’s testimony, in which Oskar expressed the idea that a person could both know and not know something. Alkaitis finds it poignant, expressing his agreement that a man can fully recognize his own faults but still feel as though he has been wronged by the consequences.
The next ghost Alkaitis sees is Olivia, and he finds himself saddened when Freeman confirms that Olivia is dead.
During various conversations with Freeman, Alkaitis asserts that even though he has obviously done bad things, his investors are also to blame for demanding high returns. He insists that in spite of his fraudulent practices, his methods truly did make money for his clients in the short term.
When Freeman asks him about Ella Kaspersky, he recalls their first meeting at the Hotel Caiette. Ella saw through his business plans and reported him to the United States Securities and Exchange Commission. However, the SEC investigation was incompetent, and Alkaitis was acquitted. He recalls an encounter that he and his first wife, Suzanne, had with Ella at a restaurant following the conclusion of the investigation. Alkaitis and Suzanne shared a loving and honest relationship, and he told her everything. Suzanne, who was dying of cancer at the time, menacingly approached Ella’s table at the restaurant, dropped a shard of glass in her drink, and asked her, “why don’t you swallow broken glass?”
Alkaitis’s counterlife becomes increasingly indistinguishable from his memory. One day, while walking through a hotel he remembers visiting in Dubai, he sees Vincent. She explains that she is “just visiting,” having come “from the ocean.” He is certain this cannot be a memory, as Vincent looks older. Faisal and Yvette also intrude upon the counterlife. Alkaitis’s guilt and sadness turn into irrational anger over why he has to see these particular ghosts. He wonders why he isn’t able to see the ghosts of the people he actually wants to see, such as Suzanne or Lucas.
Worried about maintaining his positive memories, Alkaitis resolves to think about Lucas at least once a day so that it becomes a habit. However, he is disturbed by the remark of a fellow inmate that continuously recalling a memory will degrade or corrupt it. His favorite memory of Lucas is from Lucas’s final summer in life. The Alkaitis family gathered for a picnic together, and a young Jonathan played frisbee with his brother late into the evening.
As of 2018, Leon Prevant and his wife, Marie, are traveling the country in an RV that they purchased right before Alkaitis was arrested and they were financially ruined. The RV, once a symbol of excess, has become their saving grace, as they made the difficult decision to abandon their house nearly a decade ago due to financial hardship. They both knew that with the state of the economy in 2008, they would never be able to sell the house, so they instead decided to just leave it behind. Both Leon and Marie are in their seventies, well past the usual retirement age, but they have been forced by their circumstances to take seasonal jobs as a means of supporting themselves.
The Prevants are denizens of the “shadow country” in which those who are literally or effectively homeless reside. He is saddened by the number of young hitchhikers, sex workers, and runaways that he and Marie encounter at various rest stops. By contrast, the Prevants at least have their RV and a loving marriage. Although they live in near-constant fear of destitution, they can at least recognize the good fortune of having a roof over their head.
In December of 2018, Leon gets a call from his former co-worker, Miranda. Miranda invites Leon to consult on an investigation into Vincent’s disappearance from the Neptune Cumberland. She is worried that the company will try to cover up any potential foul play, since Vincent is assumed dead and the chief suspect—her boyfriend, Geoffrey Bell—has disappeared. Leon enthusiastically agrees to the consultation contract, excited by the prospect of being able to earn more consistent money in a respectable fashion.
During the investigation, Leon and his coinvestigator, a retired detective named Michael Saparelli, learn that Geoffrey had a history of domestic violence. However, Miranda’s fears regarding a cover-up come to fruition: Saparelli convinces Leon not to report the information in order to avoid compromising both of their careers. Leon, who hopes to receive more consulting contracts, reluctantly agrees. However, Leon’s guilty conscience prevents him from reaching out to Miranda for more employment opportunities and forces him to question his assumptions regarding his own moral integrity.
As Alkaitis sinks even deeper into the counterlife, he begins to realize that his fantasies and his nightmares are blending. Although he began daydreaming as a means of escape, the ghosts of those he has wronged continue to haunt him, invading even his most cherished memories. The nature of the ghosts is left somewhat ambiguous, with some chapters giving the impression that they are fully real and sentient, while others suggest that they are just extensions of a guilty conscience. Alkaitis’s inability to see Lucas or Suzanne supports the latter theory, as neither of them has any reason to haunt him. By contrast, Olivia, Faisal, Yvette, and the old man in the gray suit all suffered as a result of his actions. It seems that Alkaitis’s conscience will not allow him to completely ignore the reality he has brought into existence.
Leon’s narration explores a different side of the novel’s preoccupation with economic disparity. Whereas the preceding chapters depict the greed, guilt, and complicity of the upper classes, Leon’s narration plunges readers into the “shadow country.” This is where the casualties created by those who reside in the “kingdom of money” are banished to. When the wealthy and greedy place a stranglehold on economic advancement, they limit the prosperity of the lower classes. Lack of opportunity means that many people are forced to make difficult decisions, as the Prevants are forced to do when they abandon their house. Others are even worse off; indeed, Leon sadly notes how many young people he sees who are homeless and adrift.
Moral integrity is also explored in these chapters, such as in Alkaitis’s attempts to define his own guilt in relation to the benefits he claims to have obtained for his clients. Many of his words feel like self-justification, and he admits that Oskar’s testimony is accurate in many ways. Alkaitis may be serving time in prison after pleading guilty to his crimes, but he cannot shake the feeling that perhaps he, too, has been wronged by the losses he has suffered.
Leon struggles with morality in a different sense when he chooses not to report on Geoffrey Bell’s history of violence. His decision to discard Mendoza’s testimony is a lapse in judgement that haunts him long after the fact. Ironically, it also bars him from pursuing the rewards he hoped to gain through his dishonesty. However, Leon’s story is not a pure tragedy. He may have lost his life savings, and his decision not to report Bell may haunt him, but he acknowledges that he and Marie “could do a lot worse.” They may be denizens of the shadow country, but at least they have a roof over their head and their love for each other.