Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1004
Part I: Family Soundscape
Box II belongs to the husband. It contains four notebooks, seven books, three CDs, and a folder with notes, clippings, and facsimiles.
The family drives toward North Carolina while listening to tragic migrant stories on the radio that mirror the horror Manuela’s daughters are currently facing. The narrator shuts off the radio, and the husband tells the kids Apache stories to transition away from the violence they are starting to comprehend. The narrator realizes how much information the two have picked up between the radio and her husband’s tales. It seems the kids have started calling the refugees “the lost children.” The narrator realizes the new name is apt for the refugee children, who “have lost the right to a childhood.”
Nervous about the negative impact on the kids, the narrator and husband decide to forgo the radio and switch to audiobooks, but this becomes another tangled endeavor. The Road is too rough, Pedro Paramo is not translated correctly, and Invisible Man is too jarring. The family selects Golding’s Lord of the Flies. While not a comforting fairytale, the fictional world of the novel may pull them all away from the harsh reality of the one they are currently living in—which is reinforced when the narrator tries to phone Manuela, but, again, there is no answer.
As the family eats breakfast the following morning, the girl wants to draw story diagrams like she does in school, which reminds the narrator of her own lost work. She remembers the feeling of certainty she felt in the courtroom listening to immigration testimony, but now, on the road with her equipment packed up, she has nothing left but concerns and confusion. She looks at the children in adoration of their innocence as she berates herself about her failing project.
They drive on through the Appalachian Mountains, and the husband puts on a classical piece, telling the kids about the story behind the sounds. The narrator, unimpressed, scans some articles on the internet to find that this piece is not the colonizing catastrophe he claims it to be. Instead, she finds a video showing that the piece is the love story of two pioneers enacted through ballet. The piece ends in a soured marriage, which causes the narrator to reflect on her current situation. She thinks about how in love she and her husband once were and how bitter she feels about this trip. Just as the video is ending and the narrator looks to the woman dancer to see the outcome, she loses her internet signal.
The family reaches Asheville, and they leave the car to explore their surroundings. They enter a bookstore and part ways. The narrator eavesdrops on the book club meeting being held in the middle of the store. She connects the comments about the book to her husband, her past, and her dwindling identity, hoping to find a book for herself that encapsulates her current reality. The girl finds The Book with No Pictures and claims it as her own.
The next day before the family heads out, the boy finally comprehends how to use the Polaroid camera. He snaps a picture, hides it in a book, and later reveals his masterpiece.
That night while the children sleep, the narrator tells her husband a story about her parents. She recounts how they traveled to India years before they got married and how, one day, her father let another woman’s name slip from his lips. The plot twist: the two were married anyway, yet were divorced after she and her sister were...
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Back on the road, the family listens to Lord of the Flies, but the girl doesn’t like it. The narrator wonders what the kids understand and what they pretend to. She wonders if they have exposed the kids to “too much world” on their travels. Eventually, they stop for the night.
The next morning, the husband and boy get up and record sounds as the girl sleeps. The narrator, trying to talk herself back to sleep, feels deeply alone. She picks up her husband’s book from the nightstand, and out falls a note from a well-known acoustemologist. Her husband worked with him in years past, and now it seems they are traveling to see him for this particular project.
This note reveals another truth about her current relationship status. She thinks back to her and her husband’s differing backgrounds in soundscaping. He takes a more naturalistic approach and absorbs his surroundings in the moment. The narrator, on the other hand, has a journalistic philosophy and creates her story in a more organized way. Now, she sees them both returning to their true natures and acknowledges the division between them reflected in their new work. The gap is bridged by the children, however, and by a rainy day that keeps them in the hotel room until the skies are clear.
On the road, the boy asks about documenting, which sends the narrator on an internal monologue about space and time. All the boy truly cares about is how long it will take to get to their next location as the family travels deeper into Tennessee, noticing the abandoned businesses from the first wave of capitalism. The narrator feels an unsettled unhappiness creeping into her blood.
The family tries to find a room in Graceland and becomes subjected to the only open room at the Elvis Presley Boulevard Inn. They park, grab their swimsuits, and jump in the guitar-shaped pool. This activity brings the family together. Later that night, the family members pick Apache names for each other, laughing and enjoying each other’s company. For the first time in years, they all fall asleep together, even the narrator.
Box III belongs to the husband, and it contains four notebooks, nine books, and two musicals. Unlike Boxes I and II, this box contains more fictional works, such as Lord of the Flies and On the Road.