Last Updated on August 6, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 555
The title comes from a statement that the protagonist, Lucille Odom, makes that sums up her attitude toward life. “I was rich in love, even though no one could see it.” The novel traces her through a difficult six months in her teenage years, as her seemingly contented family falls apart.
Lucille, who is seventeen, worries about her sister, Rae. She describes the twenty-something woman as extraordinarily beautiful as well as being a talented singer, but also having a wild streak. Letters she has received have prompted her to worry. Lucille anticipates that things will probably go badly for her sister.
Women like Rae sooner or later run into disappointment because beauty has given them a heightened awareness of themselves. It isn’t vanity. It is high hopes and optimism. Think of starlets, how they begin and how they end.
Lucille considers herself different from others, but not like the usual teenage alienation. Although she denies being concerned about looks, she tends to dwell on them. She describes herself as an infant who had a split in her lip, which was repaired so that, people said, the scar was “hardly noticeable.”
But I wasn’t one to set store by looks. In fact, my scar had taught me a thing or two. It had put me into a different sphere. I sometimes felt as if I were a member of a third gender or secret species.
The feelings that Lucille is experiencing are strongly connected to a major change in her life: Helen, her mother, has left home. While part of her sensed that her parents’ relationship was strained, she had set those intuitions aside, convinced that her parents were “devoted to each other.” Lucille is concerned more for her own situation, such as her boyfriend, Wayne, who constantly pressures her to have sex again.
After Lucille becomes accustomed to the idea of her mother’s disappearance, she learns that she is living nearby in a formerly abandoned house. Despite some initial misgivings, she begins visiting Helen there and learns about how she sees the processes she is going through. Some of this has to do with simplifying the material aspect of things, through not having an over-furnished home, but it also concerns her internal readjustments. Helen tells her daughter:
I’m recovering myself. Some people go to spas and ashrams, but I’m in this ruined house of Sam Poole’s on Long Point Road, a ghost house on a piece of no-man’s-land; and it’s working. I’m recuperating.
When Rae comes back home, she brings Billy, her husband. She is also pregnant. Although Billy seems like an extremely unreliable husband, Lucille develops a huge crush on him. As she learns that he is thinking of leaving Rae to move back to Washington, where they formerly lived, Lucille asks if she can go with him. Before he actually says “No,” despite her love and her idea that she is extremely perceptive, she is confused by her lack of perception.
His face revealed nothing, not surprise or puzzlement or displeasure. He had been looking down. Now he raised his face to me. I could see nothing. I, who could read minds and handwriting and every nuance of a stranger’s face, could not tell anything when it mattered, when I needed to know.
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