Set This House on Fire

by William Styron

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Chapter 2 Summary

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Peter had planned to spend only a weekend with Cass but ends up staying for two weeks and tells his office he has suddenly taken ill. He and Cass discuss their time in Italy and the events leading up to the rape by Mason.

Again in flashback, Peter arrives in Sambuco, distraught over the accident. He accidentally walks onto a set where a movie is being shot. After being berated by the director, Peter runs into Mason Flagg, who takes him back to his hotel and introduces Peter to his girlfriend, Rosemarie LaFlamboise. Rosemarie is from the North Shore, a cultured section of Long Island, New York. Mason rattles on about his disdain for Italians and celebrities while Peter tries to explain to Rosemarie about his harrowing experiences. Mason is exhausted and wants to go to bed. Mason breaks the news that he has given Peter’s room to one of the movie people but secured a spot at a nearby hotel for Peter. On his way to the hotel, Peter spots a man sitting in his car. The man explains that he was keeping his car safe for him. Peter has the man carry his luggage to the hotel. He encounters Rosemarie and Mason arguing about Mason’s infidelity. Peter sees Mason hit Rosemarie and quietly backs away. He goes to his room, escorted by the concierge, and lies down to rest.

Peter recalls his childhood friendship with Mason. They had met in prep school after Mason was expelled from other schools. Mason was at first popular, but soon the crowd grew tired of his exaggerations. Peter went with Mason to his home when Mason was once again expelled. Mason’s father was distant and his mother was emotional and alcoholic. She became even more emotional when she learned that Mason was kicked out of school because he was discovered having sex with a local thirteen-year-old girl. The girl’s father arrived at the Flagg home and demanded to see Mason. Mr. Flagg sent the man off and then told his wife, who did not know he was home, that he did not have to tell her where he was. He stated that he has a lush of a wife and a swine of a son. Peter was aghast at how the family behaved.

Peter awakens and visits with Rosemarie, who assures Peter that the man he hit will eventually recover, though he is still in a coma. They talk of Cass, whom Rosemarie says is a terrible drunk. She alludes to some episode Cass and Mason had with an Italian girl. Rosemarie points out celebrities and tells their stories. Peter tries to fit in with the actors but feels like an outsider. The waiter tells Rosemarie that Mason has scratched his face. Rosemarie assumes something sinister but the waiter says something about a rosebush. Cass breaks in on the party, roaring drunk. He begins to act objectionably and the actors tell him to go to bed. As the party breaks up, Peter sees a girl with a torn dress burst out of a room, sobbing. Mason follows her, vowing to kill her. The moment is imprinted in Peter’s mind like a photograph.

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Chapter 1 Summary

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Chapter 3 Summary