Chapter 17 Summary

Chapter 17 begins Part 3 of She’s Come Undone and is titled “The Flying Leg.”

Dolores has had a nervous breakdown. She has been institutionalized at a facility called “Gracewood,” where, she recalls, she spent the next seven years of her life. Geneva Sweet, her mother’s friend, had located Dolores in Cape Cod via the clues about the beached whales. It is Geneva who is paying for Dolores’s care.

Dolores is unable to recall most of her earlier years at Gracewood, as most of the time she was tranquilized and did little else other than stare at a television. She is given forced injections and feels violated, as if she is being raped all over again.

Dolores goes through a number of therapists until she gets to Dr. Shaw. His approach is different; he calls himself “a bit of a maverick.” Unlike her previous psychologists, Dr. Shaw knows how to work with Dolores. He forces her to confront the unpleasant things that Dolores has been repressing, including her rape. He teaches Dolores a technique called “visualization.” Dolores loses most of her weight by picturing her food covered with mold. In this way, she loses the desire to eat and sheds pounds fairly quickly.

Through their work together, Shaw is able to draw Dolores out more and more. Shaw confronts Dolores about her frequent use of profanity. She uses it as a shield, he muses, to keep others from getting close to her. Dolores opens up about her mixed feelings regarding sexual intercourse. Mostly, she feels that sex is violent and intrusive. Yet she also recalls the way her mother had cradled her breasts, longing for the touch of her father. She remembers, too, how much Ruthie had desired Larry and how engaged both partners had been in their lovemaking.

As the sessions continue, Dr. Shaw discovers Dolores’s great need for a mother. His unconventional answer is to take Dolores back to the womb and “re-parent” her all over again. He will act as her “mother.” He repeatedly asks for her trust. Dolores finally agrees. They begin their sessions in the hospital’s pool, where Dolores is “born.”

Dr. Shaw gets in the water with this patient. He pretends that he is pregnant with Dolores. He tells her that he can feel her moving around inside of him. He plays some music for the “fetus,” some Mozart to “soothe” her. He gets out of the pool to plug in his radio…and nearly kills himself when the extension cord lands in a puddle and sends a wave of electricity through his body. Dolores and Shaw shiver and cling to one another.