Chapter 1 Summary

In 1941, a ninety-one-year-old man named the Captain rides home through a timber forest on his horse. Five to ten feet of snow covers the forest floor, and the horse riding is treacherous. He’s bundled up against the harsh weather and has covered his face in petroleum jelly to protect against the wind. The journey home takes a day and a half, and the Captain rides through the night because he knows that if he stops, he could freeze to death.

Waiting for the Captain at home are Clemmie, his youngest daughter, and his grandson Henry. Over the years, the Captain has had three wives and many children, and he believes Clemmie is the one who understands him best.

Clemmie tells the Captain that she has decided to leave, telling him that she can’t wait for him to die. The Captain takes her news with resignation and offers to escort Clemmie and Henry down the mountain.

Going down the mountain, the Captain asks Clemmie whether she has ever been to the city, her current destination, and she says that she has not. Before making a treacherous crossing of a river called Twelve Mile, Henry and Clemmie say goodbye to the Captain.

In the city, Clemmie finds a job at a veteran’s hospital. She and Henry move into a small house with a kitchen. Clemmie finds it difficult to adjust to the new lifestyle—having to pay for things such as water, food, and heat—but she perseveres. She goes to night school and becomes a nurse. On Saturdays, she takes Henry to the public library to look at the books.

When they learn of Clemmie’s new life, relatives begin to pass through and visit. These are the many children of the Captain, such as Uncle Golden and Aunt Adelita. Uncle Golden stops by whenever he is flush with money, and Aunt Adelita stays with them after her husband and two sons die in a mine explosion. Eventually they learn that Uncle Golden died after a highway standoff, having shot himself in his own car.

Henry has never met his father, but he meets men from his father’s family and learns that they are all strong and highly spirited, often subject to rash fits of anger. The men in his family have traveled fear and wide, participating as laborers in some of the great public works projects of the era, such as the Golden Gate Bridge, the Boulder Dam, and the Holland Tunnel.

Chapter 2 Summary

When he gets older, Henry takes a job at a stable run by a man named Walter, who met Clemmie at the veteran’s hospital. Most of the horses at Walter’s stable are old and slow and ridden mainly by children. Henry forms an attachment to a cinnamon bay horse named Gaylen, who is tall, muscular, and fast. Walter claims that he has been offered a lot of money for Gaylen, but he has refused to sell the horse. A girl named Mercy, who is a year older than Henry and who attends the private school in town, is also fond of Gaylen. Mercy’s father is a powerful and wealthy judge in town.

One day in the spring, word arrives that the Captain, Henry’s grandfather and Clemmie’s father, has died. For three nights after the news, Clemmie stays up throughout the night, wandering aimlessly in a deep state of grief. Henry tries to comfort his mother, but there is little he can do to make her feel better. Clemmie asks Henry whether she should feel guilty for feeling relieved at the Captain’s death, and then says she thinks something bad is going to happen.

One rainy day, Henry is finishing his work at the stable when Walter asks him to come inside for some coffee. Henry initially declines, but Walter presses him into coming inside. The apartment where Walter lives is sparsely furnished and smells like a barn. Walter asks after Henry’s mother and says that she still looks good. Walter tells Henry that he’s going to have to go into the hospital. Walter has had knee injuries since the war, and the pain has been getting too bad lately for him to handle on his own. The doctors are going to operate on both of his knees and, with luck, cure him of his chronic pain. Walter asks Henry to manage the stable while he is away, and Henry agrees.

Walter gets up to get some whiskey, and Henry notices how pale his boss looks. Walter says that the pain is nearly unbearable now. He goes to a cabinet and gets out a jar with bees inside. Using tweezers, he takes a bee and lets the insect sting his knee, apparently in hopes of relieving the pain. After completing this painful treatment, he asks Henry to take him out to see Gaylen. Walter sits down in a wheelbarrow, and Henry wheels him forward. 

Chapter 3 Summary

Riding Gaylen at night along a mountain trail, Henry feels an immense serenity and peacefulness. The night is silent and beautiful, and Henry imagines he can ride Gaylen all the way to the moon. For the past three days, Henry has skipped school to work at the stables. Although he performs well in school, what he really enjoys is playing baseball, and he knows that once he graduates high school, he will probably move to one of the big cities in the Midwest, where he will probably work in a factory or a mill. As he rides, Henry lets himself fantasize about owning the stables and horses while realizing that his current independence is only temporary.

When he returns to the stable, a car is parked in the driveway with its headlights on. It’s Mercy, the private school girl who loves to ride Gaylen. Mercy asks after Walter, and Henry informs her that Walter is in the hospital recovering from an operation.

The next day, Mercy returns to the stable. She has apples for the horse and candy in a sack. Henry tastes some of the candy and retrieves Gaylen from the stable.

As Mercy rides Gaylen in the ring, Henry is struck by the majesty of the horse, and by how well Mercy rides him compared to other riders. After watching her for a while, Henry steps into the ring and begins to give directions to Mercy on better riding habits. Mercy listens to Henry and follows his advice. She seems to have an even better control of Gaylen.

Mercy comes to the stable every day that week. On Friday, she stays later than usual and helps Henry do his chores. Afterward they make coffee and sit outside as the sun sets. Henry offers her a smoke, but Mercy demurs. Mercy tells Henry that her father wants to her ride at the new stable but that she won’t because Gaylen is the only horse she wants to ride. She also says that her father tried to buy Gaylen from Walter, but Walter refused to sell the horse to the wealthy judge. Mercy asks Henry what he wants from life, and Henry says that he wants to play baseball. Mercy says that she is planning to go off to college in the fall.

They are sitting so close that Mercy notices that their shadows are touching. Henry isn’t sure what Mercy means when she refers to his “moon shadow.” Before leaving, Mercy asks Henry whether he will remember her, and he says that if he wants her to, he will. Mercy says that she does want him to remember her.

Chapter 4 Summary

As the days pass, Mercy begins to spend and more time with Henry at the stable. He finds himself obsessed by the way she looks—her blue eyes, her chestnut hair, her muscular body. Most days she comes over with groceries after finishing riding, and they spend time together cooking and drinking coffee. Henry often asks her if she wants a cigarette, but she always declines.

One evening, they are sitting outside, intensely aware of the beauty of the stars. Mercy tells Henry that he has “the handsomest face.” Henry thanks her, but he doesn’t quite know how to respond. He tells her she is the prettiest girl.

Henry tells Mercy that he dreamed of her last night, and she says that she dreamed of him as well. Mercy approaches him and runs her fingers down the side of his face. She kisses him and then says she has to leave.

Awakened in the night, Henry hears Gaylen baying in the stable. Then he hears footsteps, and Mercy appears in the doorway. Mercy tells Henry he is a “thief” for stealing her heart, and then she says that she “wants him.” She unbuttons her clothes and climbs into his bed. She asks him if he has ever been with any other girls, and he tells her that she is his first. She says that he is her first as well.

After making love, Mercy asks Henry if he will always love her. He says he will, “no matter what.” Later in the night, Henry is unable to sleep, so he gets up and sits in a chair by the bed watching Mercy. She shudders in her sleep, and he wakes her to make sure she is all right. Mercy sleepily tells him that she took his spine. Not knowing what she means, Henry tells her to go back to sleep.

As dawn breaks, Henry gets dressed and goes outside to feed the horses. At some point, Mercy joins him. Henry asks Mercy whether she has ever considered the possibility that rocks are actually living beings whose hearts beat once every thousand years, and that they take a breath every five hundred. Mercy responds only by saying that Henry should never feel so alone again. Then she tells him that she has breakfast ready. They go inside and have eggs, bacon, bread, milk, and coffee. After breakfast, she cleans the kitchen and mops the floor.

Chapter 5 Summary

That spring, Mercy prepares to graduate from high school. Henry still has another year left of school, and Mercy plans to go away to college, but they try not to focus too much on their impending separation. Mercy’s parents give her a brand-new Mercury convertible as a graduation present, and she promises to visit Henry as often as she can while she is away at school.

One night, there is a dinner dance for the upcoming graduates held at the country club where Mercy’s father is a member. For the dance, Henry dresses in a dark suit with a white shirt, a red tie, and new shoes. When she picks him up in the Mercury convertible, Mercy gives him a new gray flannel suit. Henry says that he can’t accept her gift, but Mercy insists, telling him, “You have to know how to take.”

Mercy’s father, the wealthy judge, and her older brother, Randall, a successful lawyer who is married with children, are at the country club that night. Henry is intimidated by the way they smoke cigars, sip bourbon, and talk to the other country club men. Even though he is in love with Mercy, Henry does not feel that he fits in at the country club. When meeting Henry, Randall and Mercy’s father are polite but terse. Randall’s wife, Beverly, is more outgoing and tells Henry that she is glad to finally meet him. As the night goes on, Mercy and Henry have a pleasant time dancing together. At one point, the lights go out in the club, and Henry can’t find Mercy, a troubling event for him.

After the dance is over, Mercy seems upset. She gives Henry the keys to the Mercury and tells him to drive. They go up to a ridgeline above the city, where they kiss in the backseat of the car and make love.

Early the next morning, they drive back home. Mercy drops Henry off in front of his house, but he continues to follow along next to the car. Thinking back to the moment at the country club when the lights went out and they temporarily lost each other, Mercy tells Henry that if he ever loses her again, to come find her at the boathouse.

The next day, Henry has a ballgame. He expects Mercy to attend but she does not. He does see a black Oldsmobile parked at the edge of the field. As he is going home, the car follows him. The car stops in front of his house. Mercy’s father and Randall are inside the car, and Henry thinks he sees someone in the backseat as well. Mercy’s father tells Henry to stay away from his daughter. Henry and Randall nearly come to blows, but Mercy’s father steps between them.

Chapter 6 Summary

Stunned, Henry goes into his home and sits at the kitchen table. Unable to think or do anything, he whiles away the hours playing solitaire and staring into space. Later that night, he is in the same position when Clemmie comes into the kitchen from upstairs. Still grieving over the death of her father, she is having trouble sleeping as well. Clemmie talks to Henry about the intensity of her grief, saying that she feels like she has rocks in her stomach.

Suddenly Henry tells Clemmie that he is thinking about going away. Clemmie is at first incredulous. She asks about Henry’s responsibilities to his baseball team and to Walter’s stables. But then she realizes that Henry is actually serious.

There’s a knock at the door, and they hear Mercy’s voice on the other side. Henry doesn’t want her to be let in, but Clemmie opens the door. Mercy has cut her hair short, and her eyes are red and swollen from crying. Clemmie goes upstairs and leaves the two young lovers alone.

Mercy asks Henry if he is angry with her, but he says only that she should go. Mercy says she has something to give him, and hands him a piece of paper with a drawing of a heart and an arrow through it.

Henry doesn’t respond to Mercy’s gesture, and Mercy says that she has misunderstood him. She says she thought he was nice but now realizes that the niceness is just surface level, that on the inside he is cold as stone. Henry accuses Mercy of being in the back of her father’s Oldsmobile, but she denies it. Mercy then tells Henry that she is going. She has packed the car and is ready to leave.

Henry decides that he will go with her. He goes to his room and hurriedly packs a satchel with clothes. He pauses outside his mother’s door and contemplates whether to enter. He goes inside and tells her he is going. As they are talking, Clemmie admits that it was she who was inside the Oldsmobile that day, not Mercy. Clemmie explains that she did it to protect Henry, but now she realizes that she was wrong. Henry tells Clemmie he loves her, and then she goes to her bedside table and brings out a knife and a revolver wrapped in cloth. Clemmie tells Henry that the weapons once belonged to his uncle, and that he should take them.

Chapter 7 Summary

Driving the Mercury, Henry and Mercy make their way south. Henry pushes down on the accelerator aggressively, hoping to get as far away from Mercy’s family as he can as quickly as he can. Dressed in blue jeans, boots, and a flannel shirt, and with her hair cut short, Mercy’s appearance reminds Henry of a farm boy. Although Henry is nervous and unsure about the dramatic way they have changed their lives, Mercy is calm and at peace. “Let’s not go back till we’re old,” she suggests to Henry. Henry responds by asking whether her father would ever let that happen, but Mercy doesn’t say anything about her father or her family, only that she will miss the horse, Gaylen, most of all.

Eventually Mercy falls asleep curled in the passenger seat, with her back to Henry. While she sleeps, Henry pulls her shirt up so he can see her exposed back. He can’t believe how skinny she is, how easily he can count the ribs on her back. Henry decides that what he loves most about Mercy is her back.

After a while, Henry pulls the Mercury over, and he and Mercy embrace. She hugs him in response and then passes back into sleep.

Their plan is to drive all the way to New Orleans and live the rest of their days in the city. As they drive, Mercy fantasizes about their new life together. Stopping in Ohio for food, they eat burgers and milkshakes at a diner. Henry scans the room for someone who might recognize them or report them, but he realizes, with comfort, that they are completely anonymous.

Later they take the Natchez Trace, an old road that goes all the way to New Orleans. They spend the night at hotel just off the road. There’s a radio in the room, and Henry requests that they leave it on while they seep. Mercy thinks this is babyish of him, but she agrees. In the middle of the night, Henry is awoken by Mercy making a slight whimpering sound in her sleep. He nudges her awake, and they turn on the light and realize that she had her period on the sheets. They take the sheets, clean them, hang them up, and go back to sleep on the bare mattress.

In the morning, Mercy suddenly seems regretful of their rash escape. She says they may have made a mistake. She leaves to make a phone call. When Mercy returns, Henry is adamant that he will not leave her and he will not go back home. Mercy says that she has come to a resolution. She says she is Henry’s forever, and explains that the phone call was to Walter, to tell him that they would no longer be going to the stables. 

Chapter 8 Summary

They drive deeper and deeper into the South, passing by rural communities, long stretches of farmland, abandoned houses, bayous, and forests of thick pine. The weather turns humid and hot. They stop at a little store in the middle of nowhere for gasoline and cigarettes. Behind the store is a lake where children are swimming naked and fishing.

The store is filled with old, dusty merchandise. An old black woman sits behind the cash register, and she sells cigarettes individually as well as by the pack along with whiskey, produce, and sausages. A group of old black men sits in the back of the store next to a three-legged pool table, sipping whiskey and talking loudly to each other. A young girl comes into the store, and...

(The entire section is 408 words.)

Chapter 9 Summary

As they get closer to New Orleans, Henry and Mercy drive along a highway that runs parallel to the Mississippi River. Mercy has become delirious with her love for Henry, clasping him and saying that she “belongs” to him, that he is hers and she is his. Tired from the marathon driving, Henry responds only that he feels like a fool. Mercy says that she loves fools.

Mercy begins to fantasize and speculate about what their life in New Orleans will be like. She imagines taking their meals on an iron balcony, with the wild streets below and the smell of flowers in the air. After that, Mercy says a “road prayer” and asks God to protect them. Then she falls asleep.

Hours later, night has fallen, and Henry...

(The entire section is 414 words.)

Chapter 10 Summary

Able to see only out of one eye, Henry falls away from the car and throws himself into the nearby body of water. After a few moments, Mercy comes after him, wading into the water and pulling him above the surface. But suffering with intense pain from the burning, Henry tells her to leave him alone and plunges back under the water.

Finally the pain lessens, and Henry is able to pull himself from the water. He crawls up the bank aided by Mercy. Mercy says they should go to a hospital, but Henry refuses.

After refilling the radiator, the engine starts up and seems to be working well. Because Henry cannot see out of one eye, Mercy drives the car. They stop at a gas station, where Mercy has to knock on the front...

(The entire section is 441 words.)

Chapter 11 Summary

They make their way to a second-floor apartment owned by an aunt of Mercy’s and with whom Mercy has planned their elopement. They go inside the courtyard of the building and meet the caretaker, who escorts them to their new abode. The apartment is shabby but comfortable, with clean linens and an icebox. The caretaker hands Mercy an envelope filled with cash, a gift from Mercy’s aunt.

For the next few days, Mercy applies the salve to Henry’s burns, which eventually heal. The closets of the apartment are filled with antique dresses, which she puts on and walks around the apartment in, showing the clothes off to Henry. After Mercy’s fashion shows, they make energetic, passionate love, bruising their bodies and...

(The entire section is 473 words.)

Chapter 12 Summary

One day, Henry comes back to the apartment after taking a walk and finds Mercy looking at a letter and weeping. The letter is unsigned and wildly composed. The letter vaguely threatens Mercy in addition to making religious appeals about God. Mercy says that the caretaker of the building wrote the letter. Henry tries to calm her down but Mercy remains upset. He suggests that she put the letter into her book, which she agrees to do.

The next day down by the river, Henry and Mercy see a woman jump in and begin to swim. Henry runs down to the bank, where there is a man watching. The man tells Henry that the woman has done this before, and that she is a good swimmer who could make it to the other side. But Mercy is adamant...

(The entire section is 424 words.)

Chapter 13 Summary

It is October, and the location is off the coast of North Korea. Three months after losing Mercy and joining the Marines, Henry waits on a ship full of soldiers for orders to attack. Henry is surrounded by a wide variety of men: combat veterans, new recruits like himself, chewers of bubble gum and chewers of tobacco, religious believers and atheists. Henry’s two principal companions are Lew Devine, a jocular marine who fought in World War II but who is not much older than Henry, and Gunny, a stern-faced veteran.

During the duration of their three-week trip across the ocean, Lew has suffered from sea sickness. He drinks water anxiously and is ready to be on solid land.

Finally the boat approaches the shore,...

(The entire section is 437 words.)

Chapter 14 Summary

The division of which Henry is a part marches northward in pursuit of the enemy, the North Korean Army. The countryside the soldiers are trudging through is barren and bleak. They pass by abandoned villages and exploded factories. Little of the surroundings seems to have escaped from the war untouched. Bullet holes and piles of rubble abound.

Only occasionally do they pass people who used to live in the area. Once they see a little Korean girl in a red skirt standing at a burned-out house. She has a single blade of grass in her hand, and she gives it to Henry as a gift. They pass an old woman begging for food who is accompanied by a man with a beard so long it passes below his waist. They see a man with a huge package...

(The entire section is 411 words.)

Chapter 15 Summary

The farther north the division marches, the colder the weather gets, to the point that it feels as if the troops have literally marched from autumn into winter. The army Henry and the other soldiers are pursuing, the retreating North Korean Army, is tired, hungry, and desperate. The Americans begin to come across evidence of the North Koreans’ cruelty, such as burned-out villages and ditches filled with dead bodies.

Rumors abound that the Chinese have entered the war on the side of the North Koreans, ratcheting up the possibilities for grotesque military maneuvers, such as bayoneting men in their sleep. Some hear of a tough battle going on between Americans and enemy soldiers only a few miles to the west. Any new...

(The entire section is 454 words.)

Chapter 16 Summary

After spending the night outside, the men have to hang their sleeping bags from trees to dry them from the night’s snow. Winter is arriving in full force, and Henry wonders whether the sun will ever come out; it eventually does.

The men take new precautions against the cold: wearing Korean knit caps beneath their helmets, layering their military uniforms with whatever they can find. After a hearty breakfast, some of the soldiers run out in a snowy field and play a game of football, during which one of the men injures a finger and another dislocates his shoulder. In they afternoon, they get their meal of meat and fruit from great boiling cauldrons of water. Scalding hot coffee is served on the side.

In the...

(The entire section is 441 words.)

Chapter 17 Summary

The next morning, when Henry wakes up, he is buried in a foot-high layer of snow that has fallen in the night. The first to wake up, Henry watches as the other men come to and are shocked to discover the white powder all around them. He stands up and jumps around in an attempt to become warm. Lew wakes up and asks jokingly for Henry to kill him. Henry says that Lew knows he can’t do that.

Claiming to be sick, Lew waits in line where he receives a dose of aspirin and a solution of water and sick-bay alcohol. He goes back through the line three more times. During one of his waits, he procures a can of pineapple juice, which he shares with Henry.

Henry has received another letter from his mother. Clemmie...

(The entire section is 497 words.)

Chapter 18 Summary

Trudging along in the lonely dark, Henry composes letters in his mind to Mercy, telling her how much he misses her and how much he longs for those days they spent together, which to him seem like “a dream inside a dream inside a dream.” On some days, he thinks about her so much that he forgets what she looks like. On others, he feels as if she is right there with him.

Climbing to where the road bottlenecks through a narrow pass, Henry comes across Lew, who is waiting for him. Lew tells him that they will have to hold the pass to protect the rest of the division. While they wait, Lew talks to Henry about Mercy. He doesn’t know who Mercy is but has observed Henry enough to know that Henry is forlorn about a woman at...

(The entire section is 416 words.)

Chapter 19 Summary

That night, Lew and Henry once again move out in the pitch-black darkness. “It won’t be long now,” Lew says, and Henry feels that at any second, they could be face to face with the Chinese army. When he asks Lew whether he is afraid, Lew says that he shouldn’t be afraid until there is something to be afraid of.

Lew and Henry move into an elevated group of giant rocky formations. Among the rubble, they find a soldier who had frozen to death some time in the past. Henry tells Lew about the white deer and wonders what it could mean. Lew tells him to get some sleep and not worry about it.

A little later, Henry wakes up. Lew hands him his canteen with the liquor and water mixture and asks Henry if he...

(The entire section is 413 words.)

Chapter 20 Summary

As the sun comes up over the battlefield, Henry’s ears ring from the night of explosions as he surveys the ground strewn with bodies and covered with blood. He thinks about another potential letter he will write to his mother, this time describing the battle and the bad time he and the troops had in it. Planes fly overhead, dropping artillery and napalm on the enemy positions, seeming to rattle the world. The Chinese are out there, but Henry cannot see them because their white uniforms blend in with the snow.

Eventually, Henry is able to calm himself. He stands up and feels the pain in his thigh. But he is able to walk. The wounded are congregating around the medical station. Some of the men are being patched up and...

(The entire section is 424 words.)

Chapter 21 Summary

As the sun sets, darkening the land, the temperature goes down quickly. Even as he is painfully cold, Henry sweats from nervousness, and so he sheds layers to cool down. He tries to think of memories, people, or objects that will calm him down: a horse, his mother, his old home. Lew comes over with some straw, which he lays down for Henry to sleep on. Again, Henry and Lew are on watch, one waiting up while the other sleeps. When it is Henry’s turn, he stares out into the darkness looking for movement. He sees some movement in the snow and fires, killing an enemy soldier.

After a little while, the artillery starts coming in, and the enemy begins to make its attack. Once again, Henry is shocked at how many Chinese there...

(The entire section is 414 words.)

Chapter 22 Summary

The next morning, civilian Koreans who have been forced to work in mines pour in from the mountains. The men and women are fleeing the Chinese army and are trying to make it to the ocean. The Americans don’t know what to do, so they point in the general direction of the ocean and send them on their way.

Henry receives another letter from his mother, even though he has trouble believing how a letter from America can reach him in his current situation. In the letter, Clemmie reports that it has been a harsh winter in West Virginia, leading her to reminisce on harsh winters from her childhood, and the strategies her family took in preparing enough food to last through the long winter months. Clemmie also reflects on the...

(The entire section is 420 words.)

Chapter 23 Summary

Henry jerks himself awake. The young hunter rescued by Henry, Lew, and the others is wandering around the bunker chattering wildly about how easily a person can bleed to death.

After stomping around to wake himself up, Henry settles down and focuses his eyes on a strip of ground out ahead of them, waiting for any sign of movement from the Chinese troops. Suddenly the thought of Mercy comes to him, and he realizes that he was wrong to leave. He decides in that moment that he will never run from her again.

He can hear shelling and bombing in the distance, but it is difficult to determine where it is coming from. Then he sees in the distance the mortars beginning to land. The battle is beginning. In his mind,...

(The entire section is 409 words.)

Chapter 24 Summary

In the morning, word comes in on the radio that they are to retreat. The retreating movement will not be easy, however, as the road to where the other American troops are situated is lined with enemy troops. While bombers course through the air, the soldiers gather around Lew, who gives them instructions to burn everything in their possession that could be used to identify them. This is a precaution in case they any of them are captured. All that they have left to carry will be weapons, food, water, and ammunition. As they move off, the soldiers realize that many of them will not make it to the end of this journey alive.

They move along the crest of the ridge. They pass by one marine who is staying in his position and...

(The entire section is 410 words.)

Chapter 25 Summary

Moving slowly and carefully and hoping to avoid detection by the enemy, Henry and Lew creep along the ridgeline. They watch as American fighter jets sweep the valley, firing bullets and dropping bombs.

Lew sinks back down behind the cliff face and eats from a jar of peanut butter. They discuss what to do next. Henry suggests going down and joining the attack against the enemy, but Lew argues that they will only be putting themselves at risk by joining in the doomed mission. Lew suggests they wait where they are on the ridgeline.

After a while they begin moving again, and they reach a place on the ridgeline where they can see a vast lake in the distance. They look down on the frozen lake, where they can see a...

(The entire section is 406 words.)

Chapter 26 Summary

When Henry wakes up, he is wrapped in a woolen blanket and being dragged across the ice. He realizes that he is on a wooden sled being pulled by Lew. A few dogs surround the sled and follow alongside Henry and Lew. As the sled is heavy, Lew walks slowly. Henry falls in and out of sleep, and he doesn’t know how far or for how long Lew has been pulling him. As he is being pulled, Henry thinks back to being a boy and traveling by sleigh with his grandfather through the forest to cut down a tree for Christmas.

They come to the edge of the lake, and they travel up the shore and stagger into a small village. They come to a man outside a hut, and he lets them in. Once inside Henry realizes the hut is bigger than he expected....

(The entire section is 446 words.)

Chapter 27 Summary

Henry and Lew strike off down the eastern shore of the vast lake, moving south toward where they hope to find the American encampments. Along the way they encounter the burnt-out shells of American military vehicles, some still containing the bodies of American soldiers. From these destroyed tanks and jeeps they are also able to scrounge more ammunition and weapons.

In the middle of the day, they stop and make a fire over which they roast cans of food. Around twilight they pass through a village. They find some more food in addition to an ox in a field, which they kill and cook over a fire.

Nearing the southern end of the reservoir, Henry and Lew come upon a small crew of enemy soldiers sitting around a fire...

(The entire section is 442 words.)

Chapter 28 Summary

Nearing outright exhaustion, Henry and Lew push on. They do anything they can to keep each other awake and moving, including punching and kicking each other. For some distance they travel along a main road, and then they move onto a less well traveled path that takes them through the countryside.

As they walk south, they start to smell an awful combination of burning trash and rotting human flesh. Henry asks Lew how he is doing, and Lew says he is doing well. Henry can tell his friend is lying, however, judging by the paleness of his face and his blue lips. Henry realizes that if he doesn’t get Lew to a doctor soon, he will probably die.

After resting for a while, they move on, and eventually they can see...

(The entire section is 410 words.)

Chapter 29 Summary

A few weeks later, Henry returns home to West Virginia via a flatbed boat called the Jean Carol. The boat floats down the Kanawha River, which flows into Charleston, Henry’s hometown. During the trip down the river, Henry grew close to the captain of the boat, assisting the skipper when the ship’s engineer got into an accident while he was drunk and burned his hands on a hot pipe.

The captain asks Henry if there is anyone waiting for his return, and Henry says only his aunt; no one who could be called his sweetheart. Henry tells the captain that his only plans once he gets home are to do some fishing and harden himself up. The captain asks Henry about the war and what it was like to fight in Korea; Henry...

(The entire section is 434 words.)

Chapter 30 Summary

After making his way through the city, Henry stops in at a bar called the Red Pony. Although he is initially anxious about being back in his hometown after fighting in the war, believing he sees Mercy’s brother Randall in a corner of the bar before realizing it is only his imagination, he eventually relaxes and drinks a few whiskeys and beers. Soon he is drunk and asks the bartender where he can find a bite to eat. The bartender recommends a diner down the street.

The diner is empty but for Henry; a tall, striking woman who is the waitress and proprietor; and a little man dressed elegantly in a suit, hat, and cane. The tiny man orders chicken livers, and Henry asks for a breakfast of eggs, sausage, and potatoes. The...

(The entire section is 438 words.)

Chapter 31 Summary

In the morning Henry wakes up beneath a bridge when a police officer nudges at him with his nightstick. The policeman explains that someone told him they had seen Henry down by the water and thought he was dead. Henry responds that he isn’t dead yet. The policeman tells Henry that he can't stay here and asks him if he has somewhere to go. Henry turns, and the policeman grimaces when he sees the scarred side of Henry’s face. The policeman then asks if he can give Henry a ride. Henry declines the offer, though, and makes his way through town.

Henry enters his old neighborhood and approaches the house where he used to live with Clemmie. He walks up the steps and opens the door. A cat he has never seen before sleeps on...

(The entire section is 435 words.)

Chapter 32 Summary

That night after Adelita returns from the hospital where she works, Henry and his aunt eat dinner and then sit on the porch. While Adelita dozes, Henry thinks back to such evenings when his mother was still alive. Clemmie would ask him to unbraid and then brush her hair, an action Henry found peaceful and calming. He whispers out loud to Clemmie that he misses her, causing Adelita to wake up.

Henry lights a cigarette. Adelita asks him whether he was homesick while he was in Korea. Henry says he was for a while but that after some time it didn’t matter to him anymore. Henry explains that he is having dark moments of memory in the early mornings and late at night; at these moments he is able to understand how people are...

(The entire section is 469 words.)

Chapter 33 Summary

Henry has trouble figuring out what to do. Often he stays in bed all day or spends hours looking at a book while not retaining what he has read. When the sun comes out, he goes outside and scrapes paint from the side of the house or clears tangles of vines from the backyard. At night he wanders through the city, hitchhiking out to the middle of nowhere and walking back. Often he imagines running into Mercy, and he wonders what he would say to her.

One Saturday afternoon he walks down to the river, where two boys pull a flatbed boat ashore after giving up on their day’s fishing. He watches the boys for a while and then keeps walking. He goes into town and passes a barbershop where an old man reads a newspaper and an...

(The entire section is 515 words.)

Chapter 34 Summary

One night Henry takes a walk toward the western edge of the city. As he walks he thinks that he is satisfied, that he wouldn’t exchange places with any man anywhere.

He stops in front of a house with the name Malvina Devine on the mailbox. A woman is on the porch watering flowers in a flower box. Henry calls out to the woman and greets her, asking if he can join her on the porch. The woman says that she doesn’t have anything for him, but Henry says that he only wants to talk.

Henry walks up the steps to the porch. There’s a man sitting there, and he doesn’t have any legs. Henry lights a cigarette, and the man asks him whether he’s going to say something about his legs.

The man tells him...

(The entire section is 488 words.)

Chapter 35 Summary

One night Henry goes down to the riverbank, where he has seen boys bringing in a boat from fishing. The boat is there where the boys left it and Henry takes it out on the water. He guides it into the current and then to a still pool beneath a bridge, where he decides to fish. He lights a lantern on the boat and brings out his fishing pole and line.

In the distance Henry can see the glow of the town. He casts his line into the water without any success, saying to himself that the fish must not be hungry. He casts again and gets his line tangled in a tree. Before rowing over to untangle the line, he takes his bottle of whiskey out and has a drink.

After untangling the line, Henry casts again, but this time he...

(The entire section is 437 words.)

Chapter 36 Summary

The next night Henry goes out walking in town and thinks how he is beginning to like the dreary city. He packs a bottle of beer in his pocket and takes swigs as he walks. He stops in a hotel with a cigar shop and buys a cigar. Then he goes to a steakhouse and eats. After he eats, he sits on a park bench and smokes the cigar. He remembers the burning man on the bridge but quickly pushes the horrific image from his mind.

He walks over to the Red Pony, the bar he visited on his first night back in town. It is filled with drunk, raucous people. One woman drunkenly tries to use the bar’s pay phone. Henry orders a whiskey and beer and thinks about whether he should spend the winter in the mountains, building a cabin to keep...

(The entire section is 525 words.)

Chapter 37 Summary

Henry stands at the bathroom mirror and stitches up the cuts above his eye and on his lip. It is a slow, painstaking process. Eventually Adelita comes home from work. Henry explains that he was in a bar fight. Adelita has already heard of the fight, and she tells Henry that he almost killed Randall. She inspects his wounds and says that he’s done a good job sewing up the cuts.

Adelita offers to wash his clothes, so Henry strips down. She draws a bath for him. Henry seems to be struggling with something, so Adelita asks him what is wrong. Henry says that he is a murderer. He talks about the enemy soldiers he and Lew killed in the warehouse in Korea, that they nailed their hearts to the door. Adelita comforts Henry and...

(The entire section is 418 words.)

Chapter 38 Summary

Henry spends the whole day walking through the town, looking deeply into the faces of the people he comes across and thinking of his mother’s letter.

That night he goes down to the river and follows alongside the bank until he sees the lighted boathouse where Mercy said she would wait for him. He finds a staircase and descends to the porch outside the house. After waiting a few moments, he knocks on the door.

He hears someone stirring inside, and then a woman’s voice asking who is there. The curtains open and he sees Mercy’s face.

Wearing only a nightshirt, Mercy steps into the night and asks Henry where he has been. He says Korea, to fight the war. They comment on how beautiful the night...

(The entire section is 435 words.)