Part 1, Chapter 17 Summary

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Gladney’s daughter Bee is arriving in a few days. The entire family is in the car when Denise directly confronts Babette about the medication she may or may not be taking, hoping to surprise her mother into admitting something. Gladney admires Denise’s timing but the result is not what the girl had hoped, and her question is never answered.

The Gladney family is the “cradle of the world’s misinformation,” and one random (and generally faulty) fact shared by one person leads to an entire meandering string of ridiculous half-facts. Siskind believes people are “fragile creatures surrounded by a world of hostile facts” that threaten their basic happiness and security, and families do their best to seal off the realities of the world. This is how small, misstated facts become full-blown works of fiction.

Gladney insists that ignorance and confusion could not possibly be the foundation of family connectedness, but Siskind points out that the strongest family units are found in the least developed places in the world. Ignorance (or not knowing) is a “weapon of survival.” Families that are not based on absolute reality, that regularly misinterpret the facts, are the strongest.

Gladney meets Eric Massingale, a former microchip sales engineer and now a fellow professor, at the gigantic hardware store in town. Massingale is surprised to see Gladney without his signature dark glasses, but of course Gladney only wears them on campus.

The men shop the aisles filled with everything imaginable and see one another again at the checkout station. Again Massingale remarks on how different Gladney looks without his dark glasses and scholarly gown. In fact, he practically begs Gladney not to take offense when he says that Gladney looks like a “big, harmless, aging, indistinct sort of guy” when he is not on campus.

Gladney is not offended by Massingale’s observation; in fact, it has put him in a rare mood and he decides to go shopping with his family. He wants to buy things (something he usually does not do), and his family is eager to find things he might like to buy.

Gladney traverses all eight floors of the mall and shops with “reckless abandon.” He needs none of the things he buys but enjoys touching and inspecting everything. He looks at himself in every imaginable reflective surface as he grows expansive and generous, telling his kids to go ahead and choose their Christmas gifts today. The more money he spends, the less money seems to matter to him; he revels in being the benevolent benefactor for his children, who whisper their selections to Babette but not each other.

After eating a second meal in the mall, Gladney drives his family home. Silence reigns in the car, and when they arrive home, the family members goes to their own rooms, wanting to be alone for a bit. Later Gladney sees Steffie sitting in front of the television set, mouthing every word in synchronization with the program she is watching. 

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