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Part 1, Chapter 17 Summary

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...

(The entire section is 498 words.)