Part 1, Chapter 2 Summary
Babette Gladney is “tall and fairly ample.” She has tousled, dirty blond, magnificent hair that she wears rather carelessly; on a more petite woman it would look too planned. Her husband tells her the moving-in spectacle was glorious, as always, and she is disappointed to have missed it. She is a bit disheveled, too busy with other, more important things, to worry very much about her appearance.
Her accomplishments are not great as the world measures greatness. She is a mother to her children, teaches adult education classes, and volunteers to read to the blind (such as Old Man Treadwell, who wants to hear stories from popular magazines such as the National Enquirer, the Globe, and the Star).
She is a lover of life, and Gladney enjoys watching her do her mundane activities. Babette makes him feel connected to the world in a way his other wives had not, and she is a refreshing change from the “self-absorbed and high strung bunch” in the academic community.
Babette chides him for not reminding her that today was the day and asks what the women were wearing. Gladney tells her they somehow looked like they felt entitled to their money. The Gladneys have a station wagon, too, but it is metallic gray and one door is completely rusted.
The couple does most of their living in the kitchen and the bedroom; the rest of the house is a necessary storage place for kids, stuff, and memorabilia of other lives and relationships. For Gladney, the random belongings carry “a sorrowful weight” and are a kind of foreboding of something on a grand scale.
Wilder, Denise, and Steffie join their parents in the kitchen. They talk about school supplies before each of them scrounges for what they want to fix for lunch; it is a comfortable, sprawling meal. Another son, Heinrich, enters the kitchen, surveys the scene, and promptly disappears out the back door.
Babette had planned to eat something healthy for lunch. As always, she feels guilty for not eating the wheat germ and yogurt she always buys; however, she also feels guilty if she does not buy it, if she sees it sitting in the refrigerator, or if she has to throw it away uneaten. Eleven-year-old Denise berates all of her mother’s wasteful habits, but Gladney defends Babette, claiming he is the one who needs to develop a more disciplined diet.
People generally trust those who have some substance to them, but Babette is unhappy with her hips and thighs and routinely exercises by running steps. She knows her husband tries to make virtues of her flaws because it is his “nature to shelter loved ones from the truth.”
The smoke alarm in the upstairs hallway goes off, warning the Gladneys that either the battery just died or the house is on fire. The family silently finishes their lunch.