Turns out that the nuclear bomb that at first was a harmless dummy was an actual warhead, and Pip as a harmless dummy daughter turned out to be a very real daughter from Tom’s past.
While twists are expected in Franzen’s work, it does not quite compare to Walter and his mistress and her untimely death, or Denise and just how much her father Alfred knew about her sexual past. This twist does not bring with it the stunning passion, the jouissance as the others do.
Perhaps later in the novel we’ll see that Pip actually knew all along about Tom from her time with Andreas Wolf working for the Sunlight Project.
The fact that she also has a trust in the form of $1,000,000,000 (I wanted to type that out) is not as entertaining as I would have liked it to be. Perhaps so soon in the novel, these end-of-first-act revelations were not given the time to develop. We still have plenty of pages to go, so I’m optimistic.
So the situation is catastrophic for Leila, but what is its story? I suppose it is getting what you want, i.e. a daughter, but not at all in the context of the way in which you want it. Having the daughter come from Annabel, a person for whom Tom still has not gotten over, terrifies Leila. But just as equally, Tom leverages her awkward relationship with Charles over her head. “You still give him handjobs,” he says, not knowing that barely over a page ago, Leila had basically called him his toddler.
The lines between lover and child blur, between Leila thinking that Tom wants to have sex with Pip, feeling insecure about her middle age, as well as the energy she herself feels for Pip being a mixture of intimacy and some form of sexual passion. Leila is caretaker to the point of arranging a “lifter” to take a bath who never shows, and while Leila is getting to have that family life she wanted, she is doing so without anything of the kind. She has no home that is technically hers, so she is on a merry-go-round that cycles between career, caretaking, and an affair, and with each there is uncertainty. Even in journalism, she worries about The Washington Post stealing her story, as she is taking pains to be much more methodical, unlike social media and traditional journalist types.
How much information do you need before you run a story in your head of how you’d like to see the world? Getting too much changes the story entirely, but not enough makes you wonder if it’s a story at all, or if it really is just a dummy warhead.