Joe and Clarissa arrive at their apartment where they exchange their experiences of the tragedy. Clarissa compares the falling Logan to a line of John Milton from Paradise Lost: “Hurled headlong flaming from th’Ethereal Sky” (pg. 29). To cope with the accident, they tell and retell their experiences, trying to “corner” it and “tame it with words.” Clarissa explains that, in the moment, she thought that angels would swoop down from heaven and save Logan, that his fall “was a challenge that no angel could resist, and his death denied their existence” (pg. 31).
For Clarissa, Logan’s death is tied to her dreams of children. Joe explains that a routine surgery left Clarissa unable to bear children and that, although they are happy together, it is clear she carries that pain with her. Clarissa loves children, and when her friend’s infant died unexpectedly, Clarissa treated it almost as if it were her own “phantom” child. Clarissa attempts to make meaning of the accident by giving Logan the noble honor of being a child-protector. Joe denies the meaning of the accident, and Clarissa compares his rationality to a child’s, implying there’s some sort of innocence there.
Clarissa and Joe, however, agree that they do need love and they retire to their bedroom. There, they share childhood stories and hold each other, eventually having sex. They invite their friends over for Thai food and retell their story, and by creating a story to tell, they distance themselves from the tragic, real-life events. After their friends leave they go to bed and as Joe is falling asleep, the telephone rings. Jed Parry says to him, “I just wanted you to know, I understand what you’re feeling. I feel it too. I love you” (pg. 37). Clarissa asks Joe who was calling, and he claims it was a wrong number, admitting to the reader that it was his “first serious mistake” (pg. 37).
Joe and Clarissa wake up in the morning and rush off to their daily obligations, trying to distract themselves from the accident. Joe reveals that he is a freelance science journalist and that he is writing a piece on the Hubble telescope. Joe reflects on the technical construction error of the Hubble and links it to his own behavior yesterday, examining his guilty feeling, trying to figure out where it started. He finishes the story, talks to a potential employer, and goes to the reading room of the London Library, looking for information on Darwin’s contemporaries.
Joe wants to write a piece about how Darwin’s generation was the last to use narrative in published scientific articles. He tells the story of an amateur scientist and gentleman who wrote a letter to a scientific journal in 1904, claiming that higher mammals like dogs have awareness of the consequences of their actions. According to this gentleman, his friend’s dog liked to lie in a particular chair, and one day the dog tricked his master out of the chair by whining to go out, and when his master got up to let him out, the dog darted back to the chair, a look of triumph on its face. The gentleman takes it as an example of the dog’s sense of the future and its act of memory. Joe finds the “scientific observation” laughable, explaining what he thinks happened: unable to sit in its favorite place, the dog sat in the next best place until it felt the need to pee. The dog was waiting at the door when it noticed that its favorite resting place was empty and it ran back, expressing pleasure at being there.
Joe suddenly notices with agitation that someone has been pacing behind a nearby rack, and as he is about to ask him be quiet, the pacer dashes away. Joe sees white shoes with red streaks as the pacer exits the swing doors. Joe begins ranting in his head about the lack of scientific material in this library, claiming that science is the “greatest intellectual achievement of our civilization” (pg. 42). As he tries to focus on his article, he realizes that he has an unsettling feeling, which he eventually identifies as “apprehension.”
Joe chides himself for not identifying his fear, a basic human response. He runs to the door and peers out into the busy street, trying to find the person with the white sneakers and red laces. Unable to find him or any other pedestrians, Joe runs across the place where a policewoman had been shot earlier. There is a jam jar filled with marigolds there and Joe straightens it, thinking that it might bring him “luck, or rather, protection” and that on such irrational actions “whole religions were founded, whole systems of thought unfurled” (pg. 45).
Clarissa’s allusion to Paradise Lost as Logan falls from the sky works as a metaphor for Clarissa and Joe’s relationship. Until this fateful day, their relationship has been relatively idyllic—Clarissa writes beautifully abstract love letters to Joe, they are well off and (mostly) content with their lives. The day that John Logan falls from the sky, Clarissa and Joe fall from the paradise of their love. Like Adam and Eve expelled from the Garden of Eden, Clarissa and Joe find themselves with lost innocence in a nightmarish world.
Clarissa and Joe’s attempt to “tame [the experience] with words” continues the investigation of narrative’s role in human experience. The word “tame” used to describe the experience implies that experiences are naturally wild and potentially dangerous. Narratives tie down experiences with metaphorical ropes of words, making them safer.
Narratives also, however, destroy experiences. Joe finds that the more he tells people his story, the more he can “recount the events without re-living them in the faintest degree, without even remembering them” (pg. 36). By creating a narrative, Joe and Clarissa rob the balloon tragedy of its power and its senselessness. They have power over the story because they control it. Narratives also have a meaning and a story arc, things that, in the moment, the balloon accident doesn’t have. Although Clarissa tells her story through the lens of saving a child and Joe tells his through the “story” of evolutionary biology, these stories, like the gentleman scientist’s dog story, are fictions imposed on chaotic, uncontrollable events.
Joe and Clarissa’s actions after their discussion elaborate on the novel’s investigation of love. Their actions are a depiction of natural, comfortable love—they hold each other, whispering little affectionate words. Clarissa explains, “We’ve seen something terrible together. It won’t go away, and we have to help each other. And that means we’ll have to love each other even harder” (pg. 33). This is one solution the novel offers to the problem of postmodern senselessness. There may not be meaning in the constructed human metanarratives, but there might be meaning in love.
Jed Parry’s phone call at the end of Chapter Three works both to foreshadow the Parry plotline and to act as a foil to Clarissa and Joe’s love. While Clarissa and Joe’s love is natural and restorative, the love Jed feels for Joe is unexpected, unnatural, and taxing to both of them.