Book Four, Christmas, begins in early December 1967. Daniel is on a plane to Los Angeles. He notes that the other passengers are wary of his appearance; he has a full beard, long hair, a headband, sandals, and a blasé, disinterested air about him. Daniel looks like a hippie. Upon arrival at LAX, he is warned that his appearance will make it impossible to obtain a rental car. He instructs his cab driver to take him somewhere where he could hitch a ride. He is picked up by a VW camper driven by a teaching assistant for the newly-opened University of California, Irvine. As they drive, he marvels at the bright chemical sun, the grey haze, the stillness, and the wide open swathes of space that typify California. He realizes that “though he’d come three thousand miles to a place he’d never seen before he felt right at home.”
Later, he sits in the trailer shared by the TA and three others who work at the University. Daniel realizes that this lifestyle values people’s feelings. Names were not even important. Daniel calls Phyllis at the Lewins' house. She tells Daniel that his parents are a little miffed about his trip to Los Angeles, which they found strange and unnecessary.
Daniel’s next phone call is to the home of Selig Mindish. His daughter Linda answers. After several lies and circuitous maneuverings around the facts of her identity and her father’s whereabouts, Linda finally engages in a conversation with Daniel. She asks what he wants and he responds he’d like to visit the Mindish home and pay respects to Selig. Linda is resentful of, what she deems, his arrogant attitude. She finally agrees to see Daniel, but is not shy about the antipathy she feels regarding his request.
After hanging up the phone, Daniel muses at the service he offers to Linda, which is to come back into her life and propose a new life complete with the “purring eroticism that comes when you understand you’re going to get away with something after all.” Perhaps Linda would be aroused by her ability to tell Daniel everything she had wanted to years before.
When he arrives at the small, “cottage-cute” house, Linda meets him at the door. Her father is nowhere in sight. Daniel finds her thinner and shorter than he had expected but still unattractive, with her father’s face. Dale, a lawyer, waits inside the house. Daniel describes Dale as “a fellow with brown shining eyes, Disney-animal eyelashes, square clothes, skinhead haircut. Emanates passivism.” Dale and Linda are engaged to be married and it becomes clear to Daniel that he intends to protect his fiancé from Daniel’s plans. Daniel is annoyed by Dale’s mere presence and his insistent, pressing questions as to his intentions. Daniel remembers Linda’s belligerent, spiteful treatment when they were children. He understands that Linda’s fear is centered on Daniel’s potential to expose what she didn’t want to come to light. She needed to get rid of this connection, this threat. Linda has been living under an alias, though she insists that the Mindish family had several friends who knew their real names.
Daniel asks Linda how her mother supported the family when her husband went to jail. Linda feels no obligation to explain and instead says that the children had borne the brunt of what happened. The experience taught her how much fortitude she had; the Isaacson children were not so lucky. Still, Linda maintains that her childhood was more difficult because her father, unlike Paul and Rochelle, was never viewed as a hero by anyone. Sometimes, she even wished their parents’ situations were reversed. Linda tells Daniel that his parents were liars and that they always expected people to do what they wished. They took advantage of their friends and were blinded by their lofty ideals.
As Dale tries to calm his fiancée, Daniel observes that Linda is actually already calm. For the children of trials, “our hearts run to cunning, our minds are sharp as claws.” While Susan was always innocent, Daniel and Linda were shrewd and cunning. Daniel imagines her in bed and assumes that the real reason Dale was there was not to use his legal skills but to prevent Daniel from taking advantage of Linda, who would no doubt be willing. Both he and Linda were locked into their family truths.
The questions continue. Daniel asks why Mindish confessed at all, and expresses his own feeling that he was innocent. If he had not confessed there would be no trial because the FBI would not have a case. Perhaps he confessed under FBI pressure because they had something on him. What Daniel proffers as an alternative is a theory - a myth even - that Mindish was protecting a different couple that actually did vanish under mysterious circumstances and were conducting real espionage work. Perhaps it was a fantasy; perhaps Selig Mindish was involved marginally. Though he doesn’t have all the moving pieces figured out, Daniel avows his theory.
Daniel breaks from the scene with Linda to introduce “The Theory of the Other Couple”. Daniel discusses the American Communists of the 1950s, calling them a collection of self-made martyrs fiercely committed to their ideologies. He considers what Rochelle must have been thinking as she saw Mindish take the stand. Filled with rage for most of his testimony, she above all hoped he would meet her eyes and make him acknowledge her existence. As Rochelle watched him, she realized that he was not contrite and begging for forgiveness, or rationally assured of his duty, or an actor playing for the jury. He was a fellow comrade - one that was complicit in this self-sacrifice. Rochelle realized, in one horrible moment, that Paul actually was responsible for some of the things he was accused of. They did not communicate after their third appeal failed. People assumed they spent the night before their execution together, but it was not clear.
Daniel resumes his meeting with Linda Mindish. She taunts Daniel, saying she pities his naivete; Paul and Rochelle ran the entire network, she explains. Daniel only wants to talk to Mindish about these accusations. He begins yelling for him but Linda continues to refuse. Daniel tells her that she has turned her back on history, and that she was not the girl he used to know. Dale tries to get rid of Daniel as he persists in his request to see Mindish. Finally something within Linda changes and she relents. Her father is spending the day at Disneyland with his wife. Daniel wonders if Linda desired destruction or if she had the urge to let herself go – to free herself from her father and the weight of their past. Perhaps she truly wanted to know if she was the daughter of a master spy and the architect of so much woe. Regardless of her reasoning, Linda, Daniel and Dale head to Disneyland.
Daniel’s encounter with Linda Mindish in southern California brings into sharp focus the way that the Isaacson trial and execution affected not just him and Susan but Linda as well. The three of them are “children of trials” and, as Daniel notes, “our hearts run to cunning, our minds are as sharp as claws” (275). Linda is “as locked into her family truths as we were locked into ours.” Like Daniel and Susan, she lived many years under a name not her own. She firmly believes the Isaacsons to be guilty and her father to be innocent. Her childhood brattiness, attributed by Daniel to her unattractiveness, has ossified into bitterness and hardness. Instead of embracing radical ideology and immersing herself in the philosophies of the Old and/or New Left, Linda has fully adopted a “square,” professional existence. She became a dentist and is planning on marrying Dale, a lawyer whom Daniel calls a “dangerous wide-hipped whitey” (272) who “emanates passivism” (272).
Daniel, as with the other female characters he comes into contact with, thinks of Linda in sexual terms, which is made more disturbing with its suggestion of incest: “I imagined her in bed. There was no question in my mind the [sic] she wouldn’t refuse…It would not be uninteresting, it would not be without blood, an incest of blood and jism and egg more corrupt than any I could have with my real sister” (275). Linda and Daniel have far more in common than he and Susan do, which explains the violent sexual clash the two of them could potentially have. Their shared cruelty has kept them alive through early adulthood.
Linda’s decision to allow Daniel to see her father only comes about after much arguing and negotiating. It bears some analysis in that it was so difficult to attain. Why does Linda finally agree? Daniel thinks she may actually relish the destruction, the upending and the chaos this decision might bring about. Perhaps, deep down, she hated her father and Daniel could rid her of his legacy forever. Perhaps she hated Daniel and hoped his radical affections would be shattered. Whatever her reason, the encounter between Daniel and Linda is important because, as Robert Detweiler explains, “…the formal accusation-confession involving Mindish and the Isaacsons is replicated by the children of the next generation, the curse of the parents revisited on the children”.
And what of Daniel’s theory of “the other couple”? Detweiler’s article thoroughly delves into the history of the Rosenberg case and discusses Morris and Helen Cohen, who, according to one writer’s theory, were involved in the Rosenberg spy ring and were given the signal by the Rosenbergs to flee the country once Ethel’s brother, David Greenglass, gave information to the FBI. The Cohens resurfaced in England as antiques dealers and were convicted of espionage by the British government. This is just a theory, however, and no tangible evidence links the Cohens and Rosenbergs. Daniel himself is not entirely convinced of his theory. As Detweiler writes, “[the Cohens] are a red herring dragged across Doctorow’s and Daniel’s plots that leads mainly to Daniel meeting at last with Selig Mindish.”
Finally, what Daniel’s meeting with Linda reinforces is the elusiveness of truth. Both children are convinced of the validity of their beliefs. Both believe their parents are innocent and the other’s are guilty and responsible for destroying their own lives. This echoes Daniel’s early comments that “everything is elusive” (42). Indeed, by the end of the novel Daniel still does not know whether or not his parents are guilty. In some sense, it does not even matter. What Daniel is learning from the process of writing his dissertation is far greater than the guilt or innocence of his parents; it is also far more complicated, ambiguous, and fungible.