November 12, 1991
In this short letter, Charlie describes an experiment in which a rat was willing to receive electric shocks in return for a food that provided intense pleasure. Charlie concludes, "I don't know the significance of this, but I find it very interesting" (120).
November 15, 1991
The weather has begun to change, and Charlie is hoping that his brother will be able to return from college for Thanksgiving. His brother doesn't call much, and when his brother does call home he talks almost entirely about football and the people on the team. Charlie thinks about the appeal of a sports team; in particular, he considers that he would be able to tell stories about it to his children and golf buddies. Charlie used to play sports, but the doctors told his mom that he needed to stop because sports were making him too aggressive. When thinking about his time with Punk Rocky, he writes, "Maybe these are my glory days, and I'm not even realizing it because they don't involve a ball" (124). Charlie's dad is able to tell stories about his glory days playing baseball and leading his team to a state championship, and Charlie thinks about what glory days really mean and how these stories are passed on to future generations. He is especially concerned with how the future generations will receive these stories and how such accounts reflect on happiness. He concludes, "I just hope I remember to tell my kids that they are as happy as I look in my old photographs. And I hope that they believe me" (128).
November 18, 1991
Charlie's brother has finally called home, but only to tell the family that he will be unable to return home over Thanksgiving because of football. Charlie's mother takes Charlie shopping and talks obsessively, trying to work through her emotions. Charlie has always been a release valve for his mother whenever his siblings are upsetting to her. Sam and Patrick approve of the clothes that Charlie's mom buys for him; when Charlie tells his mom, she is very happy. Sam and Patrick plan to come over for dinner sometime after the holidays - the first time Charlie has had a friend over since his friend Michael slept over the year before.
November 23, 1991
Charlie details his holiday experience with his mother's family members, who fight constantly over the Thanksgiving weekend. As Charlie says, he is fascinated that "everyone loves each other, but no one really likes each other." Recalling a past Thanksgiving, Charlie explains how he and his brother once had to drive his drunk grandfather, a consistent troublemaker, back to the retirement home. In the car, the grandfather told a story about beating Charlie's mother and Aunt Helen after they had received C- grades on their report cards. Charlie struggles to process the story and its meaning: is it better to have your kids be happy or to make sure they go to college? Is it better to have a good relationship with your children or to make sure they have a better life than you do? Because Charlie didn't know what to say on that occasion, he stayed quiet and watched his grandfather, trying to take it all in.
This Thanksgiving, there is no fighting. Charlie and his family bring a VCR tape of Charlie's brother playing football, and everyone is collectively proud. Later that night, when the family members are announcing what they are thankful for, Charlie announces, "I'm thankful that my brother played football on television so nobody fought" and his great aunt responds, "Amen" (144). Somehow, Charlie's family gets through the festivities without a fight, and Charlie even gives his grandfather a peck on the cheek despite the old man's protests.
December 7, 1991
In this letter, Charlie describes his experiences with the Secret Santa events arranged by Sam, Patrick, and their group of friends. Charlie is Patrick's Secret Santa, so Charlie decides to give him a mix tape entitled One Winter (which double-features "Asleep" by the Smiths, one of Charlie's favorite songs) as the first gift. Charlie is quite happy: he is enjoying his time with his friends, is excited to get his driver's license, and has thrived on his private meetings with Bill. During the month of December alone, Charlie has read The Great Gatsby and A Separate Peace. "They are all my favorites. All of them," he writes about his books (150).
December 11, 1991
Patrick loves the mix tape that Charlie has given him, but now it's not much of a secret who Patrick's Secret Santa is: only Charlie would give a gift like that, as Charlie himself writes. Charlie receives socks as part of his gift, and he assumes Mary Elizabeth has given them to him because "only she would give me socks" (152).
Charlie's obsession with perception appears again in this series of letters. He reflects on his dad's stories of the "glory days" and tries to determine what he will tell his own kids about, but struggles to articulate what exactly that will be. When he considers his experiences with the Punk Rocky fanzine, he begins to open himself up to unconventional definitions. He writes, "Maybe these are my glory days, and I'm not even realizing it because they don't involve a ball," which creates space for a type of experience unlike anything in his dad's and brother's lifestyles. This is just one of many times when Charlie is preoccupied with how others will think of him in the future. For instance, he walks often home so he can tell his eventual children that he took the long way home in the "olden days," and he considers what he will communicate to his kids about happiness.
Despite Charlie's continued focus on perception, he is considerably happier in these letters than at other points in the book. His experience with the Secret Santa festivities lends a jovial tone to his letters, and he greatly enjoys both sides of the scenario: giving and receiving. Many parts of Charlie's life seem to be going well, as reflected in his shorter letters, which raise relatively few issues of great concern or high tension.
Charlie's happiness with his friends provides a striking contrast to his experiences with his family over the holidays. For the most part, he analyzes his family members' aggressive attitudes, rather than the benefits of their company. As Charlie puts it, "Everyone loves each other, but no one really likes each other." Even as he struggles with the prolonged stay with his family members, Charlie seeks greater understanding of their personal histories and struggles. It would be easy for Charlie to say that his grandfather abused his mother and aunt, but the story that he tells is much more complicated: things are never black-and-white, and Charlie is able to articulate this, even if in a roundabout way.
In the brief letter about the mouse experiment, Charlie's reflection on experiencing pain in order to reach pleasure serves as a metaphor for his own experiences with Sam. He is hurt to watch her date Craig, but he is also willing to endure that pain if it means that he will be able to experience the pleasure of spending time with her - and, potentially, to experience her love.
This set of letters also hints at a deeper darkness that resides within Charlie. He was forbidden to play sports because they made him too aggressive at a young age. Not much else is provided in way of detail - only that a doctor advised Charlie's mother to remove him from the leagues. As a narrator who is so keen on delving into the backstory of every event, Charlie makes an unusual lapse by not proving much information. This mysterious darkness drives the story forward.
Because there is this darkness lurking in the background, Charlie's happiness sets the stage for an impending mood swing. An overwhelming sadness will soon consume Charlie's life.