Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas Summary and Analysis of Half Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery (Section Two)

Luisa returns to consciousness as her car slowly submerges in the waters off Swannekke Island. She rolls down her window allowing water to rush in. Luisa turns to grab the Sixsmith report but it disintegrates in her hands. She wiggles through the window and toward the surface.

While Luisa was struggling for her life underwater, Isaac Sachs is on a jet, watching Pennsylvania pass below him. He has no idea a suitcase containing C-4 had been placed beneath his seat.

In his notebook, Isaac writes of “actual past” and “virtual past.” He describes “actual past” as what really occurred during an important moment in history, such as the sinking of the Titanic, by those who witnessed the event. He describes “virtual past” as what historians and others have interpreted it to be based on the writings and artifacts left behind by eyewitnesses. Historians then shape history as they see fit, molding events as they want them to be remembered. The same can be said for the future, where the dreamers conceive what the future will bring in relation to what has occurred in the past through the lens of the biased historians. The future is nothing more than smoke in the distance as is the recent past for no one can accurately assess its importance without the benefit of time. The present holds both the past and the possibilities for the future within itself. Isaac’s last thought, before the C-4 ignites and the jet blows up, is that he is in love with Luisa Rey.

The following day, Hester van Zandt watches as a team of divers look for Luisa’s body in the waters surrounding Swannekke Island. She knows Luisa is safe and goes back to her trailer where Luisa spent the night. Luisa tells Hester she is going to her apartment to pack and then she is going to stay with her mother. She knows she won’t be able to write her article without Sixsmith’s report and wants Seaboard to think that she died so she will have the leniency to keep looking for another copy. Sometime later Joe Napier is informed by one of the Green Front protesters that Luisa is headed toward her mother’s house.

Back at her apartment, bruised from her fall off the bridge, she is startled to see Joe Napier and Javier watching baseball on the TV. Napier is friendly but Luisa protectively pulls Javier behind her. Napier reassures her he is not there to hurt her or the child. He tells her, with deep sincerity, that he has been trying to protect her. Napier reveals he was friends with Lester Rey, Luisa’s father. They were police officers together and Lester had saved his life once. Napier had come to Luisa’s apartment to repay his debt to Lester, by saving her life. He wants her to stop investigating Seaboard. Napier leaves the apartment and Luisa wonders if the future could be changed not by a combination of circumstances but by one simple act of power.

Some time later Bill Smoke arrives at Judith Rey’s posh home in Ewingsville for a charity fundraiser for the Buenas Yerbas Cancer Society. Judith had remarried after she and Lester divorced. She asked if Bill Smoke thought the white oak in front of the house could have been there when the missionaries founded the area. Smoke said “Without doubt. Oaks live six hundred years. Two hundred to grow, two hundred to live, two hundred to die” (402).

Smoke spots Luisa talking to a group of men across the room and realizes he is looking forward to killing her. He wonders at the “powers inside of us that are not us” (402). Conversations from the elite of Buenas Yerbas flicker around the room. One young woman speaks about allowing corporations to run the government in the future. Luisa asks how the corporations got their power and how can it be taken away.

Later that night Luisa finds a quiet place to watch TV and is observed unnoticed by Judith and Smoke. He compliments Luisa on her “moral compass” just as an anchorman on the news announces the death of Alberto Grimaldi, CEO of Seaboard, in a plane crash.

Monday morning arrives and Joe Napier wonders who gave the order to kill Grimaldi. Was it Lloyd Hooks, the new CEO or William Wiley, the Vice CEO of Seaboard? Wiley welcomes Napier into his office where he is offered an early retirement package. Napier hesitates, unsure of the motive behind the gesture but accepts the offer.

Meanwhile, Luisa goes to the Lost Chord Music Store to pick up a copy of Robert Frobisher’s Cloud Atlas Sextet. The sextet is playing over the sound system as she enters the store. She instantly recognizes the music, although she has never heard it before.

Back at Spyglass Luisa learns that the magazine has been bought by a company called Trans Vision Inc. and that everyone else’s jobs are safe, except hers. She is called into the new editor’s office where K.P. Ogilvy fires her on the spot, saying the order comes directly from the top. Luisa lets the news bounce off of her and asks what the connection is between Trans Vision and Seaboard. Ogilvy hesitates to answer, then kicks her out of the building. Before she goes she takes a letter that had arrive for her at the office. She is stunned to see it is from Sixsmith.

Later that same day, Joe Napier is driving toward his cabin in the Santo Cristo mountains. He wants to believe he’s gotten away but his mind is ill at ease. That night he wakes in the dark of his cabin and thinks he spies Bill Smoke above his bed but it’s just a shadow. He thinks of Margo Roker, of how he and Bill Smoke broke into her house. He didn’t beat her, Smoke did, but Joe stood there and didn’t stop him. Now he was leaving Luisa Rey to a similar fate. He gets up and dresses.

Luisa sat at her mother’s kitchen table reading about Lloyd Hooks’ new CEO position at Seaboard. The White House had released a statement of support for Hooks, the Federal Power Commissioner, who now holds the top position at one of the largest corporations in the country. Luisa tells her mother she knows she is on to something big and refuses to give up.

The next day Luisa goes to the Snow White Diner. There Dom Grelsch tells her that the new owners of Spyglass told him if he forgot about the Sixsmith report all of his insurance problems concerning his wife’s cancer would disappear. “I’m not proud of myself, but I won’t be ashamed for putting my family ahead of the truth,” (416). He then produces a list of unofficial paid consultants to Trans Vision, including Lloyd Hooks and William Wiley. Grelsch advices Luisa to see a friend of his at Western Messenger, a local magazine which is interested in publishing her piece on Seaboard.

Later, while in traffic on her way to the Third Bank of California, Luisa reads Sixsmith’s letter. In the letter, Sixsmith instructs Luisa to go the bank and retrieve a copy of the HYDRA-Zero rector report in a safety deposit box.

At the same bank Fay Li, with two bodyguards, stand amid six hundred safety deposit boxes, waiting for Luisa. As soon as the reporter walks into the room, the two men grab her and Fay Li takes Sixsmith’s key from Luisa. She tells Luisa she will not harm her, that she just wants the report so she can sell it to another company. She lets Luisa go with a whispered instruction to one of the bodyguards to kill her later. Fay opens the deposit box and takes out Sixsmith’s report. She only has time to register the blinking light of the bomb inside the box, before it explodes.

Luisa is hit with the full impact of the blast and is knocked forward. She lay stunned on the bank’s floor, until she is able to crawl away from the rubble. Surprisingly she is unhurt. A fireman grabs her arm and muscles her out of the bank. Joe Napier appears out of nowhere and hits the man over the head.

Bill Smoke is after her, with two heavily armed men. She and Napier run into a nearby windowless warehouse. The woman at the front desk is Mexican and tells them in broken English to go away. Luisa speaks to her in Spanish, telling her they need a place to hide. A young girl sits behind the desk with an old poodle. The woman glares at them and then points at a door.

Luisa and Napier run through the door just as Bill Smoke and the two men enter the building. The woman refuses to answer their questions and one of the men shoots and kills the poodle. The woman shrieks after them as they go through the same door that Luisa and Napier had just left.

Now inside the warehouse Napier throws boxes and debris in Smoke’s way as he and Luisa try to escape. Napier shoves past a plywood door marked “exit” and runs into an underworld sweatshop. Five hundred women sit at sewing machines stitching together Scooby Doo and Donald Duck dolls. The woman from the front desk appears and beckons them down a side passage.

Just as Luisa and Napier go down the passage, one of Smoke’s men catches up with them. He was the one who shot the poodle. The woman from the front desk arrives on his heels. He pushes past her to confront Lusia and Napier and does not see the monkey wrench that crushes his skull. The woman savagely beats him in the head, killing him. She points Luisa and Napier toward the exit and they flee.

Now on the subway, Luisa asks Napier why he’s helping her. She thinks she was supposed to have died that day but he changed the rules. He explains Seaboard let him go the day before and he needs her to meet someone. They go to the Buenas Yerbas Museum of Modern Art where Megan Sixsmith sits alone on a bench. Luisa introduces herself and Megan asks Luisa if her uncle, Rufus, was murdered. Luisa says that he was and she needs Sixsmith’s report bring Seaboard down. Megan tells Luisa she thinks a copy of the report is on Rufus’ boat, the Starfish.

Luisa and Napier go to the Buenas Yerbas harbor. Walking along the docks they pass a nineteenth century ship called the Prophetess. Luisa’s comet shaped birthmark throbs but she is unable to discern why she feels a connection toward the ship. They find the Starfish and board the boat and quickly locate the Sixsmith report in a drawer in the cabin.

A motion in the cabin’s doorway distracts them as Bill Smoke suddenly appears. He shoots Napier who falls to the ground. Smoke advances toward Luisa, telling her to put the report on the table. Mustering all of the strength he has left, Napier shots Smoke and both men die shortly thereafter. At the same time in the Swannekke County Hospital Margo Roker wakes up.

It is now October of 1975. Lucia is at the Snow White Diner, reading an article about the exposure of Seaboard’s corruption and the impending arrest of Lloyd Hook, who ordered Sixsmith’s death, among others.

Satisfied that her father would be proud of her work, Luisa sifts through her mail. She has received a postcard from Javier who lives in San Francisco now and a package from Megan which contains the last eight letters from Robert Frobisher to Sixsmith. She inhales the scent of the letters and wonders if Frobisher’s molecules are now joined with her own.

Half Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery Section Two Analysis

As with most noir styled works of fiction, especially within the pulp fiction subgenre, Half Lives ends on a hero’s note. Luisa is victorious having exposed Seaboard’s corruption, avenged Sixsmith’s death, and established herself as a true investigative journalist. She concludes her story at the Snow White Diner, a juxtaposition of imagery by the author who paires the damsel in distress fairy-tale princess against the take no prisoners 1970s reporter. Luisa may be at peace with her story but the reader is left with several unanswered questions concerning plot.

Mitchell’s foray into pulp fiction includes the one of the genre’s most notable criticism, plot-holes. Plot-holes are the absence of key details within the story in order for the overall plot to make sense. Mitchell proves throughout Cloud Atlas that he is a clever and careful writer and it is assumed that the plot-holes of Half Lives are deliberately placed to pay homage to the flawed but fashionable noir style in which Luisa’s story is told.

An example of a major plot-hole within Half-Lives is the bomb placed in a safety deposit box at the bank. A careful reader will remember Sixsmith placing his much sought after report in padded envelope in locker 909 at the airport, not the bank. Sixsmith then mailed the key to the locker to Luisa at the Spyglass office and was killed later that same night by Bill Smoke. The letter instructing Luisa to go to the bank is obviously a ruse by Smoke but what happened to the key that Sixsmith sent? Did it get lost in the mail? Did Smoke somehow steal it and if Luisa is such a careful investigative journalist shouldn’t she have realized the handwriting on the envelope addressed to her office was not Sixsmiths? Needless to say the plot oversimplifies as the story begins to unravels, especially when Megan Sixsmith suddenly appears, note the use of the literary device of the deus ex machina, and gives Luisa exactly what she needs, the location of Sixsmith’s coveted report.

After Luisa and Napier find the report at Sixsmith’s boat, Bill Smoke conveniently appears and tries to kill them and destroy the report. His motivations are clear yet his retrograde characterization lessens Luisa’s triumphant conclusion. The author should have maintained the dueling narrations of Luisa and Bill Smoke in the second section of Half Lives creating depth and side stepping parody. As it is, Half Lives does not meet the writing standards of the other sections within Cloud Atlas

As in most pulp fiction novel Half Lives is written in third person narrative and Bill Smoke has made his point of view clear on several occasions, even going so far as go to Luisa’s mother’s house in order to spy on his would-be victim. His narration is tepid in comparison with the other narrators of Half Lives. He appears controlled and emotionless. A classic villain, Smoke seems to be everywhere at once and always one step ahead He does not waste words but is very insightful in his observations. Note the reference to the six hundred year old oak tree which takes two hundred years to grown, two hundred to live, and two hundred to die, a vague reference to the overall theme of reincarnation as each life of the main characters within ICloud Atlas] goes through the same life process, growing in spirit toward divine completion. Luisa’s incarnation is in the earliest stages of the overall life cycle and is growing and changing, trying to find her place in the world. Smoke, in comparison, is a loner, always on the fringe of the central plot, his deeds, aside from the shooting of Sixsmith, are done from afar. His need to kill Luisa is carnal; he suggests his motivations are driven by forces outside of his control, offering a foil to Luisa’s characterization whereas she struggles to find inner meaning in her surroundings, fueling an subconscious motivation for truth.

Truth, one of the central themes of the text, polarizes Luisa’s plot as she both struggles to expose Seaboard Inc. and discern meaning in her connection with Robert Frobisher. The dime-store feel of Half Lives creates a fictional tone in comparison with the other sections of Cloud Atlas making Luisa’s scenes of de ja vu appear disingenuous. The appearance of the Prophetess and Luisa’s throbbing birthmark make for an interesting fictional read but are too exaggerated to be taken seriously in comparison to those found in Sonmi-451’s section and even Frobisher who is the least trustworthy of the main narrators in the novel.

In the next section Timothy Cavendish, a voice of reason, speaks against the idea that Luisa is Robert Frobisher in a past life, declaring the idea too far fetched. In doing so, the author acknowledges that all of his plot points within each section do not directly correlate with their counterparts. Luisa’s story in particular attempts to fit in between those of Frobisher and Cavendish but falls slightly short. Her story is too fictitious, too exaggerated in comparison with the realism of the other sections. Her section does; however, illustrate Isaac Sach’s theory of “actual past” vs. “virtual past.” Sach’s suggests that “virtual past” is a biased version of “actual past” in this case interpreted by Hilary V. Hush, the supposed author of Half Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery within Cavendish’s section. If Luisa’s story is read as a manuscript within Cavendish’s world her story is therefore a work of fiction within Cloud Atlas. In other words it is a book within a book and as such suggests there may be a separation between the first three “actual” sections (Ewing, Frobisher, Luisa) and their “virtual” influence on their counterparts (Cavendish, Sonmi-451, and Zachry) or vice versa.