The party begins. The “office virgins”—Lucy, Emmy, and Millie—arrive first. Soon after, Peter’s friends arrive, as well as Clara and Joe. Despite the fact that Marian tried to avoid inviting Len so that he and Ainsley wouldn’t run into each other, Clara and Joe brought Len along anyway, unaware of the discord between Ainsley and Len. Joe and Marian have a conversation in which Joe expresses concern for Clara, explaining how “difficult” it is for educated women to become wives and mothers. He states that it makes them “hollow” and that they lose all sense of independent identity after becoming involved with a man.
Ainsley arrives at the party. She assures Marian that she and Len can avoid arguing at the party, which Marian is wary of, since Len is already drunk and appears distressed. Marian abandons Ainsley and wanders around the party. When she glances into the bedroom, she sees Lucy attempting to flirt with Peter. Marian shrugs this off, remarking how “pathetic” it is for Lucy to try and pursue a married man.
Trevor, Fish, and Duncan arrive. When Marian opens the door, Duncan ridicules her for her dress and makeup, saying that she “didn’t tell [him] it was a masquerade,” insinuating that her dress is as extreme as a costume. Duncan says that he doesn’t want to go into the party and abruptly leaves, ignoring her pleas for him to stay and telling Marian that he is going to the laundromat.
When Marian returns to the party, she finds Len screaming at Ainsley in front of everyone. He calls her a “rotten bitch” after Ainsley announces that they’re having a baby. Len pours his beer onto Ainsley, which causes Peter to exclaim with glee as he delights over the opportunity to photograph the spectacle.
Some time later, Marian wanders through the party, assuring herself that she is “coping” and feeling as if she is floating through the scene. As she watches Peter take photographs of the party, she imagines him forty years into the future, picturing him as a regular, harmless family man. She wonders if that vision of him—a man who is “comfortable” and “normal”—is who he really is. She continues to walk through the party and opens a door, where she sees a forty-five year-old version of Peter standing besides a barbecue. Marian enters the hallucinatory scene and walks through the lawn that she imagines Peter standing in. As she walks across the imagined lawn, Peter’s figure switches to holding a cleaver.
Marian exits the hallucination and enters back into the party. She opens another door and sees Peter with his camera. He tries to take her picture, but she screams and covers her face. Peter laughs at her, telling her that she can’t handle her alcohol, and leaves her alone to return to the party. Marian decies to escape the party; she feels that she needs to see Duncan. She leaves the party and begins to run to the laundromat.
Marian finds Duncan in the laundromat. She tells him she wants to have sex with him, and they decide to find a hotel. After wandering for a while through the cold, they come across a motel. However, the front desk staff assumes that Marian is a prostitute, and doesn’t let them book a room. Finally, they find a dirty, cheap hotel that has a free room. Duncan demands that Marian stirp off her makeup before they have sex.
After half an hour, Duncan and Marian have still not been able to get anywhere. Duncan tells Marian that trying again is useless and that he is overwhelmed by the amount of “flesh” in front of him. Marian feels paralyzed with terror and lies next to him, immobile. Duncan tells her to lie down and assures her that he just needs to take his time; he begins to kiss her, at which point the chapter ends.
Duncan’s rejection of Marian in her party outfit represents his rejection of her feminine performance. However, it would be incorrect to interpret this action as anything empowering or feminist. Duncan’s rejection comes not out of a distaste for oppressive beauty ideals, but out of his distaste for seeing Marian as anything other than what he wants her to be. When Marian isn’t the Marian that he thinks he knows, he runs away, substituting seeing her with going to the laundromat. As he outlined earlier, she is just a placeholder. The second she fails to fit the mold he wants her to be in, he abandons her and returns to another one of the places that satisfy his need for escape. Even when she begs him to stay, he ignores her and flees.
Marian’s extended hallucination at the party reveals the depth of her doubts about Peter. When she sees him with the camera, she begins to wonder if this version of him—the version that she describes as a “home-movie man,” alluding to his potential as a domestic, benevolent partner—will be the true future Peter. It becomes clear that Marian doesn’t know what Peter will become—another confirmation that she doesn’t understand him and that they share little in common. When she walks through the “lawn” that she imagines, the benign vision of Peter that she has (of him standing at a barbeque) quickly turns sinister as soon as she passes him. Behind her back, the figure switches and holds a cleaver.
This action is heavily symbolic. While Peter may present as a harmless family man on the surface, as Marian sees him on the lawn, the second that she turns her back slightly, he becomes a symbol of violence. He becomes a butcher; a man ready to carve, cut, and consume raw flesh. This vision of Peter aligns with the first moment that triggered Marian’s eating issues, when she watched Peter consume a steak with pleasure. The vision of Peter consuming meat disgusts her. Although she doesn’t say this explicitly, it is implied that meat is a symbol for the female body. Thus, when Marian sees Peter consume meat, she sees him consuming her female body. In a metaphorical sense, he is perpetually brandishing the cleaver behind her back, ready to carve into her and consume her.
The novel continues to use spaces to characterize relationships throughout the final chapters. When Duncan and Marian decide to have sex, they are only able to do so at a motel that is dirty and run-down. Marian describes it as “shabby,” and the signs within it explicitly state that it serves “escorts” (prostitutes). The entire setting reinforces the dirty, unclean nature of what Duncan and Marian are about to engage in. Even though Marian clings to Duncan as an escape from the party, he doesn’t actually serve as an escape. Instead, her time with him, like her time with Peter, brings her discomfort and pushes her to occupy spaces that she doesn’t belong in, like the motel that forces her into pretending to be a prostitute.
The nature of Marian and Duncan’s relationship quickly unfurls over the course of their night in the motel. It becomes obvious that they aren't really a harmonious match; however, this doesn't impede them from somehow fulfilling needs for each other. This discomfort highlights another juxtaposition between her relationship with Peter and her relationship with Duncan. Whereas Marian constantly feels tepid towards Peter, she has a much more visceral reaction towards Duncan. Marian feels terrified of Duncan and paralyzed. She describes him as a “white formless thing,” totally losing her ability to identify him or understand who he is. She is wholly alienated from him, just as she has become alienated from all the other people in her life. The necessity of fulfilling her role as a woman by engaging in sex with Duncan pushes her, once again, into a state of utter dissociation and terror.