This section contains 2,096 words
(approx. 6 pages at 400 words per page)
Pages 64 - 137 Summary
Miriam Grossman first discovers "Perfectimundo" as a child. "Perfectimundo" is Miriam's word for something that is absolutely ideal—as if all the planets were aligned just for her. She first experiences "Perfectimundo" during a game of hopscotch in which the pebble lands in the perfect center of one of the squares. "Perfectimundo" is something Miriam searches for her entire life. She re-discovers "Perfectimundo" when she first looks into a kaleidoscope.
Saul collects all the local newspapers that mention Eliza's district spelling bee win. Eliza looks at the family photo in one of the newspapers and does not like what she sees. Her family appears disjointed; her parents' distance from one another is readily apparent: "Her family doesn't look anything like the stuff of photography studios" (p. 65). The fantasy Eliza holds in her imagination about the way her family should appear is shattered by the reality of the people in the newspaper picture.
Miriam presents Eliza with special gift. It is the kaleidoscope Miriam was given when she was a girl. Eliza is somewhat puzzled that her mother has given her a gift. Eliza is also slightly disappointed. Miriam regrets giving Eliza the kaleidoscope when she witnesses Eliza's reaction.
Miriam starts coming home late from work. She says it is because there is so much work for her to do at the law firm.
At school, Eliza experiences mixed reactions to her spelling bee win. Some of the smarter girls ask Eliza about the spelling bee. She tells them, "It was like being famous" (p. 68). Carrie Waxham, however, pokes Eliza and calls her stuck-up and a snob. Eliza tries to hold back her tears and tells herself that the incident with Carrie does not matter. These are the words Aaron uses when he is bullied at school.
Saul Naumann devises a plan to help Eliza prepare for the national spelling bee. Saul buys Webster's Third International Dictionary—all three volumes—and clears a space in his small study just for Eliza. Eliza is excited about studying with Saul but she consciously decides not to reveal her excitement to Saul, afraid that her enthusiasm will cause Saul to change his mind. The two of them study five hours on weekdays and seven hours on the weekend.
For Eliza, studying the words in the dictionary is more an adventure than a chore. It is like learning to fly. A new universe opens up for Eliza.
Miriam first steals when she is almost nine years old. Miriam steals a pink rubber ball from Berman Toys. The Dutch governess is subsequently fired for giving Miriam a rosary for her birthday.
Aaron senses something is different about Eliza. He feels resentful that Saul chooses to help Elly study for the national spelling bee rather than practicing guitar with Aaron. When Aaron knocks on the study door, his father chides him for interrupting the study session with Eliza. Aaron feels rejected and humiliated.
As an adult, Miriam steals things which call out to her rather than things she needs or wants.
Aaron realizes that he no longer enjoys practicing or playing the guitar. To him, the most enjoyable part about playing is spending uninterrupted time with Saul.
Aaron begins to question his acceptance of Judaism. He feels as though he has simply gone along with something he did not consciously choose for himself.
Miriam has sewn special pickets into a coat, skirt and blouse, enabling her to hide the stolen goods in her clothes so as not to draw unnecessary attention to herself.
Although Miriam is an only child, she is well aware of those children her mother had that did not live. Miriam's mother was reluctant to interact with Miriam as an infant, fearing that Miriam might die as the others had.
Miriam's pregnancy with Aaron prompted fears that Aaron would be born too early and deformed. Miriam resents breastfeeding Aaron after carrying him for nine months, sustaining him in her body.
Eliza finds joy in practicing for the national bee with Saul. Aaron barely speaks to Eliza anymore.
Aaron finds that attending synagogue is becoming somewhat tiresome. He feels as though he no longer fits in. Aaron has not felt God's presence in the three years since his bar mitzvah. Aaron decides to visit a church to conduct his own religious research. Aaron is at once thrilled and apprehensive about visiting a Christian church. He chooses St. Patrick Catholic church in Norristown.
Aaron's first experience in a Catholic worship service is rather heady. He cannot decide how to properly make the sign of the cross and he kneels at the wrong time. Aaron struggles with the idea of taking communion. He does not (as yet) believe that Jesus is the Messiah or the son of God. Aaron thinks of the Catholic confessionals as telephone booths directly connected to God. Aaron takes communion and is unimpressed. He leaves St. Patrick Church through a side door.
Early in their courtship, Saul explains the concept of Tikkun Olam to Miriam. Tikkun Olam means "The fixing of the world." In essence, the concept has to do with healing the world of poverty, hatred, cruelty and other forms of injustice by doing good. Thus, God's light in the world is reunited with itself. Miriam feels that Tikkun Olam refers to her finding and reuniting the lost pieces of herself. The lost pieces are the items that Miriam steals.
Aaron decides that Christianity is not for him and decides to learn something about Eastern religions. Buddhism is first.
At school, Eliza is caught practicing for the spelling bee when she should be paying attention to the teacher, Ms. Bergermeyer.
Sinna Bhagudori, one of the "smart kids," begins saving Eliza a seat in the lunchroom.
Eliza wonders why Aaron no longer plays his guitar. Aaron says it is because he has no talent for music.
Aaron remembers wetting his pants at the sight of his dead grandfather lying in a coffin at the funeral home. He is with Saul when they view the body.
Eliza knows that her mother's distance has something to do with the kaleidoscope Miriam gives her. Miriam asks Eliza what happens when Eliza thinks of a spelling word. Later, Miriam and Eliza go to the attic where Miriam gives Eliza a blouse with big buttons on it to wear at the national spelling bee. Miriam's name is written on a tag inside the blouse's collar. Eliza hugs the collar to her until she can feel the letters of Miriam's name pressing against her skin.
Aaron tries Buddhist meditation for the first time. He is uncomfortable sitting in the lotus position.
The following day, Eliza and Saul leave for the national spelling bee in Washington, DC. In her husband's absence, Miriam Naumann feels free and relaxed. Miriam is planning something significant, something she feels will liberate her.
Saul helps Eliza study for the upcoming national spelling bee. When Eliza spells GEGENSCHEIN incorrectly, she becomes frustrated with Saul's suggestion to "let the letters show [her] where to go" (p. 106).
Aaron continues with his pursuit of enlightenment by meditating in the nude.
Miriam drives to an unfamiliar neighborhood, enters an unfamiliar house, and steals a blue ceramic dish.
The night before the spelling bee, Eliza sneaks out of her hotel room and stands in the empty ballroom, looking at the stage where she will be sitting with the other contestants.
Aaron decides to practice his meditation sitting under a tree in a public park not far from where the Naumanns live. In the park, Aaron meets a man named Chali (whose real name is John) and Aaron tells Chali about his quest to find meaning in organized religion.
Eliza makes it through the first three rounds of the national spelling bee.
Miriam was never close to her parents, but she understands having inherited their eccentricities. During her junior year of college, Miriam's parents are both killed by an automobile while walking by the side of the road. Miriam's parents were also only children and Miriam finds herself completely alone in the world.
Eliza advances to the finals of the national spelling bee.
Aaron's new acquaintance invites Aaron to a religious service the following Sunday—the same day that Eliza and Saul will return from Washington, DC. Aaron decides that he will lie and tell his parents that he has plans to have pizza and see a movie with school friends. Aaron realizes that his school friendships are only superficial and he cannot imagine talking to his schoolmates about God-consciousness.
Over dinner, Eliza tells Saul that she wants to win the national spelling bee. Saul tells Eliza that he thinks she could win—next year. Eliza is crushed and convinces herself that Saul does not really believe in her after all.
Aaron and Miriam do not celebrate Shabbat. Instead, they eat frozen turkey pot pies and sit in silence. Miriam is preoccupied with stealing the blue dish from a stranger's home earlier in the day.
Eliza is eliminated from the national spelling bee in round 7. She misspells DUVETYN.
Miriam contemplates another theft. She feels compelled to drive to another unfamiliar house to steal back another missing piece of herself. Miriam steals an ashtray from another stranger's house. This time, however, there is no key under the mat and Miriam climbs in through a window. The house itself is dirty and ordinarily Miriam would be disgusted by its condition. There are cockroaches, to which Miriam pays no attention. Her compulsion to find another missing piece of herself consumes all of her attention. Once she has the ashtray in her hand, however, Miriam vomits.
Pages 64 - 137 Analysis
The introduction of "Perfectimundo" into the narrative provides salient information on Miriam Naumann's inner landscape. In one way, "Perfectimundo" explains Miriam's compulsive nature and perfectionistic tendencies. More importantly, however, "Perfectimundo" is foreshadowing Miriam's subsequent kleptomania and the revelation of the true depth of Miriam's mental illness. Similarly, the episode chronicling Miriam's fascination with the kaleidoscope is also a foreshadowing of the character's eventual mental collapse. "Perfectimundo" becomes more than just a word/concept to Miriam Naumann. It becomes her holy grail. The ultimate significance of "Perfectimundo" is not revealed until the end of the narrative.
The depth of Eliza's delusion as to her family's actual state is revealed when Eliza looks at the newspaper photograph. This is the first step in Eliza's awakening to the reality of the Naumann family.
Disappointment re-enters the story when Miriam presents Eliza with the kaleidoscope. Eliza's reaction unintentionally reinforces Miriam's total lack of connection with her daughter. The giving of the kaleidoscope is also representative of Miriam's inability to connect emotionally outside the frame of her own mind and what holds significance to her. Also, the kaleidoscope reinforces Miriam's own disconnection from her parents.
As a result of his father's perceived rejection, Aaron Naumann finds a new friend in Chali. Aaron's questioning of Judaism mirrors his father's experiences as a young man who had also been rejected by his father. Aaron's acceptance of Chali's friendship is not limited to his religious/spiritual quest, however, as Aaron is himself nearly friendless. Without a connection to his father, mother, or Eliza, Aaron finds that he is free to explore the world on his own. The closing of Saul's study door grants Aaron the permission necessary to look elsewhere for acceptance and guidance. Also in this section, Aaron Naumann begins lying to his father. While some might posit that lying to one's parents during adolescence is not out of the ordinary, for Aaron, it is tantamount to betrayal.
Additionally, it is in this section that Miriam Naumann's character takes on more depth. The fact of her kleptomania is surprising, but not completely inconceivable, given her family history. The omniscient narrator in this instance serves to reveal to the reader Miriam's deep-seated illness. It becomes apparent that Miriam's life is not what it seems on the surface at all. Miriam is a shadow character — one whose actual motives are hidden from those around her. Miriam graduates from department store theft to stealing from strangers' houses. This clearly signifies that Miriam's compulsion to gather together the missing pieces of herself is beyond her immediate control. It becomes apparent that Miriam Naumann steals primarily because she has to. With the entrance into her second house, however, Miriam ups the ante by climbing in through the window.
Aaron and Miriam's non-celebration of Shabbat is a reverse image of the times during which Saul and his mother celebrated Shabbat in Hank's absence.
This section contains 2,096 words
(approx. 6 pages at 400 words per page)