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The Book of Two Ways

Recap & Book Summary



The Quick Recap and Chapter-by-Chapter Summary for The Book of Two Ways by Jodi Picoult are below. Spoiler warning: these summaries contains spoilers.

For a non-spoiler version of the plot synopsis, see The Bibliofile's review of The Book of Two Ways by Jodi Picoult.

Quick(-ish) Recap

The Book of Two Ways opens with Dawn Edelstein surviving a plane crash. From there, it switches back and forth between two timelines. In one, Dawn goes home to her husband and daughter in Boston.

In another, she goes to Egypt where she'd once worked as a Yale graduate student 15 years ago, pursuing a career in Egyptology. She paused her graduate studies to care for her mother who had cancer. Afterwards, she withdrew to become a guardian for her younger brother, Kieran (their father died in active duty).

In the Egypt timeline, Dawn finds her way back to the Yale dig site. As a student, Dawn's research had been in the Ancient Egyptian "coffin texts", one of which was the Book of Two Ways. The Book of Two Ways includes a map that shows two routes that one can take in the afterlife. In present day at the dig site, she finds Wyatt Armstrong, an old flame, who is now the Director of Egyptology at Yale. Wyatt has since discovered a previously unknown tomb which he is in the process of unearthing.

In the Boston timeline, Dawn continues her work as a death doula, helping to ease the transition for patients at the end of their lives. Dawn went into hospice work after caring for her mother. She'd also met her husband, Brian, during that time and had gotten pregnant with their daughter, Meret. In present day, Dawn works on fixing her marriage with Brian, a physics professor at Yale. They'd gotten in a fight over Brian's relationship with Gita, a post-doc working under him. While nothing had happened yet, Brian had missed Meret's birthday party because he was with Gita. Meanwhile, Meret is a teenager who struggles with her weight.

In the Egypt timeline, Wyatt agrees to let Dawn stay and work at the dig site. As student, they had initially knocked heads because their research areas overlapped, but their relationship had later become romantic. In present day, Wyatt asks Dawn why she is here, but Dawn is unable to admit that her curiosity about what a life with him would have been like drew her there. As the days pass, they reach a big event, the unearthing of the tomb's burial chamber. Even more exciting is the discovery that the chamber is fully intact. Upon further inspection, they also find the earliest iteration of the Book of Two Ways known in existence.

In the Boston timeline, Dawn and Brian work to repair their relationship, and Brian makes an effort to be more thoughful. Meret gets made fun of by kids in her summer program, but soon enrolls a new program where she meets a P.E. teacher who is supportive of her. Meanwhile, Dawn takes on a new client, Win, who is a painter. Win confides in Dawn about her son Arlo, who died of an overdose at 16. Arlo's father was an art professor, Thane Bernard, who Dawn had once had an affair with. Now, Win wants Dawn to track Thane down and deliver a letter informing him about Arlo.

In the Egypt timeline, Dawn knows she must go home, since her family is concerned over her absence. But instead she tells Wyatt she loves him, and they sleep together. But the next morning his fiancé and the financier of the dig, Anya Dailey, shows up. Dawn is angry at Wyatt for not telling her about Anya. But Wyatt points out that Dawn is married.

In the Boston timeline, Dawn is about to leave for London to deliver Win's letter to Thane when Meret gets the results of a mail-in DNA test that she had done. The results indicate that Brian is not Meret's biological father, and Dawn realizes that Wyatt is Meret's father. Dawn goes to London, but then heads directly to Egypt.

(At this point in the book, it's revealed that the Boston and Egypt timelines are not two separate realities, but rather the Egypt stuff happens after the Boston stuff.) So, in Egypt everything happens (with Dawn finding Wyatt and them uncovering the burial chamber and sleeping together, etc), ending with Dawn telling Wyatt what she has recently learned, which is that he is Meret's father. In response, Wyatt asks to meet Meret, and soon Dawn and Wyatt are on a plane headed toward Boston.

The plane they are on starts going down (and at this point, it's revealed that the plane crash in the beginning of the book actually happens after both the Boston and Egypt timelines). Dawn and Wyatt both survive, and Brian meets Dawn in the hospital. Dawn admits to Brian what has happened between her and Wyatt. Brian decides to give her space to sort out what she wants, with the hope that she will choose him in the end.

After Dawn and Wyatt make it back to Boston, Wyatt meets Meret and begins to get to know her. Brian continues to try to give Dawn her space to figure things out. Win passes away. When the book ends, Dawn has been home for a week, and Meret asks Dawn what she plans to do, both in terms of whether she'll return to Egypt and who she'll choose. The book cuts off as Dawn opens her mouth to answer.

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Chapter-by-Chapter Summary

Prologue

A woman, Dawn Edelstein, is on a flight to Raleigh-Durham when the plane crashes. She is one of 36 survivors. After her hospital examination, they ask where she needs to go. She thinks of her husband, Brian, and her home in Boston. But another destination comes up in her mind.

Chapter 1: Land/Egypt

In Cairo, she heads to Ramses train station and takes the train to the Minya stop. She is familiar with the customs and with traveling around Egypt, since she had once planned to be an Egyptologist. Her studies were in Egyptian history and Ancient Egyptian religion.

In regards to religion, she studied Re (sun god) and Osiris (god of the underworld, and also the corpse of Re). The Egyptians believes Re dragged the sun across the sky each day, to be reunited with his corpse (Osiris) at night, which gave him the power to do the same the next day. It’s a daily rebirth.

Egyptians cared deeply about the afterlife and preparation for death. Most have heard of the Book of the Dead, but Egyptians know it as Book of Going Forth by Day. It’s a book of spells to help the deceased find their way in the afterlife.

The book evolved from a number of funerary texts (the Coffin Texts), one of which is The Book of Two Ways, a map of the afterlife. It shows two main roads through the realm of the dead that each lead to the Field of Offerings, where one feasts with Osiris for eternity. However, the roads also lead to dead ends, demons, guardians that require magic to bypass, and circles of fire. The book contains the spells needed to navigate these obstacles.

Diagram of the Book of Two Ways

Dawn arrives in Egypt on the day of the Sothic Rising, when the star Sirius appears in the sky, signaling a rebirth and coinciding with the flooding of the Nile (a process that leaves silt behind that fertilizes crops).


She finally stops in Deir El-Bersha, located in the middle of Egypt. She goes to the Dig House, which houses the Yale archaeological team working at the site. There, she finds the house caretaker, Harbi. He’s the son of Hasib, the former caretaker, who Dawn knew from her graduate school studies (never completed). She working here for three seasons on Djehutyhotep’s tomb, 15 years ago. The team is currently at another dig site.

Wyatt Armstrong (nicknamed Mark, short for “Marquess of Atherton”, his father’s title) is now the director of the Yale Egyptology program. Dawn recalls her first meeting Wyatt, arrogant and drunk, in a bar in 2001. Professor Ian Dumphries was in charge of the program at the time, where Dawn had transferred into from the University of Chicago in order to be able to work at Deir el-Bersha.

After joining the program, Dawn had soon discovered that Wyatt was his star pupil. Like Dawn, his thesis was also about the Coffin Texts. Wyatt’s work was focused on ritual speech and verbal pattern in the texts. Dawn’s work was on iconography (how the coffin represents universe, with the mummy itself filling the space between heaven and earth).

Despite her attempts to avoid Wyatt, as TAs for Dumphries, their interactions were inevitable. At a visit to an exhibit at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts about The Book of Two Ways, they’d taught the undergrads some basics about the book and deciphering hieroglyphs. The blue and black lines in the map represent a water route and a land route to reach Osiris; knowledge was considered the key to resurrection (which is why the book of spells was placed in the coffin); the direction of the faces in hieroglyphs indicate the direction of the text (reading left to right or vice versa).

In July 2003, Dawn had been at Deir El-Bersha for her third (and final) season with Yale Egyptology. She and Wyatt were working documenting the inaccuracies and mistakes in previously published version of the drawings on the tomb of Djehutyhotep II. As they work, Dawn tells Wyatt about her Irish mother’s belief in numerous superstitions. Wyatt hints at his unhappy childhood. They talk about how “tombs were meant to be visited. That’s how memories get preserved.”


In present day, Dawn looks around the Dig House. In the journals, she reads about how Wyatt had discovered the tomb of a nomarch in 2013. She also sees his completed thesis. In it, Wyatt references an article Dawn had once published, “The Corpse Makes the Coffin Whole” in 2002. He also notes that Dawn had been right about the iconography involved in the placement of texts on the coffin, something they’d once disagreed about. (The narration implies that Dawn and Wyatt’s relationship eventually turned romantic.)

As she reads, Wyatt walks in. Dawn tells him she wants to work here again, to “finish what I started”.

Chapter 2: Water/Boston

In this section, we step into an alternate timeline where Dawn left the hospital and went straight home. The idea of two possible paths was introduced in the first chapter (though the Book of Two Ways and the two roads), but is further explored later in this chapter when Brian discusses quantum mechanics.

Dawn now works as a “death doula”. She had learned about her mother’s Stage 4 cancer diagnosis during her third season at Deir El-Bersha. Her younger brother, Kieran, had been 13 at the time. Their father had passed away when their mother was pregnant with Kieran. Once her mother died, Dawn became Kieran’s legal guardian which put her studies on hold, since she needed to get a job.

Dawn ended up working at the hospice that had cared for her mother, a job that was given to her out of pity. But she was good with the patients, and soon became a hospice social worker. A decade later, Dawn took a course on Intro to Death Midwifery, which led her to become a death doula (“just as birth doulas know that there’s discomfort and pain that can be managed during labor, death doulas do the same at the other end of the life spectrum”). She started her business 5 years ago, providing end-of-life care.


In present day, in Boston, Brian tries to apologize for their last argument, which resulted in Dawn leaving. He has not told Meret, their teenaged daughter, about it. Brian is a scientist who does work in quantum mechanics.

The next morning, Brian skips an important speech in order to talk to Dawn. Their fight had been about Gita, a post-doc in Brian’s physics program, who Brian had been mentoring. He had forgotten Meret’s birthday because he’d agreed to help Gita set up an air conditioning unit at her apartment. He had also ignored two texts from Dawn about it, later claiming it was because he’d been embarrassed about missing Meret’s brithday. Now, Brian apologies and the two of them have sex. Afterwards, however, Dawn is still hasn’t really forgiven him.

Dawn had met Brian at the hospice where her mother had been. He’d been there seeing his grandmother who raised him and now had Alzheimer’s. He had taught her about quantum interference, the double-slit experiment in quantum mechanics and Schrödinger’s cat.

The basic idea to know for the purposes of this story is that quantum movement is probabilistic. You don’t know exactly what path something takes, rather, there’s probabilities that each path could have been the one taken. And in that sense, each of these possible paths exist.

In present day, Dawn calls Kieran to talk to him about her marital troubles, but he reassures her they can work it out, assuming “That’s what you want, right?” Dawn replies “of course” (but in the context of the story it seems to hint that she’s not sure at all).

Dawn recalls how there was a cat at the hospice that used to sit at the foot of people’s beds to let the staff know the person was dying very soon. It could just sense it and a 100% accuracy rate. One day, it appeared on the bed of Judith, whose daughter Alanna was caring for her. After Judith appeared to die, she had drawn one last breath and then died yet again. Dawn feels sad for Alanna, having to grieve her mother twice and to have to accept her death twice.

Dawn’s newest client is Winifred “Win” Morse, who shares the same birthday as her. She has Stage 4 ovarian cancer. Dawn meets with Win and her husband, Felix. Win appreciates Dawn’s straight-forward manner. Dawn explains that she’s here to do anything that can help with the impending death, ranging from assisting in funeral arrangements to tidying up the house, but she can’t prescribe or administer medicine. She’s also not here to provide care such as diaper changes, since that’s the job of a caregiver.


Afterwards, Dawn drives to Boston harbor. She thinks about how her mother used to wonder what her life would have been like if she hadn’t left Ireland — perhaps working at her father’s pub or maybe a swimmer. Dawn thinks about a different life where she could have continued pursuing Egyptology and become a curator at the Met.

Dawn thinks about her daughter who takes after Brian’s love for science. Meret is smart and curious, but struggles with her weight despite leading an active lifestyle and eating healthy. Neither Dawn or Brian struggle with the same issue, but Meret seems to resent Dawn, likely because Dawn is the one she compares herself to in terms of appearance. Meret is closer to her father, and Dawn wishes sometimes that she could be the preferred parent.

Chapter 3: Land/Egypt

In this section, the book switches back to the timeline where Dawn ended up going to Egypt after the plane crash. The book continues switching back and forth between these two alternate realities.

Technically, Wyatt should not hire Dawn at the site since Dawn is no longer associated with Yale. However, he agrees to try to procure a temporary permit for her. Wyatt doesn’t understand why Dawn has suddenly decided to return after all these years.

At the Dig House, Dawn meets Mohammed Mahmoud, who is the son of Mohammad who worked there back when Dawn was in the program. She also meets Joe, who is a grad student working on a dissertation about how Ancient Egyptians worked with their hands and the tools they used. Joe shows her the new technology, like 3D renderings, they employ there nowadays.

Wyatt tells Dawn about his discovery of Djehutynakht’s tomb (one of many “Djehutynakht”s mentioned in the book since it was a common name). They are still working on excavating it fully and haven’t even reached the burial chamber yet, since there’s so much information to record. This Djehutynakht, son of Teti, predates the oldest mummy found at the Bersha necropolis (Djehutynakht, son of Ahanakht I) by two generations. So, if there’s a Book of Two Ways in its coffin, then it would be the oldest one known to be in existence.

Dawn thinks about the possible paths that could happen from here. In one, she works with him, and they find the Book of Two Ways there. In another, she is denied a permit.

Dawn is given a permit (technically as a guest, but with the implication that the director of antiquities will turn the over cheek if she does more than observe). Dawn is tempted to admit that she is here because she never forgot about Wyatt and because she never got to find out how things could have turned about between them. But Dawn holds back. Instead, they reminisce about Professor Humpries, who has since passed away. Later, Dawn thanks Wyatt for including a citation about her article in his thesis, and the look on his face indicates that he had intentionally put it there for her to find.

Chapter 4: Water/Boston

In the reality where Dawn goes back to Boston, she decides to attend one of Brian’s lectures, where he teaches at Harvard. In class he discusses the quantum suicide experiment, which is a thought experiment about theoretical immortality. After the lecture, Dawn thinks about starting anew with Brian to move past what has happened. But before she can talk to him, she’s interrupted by Gita, who reminds Brian no to be late for his department meeting.

Dawn confronts Brian about his current relationship with Gita, and Brian says she’s still working under him as a postdoc. Brian also reminds Dawn that he never slept with her, but Dawn counters that Brian made choices that make him culpable, like the choice to spend that night helping Gita instead of with his family.

Dawn thinks back to her first date with Brian and being able to forget momentarily about her mother dying of cancer and her studies being interrupted. Brian had told her about his grandmother, an Auschwitz survivor who helped to save a child who she later ran into decades later.

When Dawn’s mother is close to the end, Dawn has to deal with the financial mess that’s leftover, to the tune of being $150,000 in debt. After her mother passes away, Dawn learns that Brian’s grandmother passed away two week prior, but that he had continued visiting the hospice to be there for Dawn.


In present day, Dawn agrees to take on Win and Felix as clients and meets with them. She helps Win sort out the logistics around her impending death, such as questions about funeral arrangements or whether she wants to sign a DNR.

As they discuss, Dawn thinks about how Egyptians believed that the body needed to preserved for eternity in order to house their soul, which is why mummification was necessary. It “mirrored the path of the sun god Re, who became one with the corpse of the Osiris every night before he was reborn the next morning”. Their organs were placed in canopic jars where Gods (represented by the falcon, baboon, a person, and a jackal) watched over them. The heart was left in place, since it was considered the location of all personality and intelligence.


Dawn begins sleeping with Brian while waiting for her mother to die, and soon after she learns that she is pregnant. When she finally tells him, Brian is delighted. He invites her to move in him, offering to help out with Kieran as well. Dawn officially withdraws from the Yale Egyptology program, and eight months later Meret is born.

In present day, Dawn struggles to connect with Meret, who is upset about something but won’t say what. That night, Brian comes home late and Dawn demands to know where he was. Brian declines to answer, saying that she’s going to believe what she wants either way. The next day, Meret finally admits that she’s worried that they’re going to get a divorce. Meret knows that Dawn left (when she got on that plane flight) briefly after a fight they had. When asked, Dawn lies and says that she and Brian were arguing about money.

Later, Dawn thinks about her first encounter with death, which was the passing of her dog Dudley. She also visits Win, who shows her a piece of Egyptian art that she has, though Win doesn’t know the meaning of it. Dawn explains that it is a reproduction of a spell involving the weighing of a heart. A light heart implied innocence. If you did the spells right, said the right things and your heart was light enough, you could make it to the Field of Offerings where the things that brought you joy during your life were returned to you so you could enjoy for eternity.

Chapter 5: Land/Egypt

In the Egypt timeline, Dawn dreams of Brian, though he is too busy with his work to notice her. She awakes to Wyatt telling her that the electricity is out. As they get ready to leave for the site, Dawn wonders if she’s in over her head. At the tomb of Djehutynakht, Wyatt instruct Dawn to make a paleography of one area of hieroglyphs so they can make a 3D image of the wall.

Afterwards, Wyatt inspects Dawn’s work approvingly after the day is done. There’s hope that they’ll reach the burial chamber by tomorrow, an event they’ve been waiting a long time for, and it’s possible that it will be fully intact and untouched by grave robbers. If so, it would be an amazing find. Later, Dawn texts Meret to reassure her that she will be home soon.

As she works, Dawn recalls how Dumphries’s wife, Bette had visited the site for a week each season. On Bette’s last day in 2003, Dumpries and Bette had left Dawn and Wyatt dancing and drinking. Afterwards, Dawn had told Wyatt about her father being in the army and dying on duty. Wyatt had talked about his older brother dying of Lymphoma and him becoming the new Earl of Rawlings as a result. Finally, Wyatt kisses Dawn, before she run away.

The next day, Wyatt acts coldly around her. They get into an argument, but are interrupted when they discover an inscription that hints at the presence of another tomb in the necropolis (the one of Djehutynakht, son of Teti, which Wyatt later discovers). Since they are not supposed to be in that area without an inspector present, Wyatt and Dawn agree to lure Dumphries to that area later and “rediscover” the ancient hieratic message.

Wyatt also admits that he has been antagonistic toward Dawn because she had transferred into the program and happened to be studying the exact same area and subject matter that he was interested in, and he was jealous that Dumphries was clearly impressed by her.

Once they “rediscover” the message with Dumphries and an inspector present, the group celebrates the find. Wyatt suggests to Dawn that they set out upon finding the tomb referenced in the inscription, and the two of them end up having sex. Wyatt tells Dawn that she reminds him of Sakhmet, a fierce and bloodthirsty lioness Egyptian goddess who would transform at times Hathor, a peaceful sky goddess representing creativity and love. He references the Tale of the Herdsman, which is about a man who meets Sakhmet just before she transforms into Hathor. Wyatt says that “I came to the desert with a lioness and ended up with a goddess in my arms.”

The next day, Dawn tries to dismiss it all as a mistake, but Wyatt doesn’t let her. Her gives her a piece of limestone with a poem written in hieratic on it. Later, it is the only thing Dawn takes with her when she leaves Egypt.

Chapter 6: Water/Boston

Back in the Boston timeline, Dawn tries to keep up appearances around Meret. Sometimes things are normal with Brian, and other times she resents him. Dawn spends a lot of time with Win, since it’s easier than dealing with her marriage. Win loves art, so one day they visit the MFA. Dawn thinks about how Brian is uninterested in anything that isn’t quantifiable. As they walk past the area where the Book of Two Ways is housed, Dawn gasps, thinking she sees Wyatt, but it’s just a blond stranger.

As the days pass, Win gets weaker. One day, Win tells Dawn about Arlo, her son who died of an overdose at 16. Arlo had been a preemie and spent weeks in the NICU. Later, he’d been diagnosed with an attachment disorder (oppositional defiant disorder), which eventually fueled his drug use and overdose. Win asks to have his blanket with her when she dies. Afterwards, Dawn brings up Arlo to Felix, who mentions that Arlo was not his biological son.

When Dawn gets home, Meret is feeling unsure about going to a dance for her summer program, but Dawn insists she goes. Dawn doesn’t want to encourage her social anxiety. Dawn dresses her up and puts makeup on her to encourage her to attend. Meanwhile, Dawn and Brian attend a dinner party at the house of Harvard’s faculty dean, Horace Germaine, which Brian considers to be an important event. During the party, Dawn and Kelsey Hobbs, Horace’s wife, slip away to chat and she jokes glibly about her job.

Brian gets upset with Dawn about her behavior, but Dawn accuses Brian of abandoning her at the party and runs out. Dawn realizes that perhaps the reason she has been mad at Brian was not about Gita at all, but that she’d always assumed Brian would be there for her until he wasn’t. Afterwards, Brian apologizes.

Back at home, Meret comes home upset. The kids she was with had stolen a rowboat and then proceeded to have a discussion about whether “fat makes you sink or rise” (in reference to Meret). Afterwards, Brian tells Dawn, “I told you she should have stayed home”, which furthers the wedge between the two of them.


With Win’s death impending, Win is trying to come to terms with her mortality. To try to bring Win some peace, Dawn tries a guided meditation by Joan Halifax and Larry Rosenberg based on the nine contemplations of dying.

One night, Dawn comes home late after Win gets a fever and has to be checked out at the hospice. Dawn comes back to find that Brian has covered their bedroom in photographs of himself and Meret. He explains that in their world, Dawn is the star, and that he “fell out of orbit” but wants to get back on track. Afterwards, they have sex.

That night, Dawn gets a call from a long-term client, Thalia, who is dying. As Dawn sits by her bedside, Thalia mistakes her for angel of death. Dawn thinks about the inexplicable things she’s heard of people seeing before they die, and she wonders why it happens.

As Win continues her decline, Dawn tries to comfort Felix, reminding him that parts of Win will still be around after she dies and he’ll keep loving her. Later, Win tells Dawn about a professor, Thane Bernard, she’d fallen for when she was a student. Thane had been married, and she’d gotten pregnant (with Arlo). She hadn’t told Thane about the pregnancy because his wife was also expecting, and she was afraid of what he’d choose if she told him. Instead, she had the baby on her own and later met Felix. Now, Win wants Dawn to tell Thane about Arlo, and she doesn’t want Felix to know. Dawn says she has to think about it.

At home, Dawn digs up the limestone rock that Wyatt once gave her.

Chapter 7: Land/Egypt

Back in the Egypt timeline, Wyatt is frustrated and irate because the unearthing of the burial chamber is being held up due to structural issues and the schedule of Mostafa Awad, the director of antiquities, who needs to be present for the opening. Meanwhile, Dawn has noticed how cold one member of the team, Alberto the digital archaeologist, is towards her, though she doesn’t know why.

One night, Wyatt asks her why she came to Egypt, and Dawn responds with “clarity”, implying it is about her nixed career as an Egyptologist, instead of telling him the truth. Wyatt talks about his own regrets in his childhood and wanting his father’s approval. Finally, Wyatt tells Dawn that he tried to write her and e-mail her, but it was all returned undelivered, so he’d assumed she was avoiding him. Dawn says that she never got the letters and that she didn’t know he was looking for her, but then she gets up and walks away.

Back in her room, Dawn calls Brian, who begs her to come home. Dawn thinks about the day they got married, at a simple town hall wedding with Kieran holding Meret. Brian hadn’t been able to find the words for his vows, but instead gave them to her later in the form of a equation written on a slip of paper. Asking her to solve for I, the equation worked out to I<3U. As she talks to Brian, Wyatt knocks and enters her room, wanting to finish their conversation. He looks upset when he realizes she must be speaking to Brian. The next day is the big day where they will be entering the burial chamber. As they dig in, the ladder slips, and Dawn is nervous until Wyatt talks to calm her down. Finally, Wyatt digs into the burial chamber to find it fully intact. In the next few days, the team begins the work of fully documenting the architecture. Dawn starts asking Wyatt why their benefactor, Dailey (who is funding the dig), isn’t present for this, but Wyatt doesn’t want to talk about it.

When the mummy is removed, they find a Book of Two Ways, the oldest one known in existence. Dawn also finds a spell referencing the Hall of Two Truths, which is something only seen in later eras, so they surmise that the coffin texts must have evolved into what later became Spell 125 in the New Kingdom (later era). They also find a duplicate of the spell in another location opposite from it. It offers clear proof of Dawn’s theory about the importance of the text’s location.

As they work, Dawn thinks back to after her relationship with Wyatt had started. They had tried to keep it secret at first, but everyone had soon found out. But a few weeks into their passionate romance, Dawn had gotten the call that her mother was dying with only a few weeks left to live. Wyatt had driven her back to the airport in Cairo, telling her he’s do anything for her and saying “I love you.” Dawn had left without saying it back.

In present day, Wyatt asks Dawn why she never came back, but Dawn doesn’t know how to explain that choosing Brian meant choosing safety and security. Dawn also checks her e-mail to see messages from Brian, Meret and her brother, all asking what is going on and why she isn’t home yet. Dawn writes Meret back with reassurances, but only writes a quick note back to Brian saying “I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

Dawn then goes into Wyatt’s room and tells him that she loves him. They have sex. The next morning, Albert comes into Wyatt’s room to tell him that Dailey is here. Wyatt is immediately worried. Anya Dailey turns out to be a woman, and Dawn soon learns that she is also Wyatt’s fiancé.

Chapter 8: Water/Boston

In the Boston timeline, Dawn meets up with a friend, Abigail Beauregard Trembley, who also does hospice work to ask for advice. She explains that her client (Win) wants to make a deathbed confession (about Arlo) which may hurt people who are left behind. Abigail reminds her that the client trumps the caregiver and not to make the situation about herself.

After Meret refuses to return to her STEM camp, Dawn finds a new summer program for her. At the end of the first day, Meret reports that the P.E. teacher, Mrs. Thibodeaum, that made her cry. Before Meret can finish talking, Dawn confronts the P.E. teacher, but it turns out that the teacher actually said something that Meret was happy about. Mrs. Thibodeau was heavier when she was younger, but had taken up tennis. She’d suggested that Meret had good hand-eye coordination and might be good at it as well.

Dawn meets up with Kieran and asks about his love life. Kieran is a neurosurgeon and his last boyfriend left him for someone who was less wrapped up in his job. Kieran mentions that he loves his work and that he’s grateful for the sacrifices Dawn made for him.

Meanwhile, Brian has been doing small, thoughtful things like bringing home flowers. At night, Dawn finds a list from a women’s magazine titled “19 Ways to Tell Your S.O. You Care!” and Dawn is touched to see that Brian is doing something out of character to make an effort. She later brings up the list to him and tells him that she doesn’t need him to be someone he’s not, but she appreciates the effort. Still, her mind drifts back to Wyatt. She recalls the day long ago when he’d told her about how father had wiped out their family fortune and resented Wyatt for being the son who lived instead of his brother.

Dawn finally decides to help Win find Thane. Win has a new energy knowing that Dawn is working on finding him. At first the search is fruitless, but Dawn pays a service to track him down. Win paints again for the first time in a long time a picture of two faint profiles “a breath apart, unable to complete that kiss for eternity” which she plans to use as stationery for the letter she plans to write to Thane. When Felix sees that Win is painting, he begins to hope that Win may survive. Dawn reminds him that having a burst of energy before dying is normal and that Win is terminal.

Dawn’s paid search results in learning that Thane has quit teaching to become an artist. She finds a photo of him at a charity auction event. When she sees it, Dawn gets curious about what Wyatt is up to now. She Googles him to find a relatively recent photo of him. However, as she’s looking at it, Brian walks in and is visibly upset. Dawn didn’t know that Brian knew about Wyatt, but Brian admits that Wyatt had written her letters long ago that he never gave her.

Chapter 9: Land/Egypt

In the Egypt timeline, Dawn learns that Anya is Lady Anya and a wealthy, distant relative of the Queen. They give Anya a tour of the site, but Dawn eventually gets upset and storms out. Wyatt follows her. Dawn is angry that Wyatt didn’t say anything, but Wyatt had though that she knew (since someone else had told her about their benefactor). Wyatt points out that Dawn is married. Finally, he kisses her, saying that he’ll tell Anya the truth if she asks him to, but Dawn says no.

Later, Dawn talks to Albert who admits that he has been cold toward her because he recognized that Dawn’s presence put their funding at risk. Albert also points out the cruelty in Dawn coming here to remind Wyatt of his love for her if her plan was simply to leave him again.

Afterwards, Dawn is still upset at the thought of Wyatt and Anya together, but she finds a limestone rock with the message “Forever and ever” written in Sharpie (from Wyatt, presumably) on her bed when she returns to her room.

Chapter 10: Water/Boston

In Win’s letter to Thane, she writes about her love for Thane, but she also explains why she married Felix, too. She said that she had wanted to be like Thane, but loved Felix for how safe he made her feel. Finally, she writes about Arlo, about Arlo’s death and about how she’ll likely be dead by the time he reads this.

Dawn goes suit shopping with Kieran and at one point she thinks she smells Wyatt, though it’s not him. Instead, she admits to Kieran everything that’s been going on with Brian, Gita and thinking about Wyatt.

With Win’s death imminent, Win asks Dawn to leave in order to deliver the letter, knowing there’s a decent chance Win will die when Dawn is away. Still, Win insists, saying that Felix will be there to take care of her. As Dawn packs up to leave for London to find Thane, Brian admits that he worries that Dawn will leave and not come back. Brian asks Dawn not to leave right now while they are fighting for their marriage.

As they discuss, Meret comes bounding in with the results of a mail-in DNA test she had taken. Together, they see that Meret’s DNA has come back as being 98% British and Irish. As Brian looks confused because his ancestry consists of Polish Jews, Dawn thinks about how Wyatt had told her that he was English, “through and through”.

Chapter 11: Land/Egypt

In the Egypt timeline, Anya finally departs. Wyatt tells Dawn to stay here with him, but Dawn says that even if she could leave Brian, she wouldn’t consider leaving her daughter, Meret, who is named after the Egyptian goddess Meretseger. She is a deity who represents strength, but also forgiveness. Dawn finally admits to Wyatt that Meret is actually their daughter (hers and Wyatt’s).

Chapter 12: Water/Boston

In the Boston timeline, Brian demands to know why Dawn didn’t tell him the truth about Meret. Dawn says she didn’t know, even though on some level she did suspect. Brian is angry, and Dawn leaves for London.

In England, Dawn arrives at Thane’s house and sees him with his family. She finds herself unable to deliver the letter, worried about the damage it could do to his family. Instead, she heads back to the airport, but then instead of buying a ticket to Boston, she goes to Egypt.

Dawn arrives in Cairo, and then she proceeds to head toward the dig site as she notes that it’s the day of the Sothic Rising.

At this point, the story mirrors the beginning of the Egypt timeline, and we realize that they are not two separate timelines at all. Instead, the Boston stuff happens before the Egypt stuff. This part picks up from the beginning of the Egypt timeline at the beginning of the book.

Chapter 13: Cairo to Boston

The book picks up with Dawn and Wyatt headed back to Boston from Cairo. After telling Wyatt the information about Meret’s paternity, Wyatt thinks that she’s been hiding this from him all along, but Dawn assures him that she found out because of Meret’s recent DNA test. Wyatt then asks to meet Meret, so Dawn and Wyatt head to Boston together.

They get on the flight, but the plane begins to crash. (At this point, we find out that the first chapter of the book actually does not precede the rest of the events of the book. Instead, the plane crash that is described in the book happens after the majority of the events in the book.)

As the plane goes down, Dawn thinks about Wyatt and he tells her he loves her. Soon, there is smoke and fire, and Dawn finds him bleeding from the head. Wyatt kisses her.

After

Dawn awakes in a hospital with Brian at her side. Brian explains that she has had surgery to relieve the pressure on her brain. Meret is with Kieran. Dawn is momentarily confused, unsure what has happened and what she has imagined.

Then, she hears Wyatt outside and demanding to be let into the room. He marches into the room, and Dawn introduces Wyatt to Brian. Afterwards, Dawn asks Wyatt to give them a moment while she talks to Brian. Brian puts Meret on the phone, and Dawn reassures Meret. After she hangs up, Brian confirms that Meret has figured out what has happened.

When asked, Meret admits to Brian that she slept with Wyatt and that she never stopped loving him. Brian announces that he’s going back to Boston, since it’s clear that she wants to be with Wyatt. Brian also notes that “you were coming back to me, when the plane crashed, you just don’t know it yet.”

Dawn recognizes that Brian is giving her space to make her own choice about what she wants. As Wyatt cares for her as she heals, she wonders if Wyatt would be the type of person that would do something like that. Dawn reminds Wyatt that he has a fiancé, but Wyatt casually says that he’ll call it off.


After four days, Dawn is cleared to fly back to Boston. She and Wyatt fly together, with him booking a hotel when he they get there. Wyatt brings Dawn home, and Wyatt worries she won’t come back to him.

Brian is happy to see her, but they soon start arguing. Brian accuses Dawn of abandoning Meret right after she had just learned very upsetting news. Dawn apologizes, but also defends herself by saying it was something she needed to do after spending so much time putting everyone else’s needs before hers. But Brian is angry with himself too, feeling as if he’s manifested the plane crash by wishing ill upon her after she’d ditched him and Meret to chase Wyatt in Egypt.

Afterwards, Dawn talks to Meret and explains what happened. She tells her about Wyatt, and Meret agrees to meet Wyatt.

When Wyatt shows up, Meret gives Wyatt a quick rundown of the things she likes, and she mentions wanting a Bernese Mountain dog. She bristles when he offers to be a father to her (which she does not want to hear, since Brian is her father) and says that she doesn’t think she has much in common with him.

Then, Wyatt pulls out a picture. He means for her to see the Bernese Mountain dog he had as a child, but Meret notices how Wyatt was chubbier as a child. It seems to give her some sense of where she came from. Meret then mentions having started playing tennis, and Wyatt says that he was good at tennis growing up. Eventually Brian comes outside, stiffly, and Meret goes to bed. That night, Dawn sleep separately in her office, but she has a nightmare about the plane crash and wakes up to Brian holding her.

When Dawn goes in to see Kieran for a CT scan, he meets Wyatt. The day after, Wyatt goes by to visit Meret again, and she says she wants to visit Egypt. As Wyatt and Meret get to know each other, Dawn gets an e-mail from Abigail, letting her know that Win is still alive and seems to be waiting for her to come back. Dawn immediately gets up to leave, leaving Wyatt to watch Meret.

At Win’s house, she is alive but unresponsive. Abigail is there, too. As Felix goes to fix coffee, Dawn tells Win that she saw Thane, that has a family and that seems to be doing well. She admits that she did not give him the letter, and she hopes that Win can forgive her. As Dawn comforts Win by telling her about her own near-death experience, Win seems ready to let go. Felix says a few final words to her, and Win exhales her last breath. Afterwards, seeing Dawn’s post-surgery state, Abigail offers to take care of Felix.
When Dawn gets home, Brian, Wyatt and Meret are together eating pizza, to her surprise. As they talk about Meret’s tennis matches, Brian makes an excuse not to got to the next one, and Dawn recognizes that it’s in order to let her and Wyatt attend instead. Later, Wyatt admits to Dawn that he recognizes that Brian is a good person.

After Win’s obituary is printed, Dawn cuts it out and mails it to Thane. Meret takes Dawn to get a haircut that’s suitable for her post-surgery cut, and then gets a haircut to match. Now that Dawn has been back in Boston a full week, Meret and Wyatt both want to know what her plan is.

The book ends with Dawn thinking that “Maybe this is all love is: twin routes of pain and pleasure. Maybe the miracle isn’t where we wind up, but that we get there at all.” Then, she opens her mouth to speak.

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