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CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
SECTION I - RAYONA
It occurs to Rayona that her mother might really be sick this time. The story opens with Rayona and her mother Christine playing cards on a hospital table in a Seattle hospital. It isn’t the first time they have been there as Christine has made numerous trips to the hospital after two much partying. Rayona is bored but knows she would be called rude if she left. For some reason her mother is obsessed with winning the card game and pulls a cheat which Rayona sees but lets slide. With no warning, her father Elgin appears in the door, Christine’s car keys in his hand. She had let him take the car in hopes of keeping him around a while, but he tells her it isn’t going to work this time. Christine acts as though she has something she wants to tell Elgin, but the bickering prevents her. He finally leaves without resolving anything.
Rayona takes the keys, intending to go home, but she dallies in the snack room first. By the time she gets to the car, her mother is already there, having stolen a candy striper uniform to sneak out of the hospital. Since Rayona has the keys, Christine is attempting to break into the car. Her explanation is that she is going to take a ride and the car is going to have an accident so Rayona will be able to collect the insurance money. Rayona insists on going along and argues with her mother about the plan. She believes Christine is simply despondent about the infidelity of her father. The intended accident, however, is forgotten when the car runs out of gas some distance from the destination, a spot with romantic memories of Elgin for Christine.
Rayona’s story starts the book and establishes Rayona as a teenager who is often as much of a mother to Christine as she is a daughter. She has clearly been looking out for her mother for some time and is every bit as angered by her father’s behavior. Rayona is capable of fending for herself and will probably not be shoved around by anyone for long.
The author plays with some rhetorical devices in conjunction with the multiple narrative feature that will become more obvious later on. Specifically, Rayona’s story is told in present tense, lapsing into past tense only to explain certain incidents along the way. The remaining stories will be told in past tense. The technique symbolizes Rayona’s role as the continuance of the family.
We have some characterization of Rayona here. She is observant and tolerant even if she doesn’t understand the reasons for being so. She is also protective and persistent and capable of taking charge when her mother isn’t. Furthermore, she seems to know when her mother needs for her to make light of a situation and is willing to help smooth things over.
Rayona and Christine spend pack up and prepare to drive to Montana to move in with Aunt Ida, Christine’s childhood guardian, the woman she thinks of as her mother. Before leaving Seattle, however, Christine visits a video store advertised in the newspaper and purchases a life long membership for the ridiculous price of 99 cents. Christine has a variety of reasons for this even though she has no VCR. She wants Rayona to have something and she can’t go to Ida’s empty handed, so she will take two videos, which she is renting for an indefinite time period.
The ride to the reservation is uneventful, but the car dies about a mile from Aunt Ida’s house. The two women walk the rest of the way, carrying all of their belongings in garbage bags. Aunt Ida greets Christine with an "I told you so" attitude which Christine refuses to bow to. She takes her garbage bags and runs back to the road. Rayona follows but cannot catch up in time to prevent Christine from climbing into the front of a pickup truck that stops on the road. Rayona’s reaction is one of fear and anger. The earth suddenly seems dirty to her and she drops to her knees where she begins yanking out the grass and weeds by the roots, clawing and scratching at the ground. Ida comes up to her and, without saying a word, simply grasps Rayona’s wrists and pulls her close, holding on until Rayona stops fighting, pulling her in close to her own heart. When Rayona gives in, Ida simply lets go, tells her to gather up her belongings, and leads the way back to the house.
Chapter two establishes the ancient conflict between Ida and Christine but doesn’t explain the cause of it. It also presents Ida as a sympathetic character, a woman who understands more than she says, who loves more than she is able to show. Christine appears rather shallow at this point, valuing worthless things like a video store membership she will never again use and thinking that leaving a small life insurance policy to Rayona is an appropriate way to provide for her. Later we will learn she isn’t as shallow as she seems.