All my white friends can count their deaths on one hand. I can count my fingers, toes, arms, legs, eyes, ears, nose, penis, butt cheeks, and nipples, and still not get close to my deaths.
Junior offers these lines near the end of the novel in the chapter titled, “Because Russian Guys Are Not Always Geniuses.” He is reflecting on the prevalence of death on the reservation, its ties to alcoholism, and how death, too, is one of the factors that differentiate life on the reservation from life in the wider, white world. The quote not only illustrates this stark contrast in early life for young American Indians compared to white teenagers, it also shows off Junior’s unique sense of humor. Humor is one of the ways Junior copes with the death he has faced, and the joke, here, of counting up ones penis, butt cheeks and nipples to arrive at the tally of deaths one has experienced in life also contains a starker reckoning. When Junior divides his body into all of its components like this, it ultimately emphasizes the mortality Junior is speaking about. In the passage, Junior’s own body becomes a memento mori—a reminder for him that one-day he too will die.