Chapter 13: The Church of Risk and Hope

Taylor and Alice are leaving the Delta Queen Casino Hotel in Las Vegas, where the manager is giving them a hard time for checking out a few too minutes late. Alice plays along with his rules, telling him their room is cleaned out already. While she and Turtle head toward the pancake house across the street, Taylor runs back upstairs to grab their suitcases. Meanwhile Alice tells Turtle about how Las Vegas used to be. Alice thinks that the city used to be a kind of "church of risk and hope" where people came together around a card table, every one with different needs and backgrounds.

Taylor meets them for pancakes, and Alice notices that she is wearing a pink shirt. Before she was a mother, Taylor always despised the color pink. Suddenly, Taylor notices Barbie, the waitress from their dinner the night before, who recognized she and Turtle from Oprah's show. Barbie looks pathetically unkempt, and they discover she has just lost her job. Alice invites her to sit down with them, and only then do Alice, Taylor, and Turtle learn the lengths of her obsession. She knows every Barbie ever sold, and her clothes are all Barbie's wardrobe ensembles. Barbie seems so down and out that Alice suggests they take her on the road with them. Taylor scoffs, but eventually invites Barbie along, and they head toward the highway.

Chapter 14: Fiat

Jax is back in Tucson, where he is sitting in Gundi's Fiat trying to write a song. Jax finds that he is most inspired to write lyrics sitting in a car, and since he does not have his own, he borrows Gundi's. She is a local artist, and has a habit of walking around Rancho Copo naked. Jax misses Taylor, and imagines having a baby with her some day. Gundi comes along eventually, with at least a few articles of clothes on, to tell Jax he has to come sign for a registered letter.

Jax gets the letter from the mailman, and Gundi insists he come into her house to share it with her. The letter is from Annawake. The letter expresses concern for Turtle growing up in a white household without acquiring any sense of Indian identity. Annawake delves into the story of Gabe, explaining that Gabe was sent to a white family in Texas when their mother was hospitalized for alcoholism and the siblings were separated. In Texas, he was grouped with the Mexican kids, where he did not fit in. As a teenager he was involved in an armed robbery, and now he is in and out of prison. Annawake concludes by saying Turtle cannot belong to Taylor and Jax.

Chapter 15: Communion

Gundi sympathizes with Jax's situation. They sit in Gundi's sunny house on turquoise cushions, surrounded by walls displaying her paintings. They discuss the idea of solitary life versus community life. Jax points out that they do live in a culture that rewards individual ambition and achievement, using Gundi's paintings as a case in point. Gundi invites Jax to take a bath, and in the tub, he gives into the temptation to have sex with her.


Alice's reference to the "church of risk and hope" again suggests the luck or chance motif that recurs throughout the novel. The Las Vegas setting symbolizes the way in which human life is often dictated by chance occurrences. Alice's memory of people sitting around the card tables, joined together in a moment of "risk and hope" can be connected to the four sitting around the breakfast table—Alice, Taylor, Turtle, and Barbie. Taylor and Turtle are caught in their own moment of risk, as they continue their escape from Annawake Fourkiller. Alice is running away from her old husband, and Barbie is stuck without a job. Like the folks of the old Las Vegas, so too do these women each bring their own story, and own hopes to a common table.

We should also think of the Las Vegas setting in the context of Annawake's religious background. In telling the story of the pigs in heaven, Annawake relates to Jax that all the stories the Cherokee people tell have a moral message of doing well by one's people. The explicit reference to Las Vegas as a "church" suggests that the games of luck and chance are another kind of religion. Obviously, this religion is grounded in material desire and individual ambition, instead of communal values. Taylor, who does not live in a world of "free breakfast," has explained to Turtle that they need money to survive. Unlike the Cherokee Nation, where food and land are shared freely, the world of white America requires that individuals make their own luck. Taylor ends up in Las Vegas because of this me-first, selfish culture.

Over the course of the novel, Annawake states that she is pursuing Turtle's case for two reasons. The first is that she believes that the tribe always suffers the absence of one of their members, and second, because she believes that Turtle will suffer as well. Annawake appeals to Jax and Taylor on the second account, as she believes they will respond to that argument more readily.

Gabriel's story, however, appeals on both accounts. In these chapters, the reader hears the complete story behind Gabriel's disappearance. Perhaps more than any other character, he symbolizes the tragedy that ensues when Native American people attempt to live isolated from their tribe. Gabriel's story works to provide balance to the novel. His history bolsters sympathy for Annawake's case, allowing the reader to see Annawake for all her humanness, instead of as a war horse blinded by her own ideals. He puts a face and name to the problems that affect both the tribe and the individual when there is a separation. He provides an interesting double for Turtle in the novel. At the beginning of the book, the reader witnesses the intense bond between Taylor and Turtle, mother and child. The reader also witnesses the pain of the community that has lost Gabriel, namely through Annawake's and Dell's suffering. Gabriel's case foreshadows the loss suffered in the community as a result of Turtle's disappearance.

The reader should recognize Gundi and Jax's conversation regarding communal versus solitary life as an important dramatization of some of the novel's themes. Although one expects that Jax sincerely supports Taylor, he should see the situation with a more objective eye. Again, the omniscient point-of-view becomes important and through Jax's perspective, we have a less biased slant. This conversation illuminates the biases inherent in the American value-system, which privileges ambitious individual achievement over achievement for the sake of the community alone. More than anything, this conversation is a kind of confession of ignorance from Jax. He essentially admits to us that he and Gundi cannot fully conceptualize the meaning of communal life. The novel, however, does not reduce Taylor's desires as based on individual ambition or happiness: Jax also suggests that the love a mother sacrifices for her child is like a "holy communion." This is not the "communion" offered by a tribe, but it is a valuable human bond. One might compare the "holy communion" reference—one which is rooted in the Western religious tradition—to the story of the pigs in heaven—a reference to the world view of the Cherokee people. Both are stories of parents sacrificing their children for the sake of the community, or world.

The sex scene in Gundi's house helps to develop a subplot in the novel—the fate of Jax and Taylor's relationship. Although Taylor and Jax have an understanding that Jax can be involved with other women, this incident serves as a crucial plot devise. Up until this point, there has been nothing that would require Taylor to make a choice about Jax. This event will force a decision on Taylor's part.