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Chapter 16: Marooned
Alice is reading Taylor, Barbie, and Turtle stories from the tabloids to pass the time in the car. The four are leaving Las Vegas. One story is about three men who were "marooned" for thirty-six days when their boat overturned off the coast of Florida. Two of them ganged up on the other, using him for bait. Barbie is annoying Taylor terribly. When the four stop for lunch, Taylor and Alice comment on Barbie's habit of lugging around what looks like a very heavy purse. She also eats enormous portions always gets up to go to the bathroom right after she eats.
Taylor wishes at one point that Jax were with them. Meanwhile, Jax is in bed with Gundi, explaining that he will have to confess their sexual encounters to Taylor. He suggests that the situation is like holding a robin egg in his hand: either he gives it to Taylor or not. If he gives it to her, at least Taylor can decide what to do with it; if not, she becomes a fool. Jax then tells Gundi how much he loves Taylor. She tells him she knows their affair means nothing, and kicks him out of her house.
Chapter 17: Treasure
Alice, Taylor, Turtle, and Barbie are sharing a motel room close to Carson City where Barbie is making a fuss over sharing the beds. She wants to share with Turtle, but Turtle will not let go of Taylor. Finally, Barbie concedes, shoving her purse under her pillow before she goes to sleep.
Taylor dreams about she is being chased, and then watched by a group of horses. Alice wakes her up to show her the contents of Barbie's purse—hundreds of silver dollars. They figure Barbie has stolen it from the Delta Queen hotel in Las Vegas, and Alice suggests they call the police. Taylor does not want to draw any attention to herself and Turtle, and so refuses this option. She feels that the money was come by wrongly in the first place—that it actually should belong to all the "hard luck" cases in Las Vegas.
Alice and Taylor stop at the Laundromat in Carson City, where they talk about where they should go next. Alice keeps asking Taylor where they are going, and Taylor does not know. Taylor reaffirms that she feels frightened to talk to Annawake, and Alice understands. Taylor mentions she has gained weight in a way that suggests she is self-conscious about her figure. Alice comments that Taylor has never before been at all self-deprecating.
Taylor makes a call to Jax, and he reads her the letter from Annawake. He also tries to tell her about his affair with Gundi, but Taylor does not pursue the conversation; she cannot think of anything but Turtle. Taylor hands the phone to Alice so she can hear the letter, and while they are talking, Taylor confronts Barbie about the money in her purse—who did steal the money from the casino where they were staying. When Alice gets off the phone, she is crying. She tells Taylor that the Cherokee folks just want to talk to them; and that Annawake is just grieving her brother's loss, and not necessarily set on taking Turtle away. Alice thinks that she, Alice, should go out to the Cherokee Nation.
The marooned charter boat in the tabloids symbolizes Taylor's present situation. The novel as a whole is partially an escape narrative, with Taylor running from the possibility of losing Turtle's custody. The fact that the men in the boat went without food for many days before they were rescued foreshadows future difficulties for Taylor.
Jax's conversation with Gundi is important in that it communicates Jax's love for Taylor. The reader understands that the sexual encounter between him and Gundi carried no emotional commitment. The metaphor that connects Jax's affair to a robin egg offers an interesting image of the situation. The egg represents the fragility of his relationship with Taylor at this point. Like the egg, the relationship will be hard to preserve, in essence, hard to keep from breaking. The idea that Jax will show Taylor the egg symbolizes Jax's commitment to telling Taylor the truth. By putting the egg in her hands, he at least gives her the option of doing what she chooses with this breakable situation.
The idea that this is a robin's egg makes the metaphor all the richer. A bird's egg not only has the potential to break, but also the potential to be eaten by predators. An egg in a nest is a kind of home. Taylor is thus faced with the decision of protecting the home she has created with Jax or essentially abandoning it to the predators.
If Cash Stillwater and Gabriel represent the tragic result of Native American clash with white culture, then Barbie represents the American dream gone wrong. Barbie is a byproduct of a culture based around material gain, advertising, and greed. She literally turns herself into "Barbie," having changed her name, buying all the wardrobe ensembles, and writing "tm" at the end of her signature. Her total self-centeredness is demonstrated in the way she fusses about sharing beds, and monopolizes the conversation with ridiculous stories about herself. Finally, her thievery symbolizes the darker side of capitalist society: it seems to be a coping strategy for someone whose luck has run out. In fact, Taylor even sympathizes with her actions, saying that the money "belonged to the hard-luck cases of Las Vegas."
These chapters also help develop Alice's character further. First of all, she explicitly tells Taylor that she has left Harland for good. As an older woman who has lived in the same place for many years, she is also leaving a sense of security and familiarity. This action confirms that she is a strong- willed, gutsy character. Her attitude toward Barbie reveals another important characteristic—her soft-hearted nature. Later, when Alice responds sympathetically to the story of Gabriel, she shows this side of herself again.
Alice's presence also develops further the motherhood theme in the novel. Alice empathizes with Taylor because she knows what it feels like to be a mother; she understands that Taylor is willing to sacrifice all sense of security in order to maintain her custody of Turtle. Alice also responds with maternal instincts when she hears about Gabriel, and this response drives her next action of going to the Cherokee Nation.