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Summary: Chapter 10: Skin of Evil—Part 1

Linda Wishkob warns the Coutts family that Linden Lark is back in town. Judge Coutts insists that Geraldine stay home with the doors locked and Pearl on guard. Geraldine gives Joe and Judge Coutts a shopping list. At the grocery store, they spot Linden. When Judge Coutts tries to strangle Linden, he suffers a heart attack. Down in Fargo, Joe and Geraldine stay at a hotel while Judge Coutts is in the hospital. Judge Coutts’s secretary tells them that people have beaten Linden and that Linden had been bragging about having a rich girlfriend, who Joe suspects is Sonja. Geraldine vows to stop Linden, and Joe fears that Linden will kill her. Joe realizes he must kill Linden himself. 

Later, Joe approaches Father Travis and pretends to be interested in joining the church. Knowing Father Travis is good at shooting gophers, Joe tells him that he hopes to learn how to shoot. Instead, Father Travis lectures Joe about evil and claims that every evil results in some good. Cappy mocks the priest’s words and offers to teach Joe to shoot. Cappy has been hunting since he was two.

Summary: Chapter 10: Skin of Evil—Part 2

Cappy borrows one of his father’s rifles and takes Joe out to practice shooting. Joe is a terrible shot. He has to use the cash Sonja left him to buy more ammunition. Joe talks to Linda Wishkob and learns that Linden plays golf early in the morning. Cappy and Joe make plans to fake the theft of the rifle and then ambush Linden. Joe and Cappy carry out their plan during the summer powwow, when everyone camps out. Cappy and Randall’s father, Doe Lafournais, works as the powwow announcer. The boys watch the traditional dances, eat their favorite Native American foods, and flirt with girls. Joe meets Margaret, his future wife. 

Later, in the dark of night, Joe and Cappy steal the rifle, cut across the fields, and hide it near the golf course. Joe stakes out the golf course. Linden arrives on the third morning. Hiding in the bushes, Joe waits until he has a clear shot. He shoots and hits Linden in the stomach. He shoots again, but then his fingers won’t work. Suddenly Cappy appears. He takes the rifle away from Joe and kills Linden by shooting him in the head. Then Cappy picks up the rifle casings, and they get out of there.

Analysis: Chapter 10: Skin of Evil—Part 1 & Part 2

This chapter greatly focuses on the struggle for justice within an imperfect legal system. Joe’s decision that justice demands that he kill Linden himself is fraught with moral ambiguity. He approaches Father Travis to learn how to shoot, but it can be inferred that in reality Joe seeks moral insight and possibly justification for the act of vengeance he plans for Linden. The legal confusion that hampers the case against Linden may actually help Joe as well. Joe is a minor. He can’t face a very harsh punishment for the crime he’s planning. Though Joe does succeed in killing Linden, he finds that his attempt at justice is neither clean nor simple. Stealing the gun from Cappy’s father in a fake robbery only makes him feel uncomfortable and guilty. His inability to cleanly shoot Linden also reveals that Joe may not be as committed to a vengeful killing as he thought. It takes Cappy to relieve him of the act in order for justice to be carried out. Erdrich shows that justice is messy and unpleasant, and this is true for both the law Judge Coutts works for and in the old ways.