I could not imagine why she had chosen Idaho. I thought perhaps she had opened an atlas and pointed a finger at any old spot, but later I learned that she had a cousin in Lewiston, Idaho. "I haven't seen her for fifteen years," my mother said, "and that's good because she'll tell me what I'm really like." "I could tell you that, Sugar," my father said. "No, I mean before I was a wife and a mother. I mean underneath, where I am Chanhassen."
This is from Chapter 23, when Sal and her grandparents have just reached the Badlands, and, at last, Sal begins to reveal the details of her mother's decision to leave home. Sal, who points out that she learned these details "later," knew little about this decision at the time, which added to her confusion and sense of abandonment. In this passage, Sal's mother, so rarely named throughout the text, uses her real name: Chanhassen. Her desire to return to or rediscover her "essential self" indicates her feeling of being swallowed up or buried beneath her present roles and relationships. She experiences a sense of inauthenticity in these roles that saddens her, and that makes her feel, just as Phoebe's mother feels, as though she is leading a small or incomplete life. Her name itself, Chanhassen, carries history with it. The name represents her own mother's one act of rebellion and the name reminds us of her Native American heritage, which suggests, somewhat romantically, that her truest identity precedes and outstrips the strictures of modern society.