Every Little Hurricane
In 1976, nine-year-old Victor Joseph listens to his parents’ New Year’s Eve party as he tries to sleep in his room. The guests are drunk and rowdy, and his uncles Adolph and Arnold fistfight in the yard. Victor reflects on the many difficult times he has had in childhood as a result of his parents’ poverty and alcoholism. A hurricane touches down on the reservation but causes little damage, and life goes on.
A Drug Called Tradition
In this story, Victor and his friends are young adults. Victor and Junior Polatkin sneak away from a party to take psychedelic mushrooms, and reluctantly bring Thomas Builds-the-Fire along. Each young man describes his drug-induced hallucinations, all of which involve alternate versions of Native American history. In the first, Victor steals a horse; in the second, Thomas sends all white people back to Europe using a magic dance; and in the third, Junior is a successful singing cowboy in an alternate United States governed by Native Americans.
Junior and Victor send Thomas away when he compares their drug use to a Spokane coming-of-age ritual. Victor has a frightening vision of his grandmother, and throws the mushrooms in the lake. The next day, Big Mom, the tribe’s spiritual leader, approaches Victor. She tells him she knows everything he saw, and gives him a tiny drum that he can beat if he ever needs her help. Victor keeps the drum for years.
Because My Father Always Said He Was the Only Indian Who Saw Jimi Hendrix Play “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Woodstock
When Victor’s father was a young man, he was the subject of a famous photograph depicting a violent moment during an anti-Vietnam War rally. Victor’s father was imprisoned for two years, but he returned to the counterculture immediately after being released and attended the Woodstock Music Festival. He claims he was the only Indian to see Jimi Hendrix’s performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner”, and as he has aged, Victor’s father has become attached to that recording.
Victor remembers the close relationship he had with his father as a young boy. After Victor’s parents divorced, his father moved to Phoenix, Arizona and gradually lost touch with Victor and his mother. Victor resents this but tries to stay positive.
Crazy Horse Dreams
Victor meets a woman he calls One-Braid at a powwow and they have sex in her car. However, Victor’s neuroses make her uncomfortable, and he convinces himself that she wants him to "be Crazy Horse" instead of accepting him as he is. He angrily leaves.
The Only Traffic Signal on the Reservation Doesn’t Flash Red Anymore
Victor and his friend Adrian discuss 15-year-old Julius Windmaker, the reservation’s basketball star. They hope he will use his talent to make a life off the reservation, but fear that he will succumb to alcoholism like so many gifted reservation athletes before him. As they have this discussion, they see that Julius has been arrested for throwing a brick through a car window.
One year later, Victor and Adrian have quit drinking. They attend a high-school basketball game, where Julius plays badly because he is hung over. Everyone on the reservation is disappointed, but they have already put their hopes in Lucy, a third-grade girl who is nevertheless able to compete with boys much older than her. Victor and Adrian spend the night in Spokane and return to find Julius passed out in Victor’s house. They treat him kindly and hide their disappointment. When he leaves, Adrian confesses that he is pessimistic about Lucy’s prospects.
Victor and his friend Sadie attend a carnival. While there, they spot Dirty Joe, an alcoholic Indian from their reservation, passed out on the ground. They play a mean prank on him, putting him on a roller coaster and paying the attendant to keep him on the ride all day. When the white crowd starts laughing at Dirty Joe, Victor and Sadie become uncomfortable with what they have done and try to leave. An attendant points them out and Victor flees the security guards into a fun house, where a mirror distorts his reflection.
This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona
Victor’s father dies in Phoenix, but Victor cannot afford to go there and recover his body. After unsuccessfully lobbying the Tribal Council for the money, Victor realizes that his only option is to borrow it from Thomas Builds-the-Fire, who insists on coming along. Victor and Thomas have had an awkward relationship for years because of Thomas’s eccentricity and tendency to tell strange stories. At 15, Victor beat Thomas badly while their friends stood and watched.
On the plane to Phoenix, Victor and Thomas sit next to a former Olympic gymnast named Cathy. Thomas boldly starts a conversation with her, and they all enjoy each other’s company. This moment makes Victor apologize to Thomas for beating him up. When they arrive at Victor’s father’s trailer, Thomas helps Victor collect his father’s things despite the terrible smell. Thomas explains that when he was 13, he walked to Spokane because he believed he would have a vision there. Victor’s father found him and brought him home, making him promise to keep an eye on Victor in return.
The young men drive back from Phoenix in Victor’s father’s car, and Thomas accidentally runs over a jackrabbit. When they arrive at the reservation, they admit that their relationship probably won’t change. However, Victor gives Thomas a portion of his father’s ashes and promises to listen to one of his stories.
The Fun House
Victor’s aunt Nezzy makes traditional beaded dresses. She believes that the woman who can wear one of her extraordinarily heavy dresses will save the tribe. One night, her husband and son mock her when a mouse runs up her pant leg. Nezzy, infuriated, goes swimming in a nearby river. She remembers several incidents from her difficult life, including being injured in a car accident because her husband was driving drunk, and being tricked into accepting a hysterectomy. That night she returns home and dances in one of her beaded dresses.
All I Wanted to Do Was Dance
After a bad break-up with his white girlfriend, Victor travels to Montana and dances with a Lakota woman in a bar. He remembers drinking and partying with his girlfriend, but forces himself to stay sober and return to the reservation. He nearly relapses into drinking twice. The first time, he buys a case of beer but comes to his senses and throws the full bottles out the car window. The second time, he buys a bottle of wine but gives it to a Cherokee visitor sitting outside the liquor store. As he walks away from the visitor, he decides that tomorrow he will dance, which he has not done since the break-up.
The Trial of Thomas Builds-the-Fire
In this surreal story, Thomas Builds-the-Fire is arrested after holding Eve Ford, the reservation postmaster, hostage. Years later, his case finally comes to trial, and he tells several stories about Native American history. The audience is deeply moved, but Thomas ends up being convicted for two murders committed by a 16-year-old warrior named Wild Coyote in 1858. On the way to prison, he connects with the other prisoners on the bus by telling stories.
This short story takes place in an alternate reality where all white people have died. The Tribal Council orders that anything related to whites be burned, including houses. The narrator finds a transistor radio in an attic and secretly keeps it.
The remaining Indians are divided into the Skins, who lived on the reservation before the apocalyptic event, and the Urbans, Indians who had moved off the reservation. The Urbans are sickly; one even gave birth to a monster. Nevertheless, the narrator is in love with an Urban named Tremble Dancer.
The narrator visits Noah Chirapkin, the only Skin to venture off the reservation since the apocalyptic event. He describes an empty, desolate world. Many of the older tribe members die and the Tribal Council cremates their bodies on the football field.
The ghosts of the Others - Native Americans from thousands of years ago - kill Noah Chirapkin and rape Tremble Dancer. She gives birth to a salmon and dies. Later, Judas WildShoe turns in a wristwatch to the leaders at the Tribal Council. The narrator listens to his transistor radio and turns the volume up as loud as it will go.
Jesus Christ’s Half-Brother Is Alive and Well on the Spokane Indian Reservation
In 1966, the narrator rescues a baby named James, the sole survivor of a house fire that killed his family. As per tradition, the narrator adopts James, who turns out to be very eccentric. He does not talk until the age of seven, and when he does, he speaks only deep philosophical truths. The narrator, meanwhile, tries to address his own alcoholism and emotional disturbance while being a good father to James. His only solace is playing basketball, but he loses this after twisting his knee. He descends further into alcoholism and accidentally leaves James at someone’s house. He is arrested for abandonment and becomes sober with the help of his aunt and his girlfriend, Suzy. At the World’s Fair in Spokane, James comments on an automated Indian statue and the narrator realizes that James will take care of him when he is old.
A Train Is An Order of Occurrence Designed to Lead to Some Result
Samuel Builds-the-Fire lives off the reservation and works as a motel maid. He is unhappy because most of his friends have died and his children rarely talk to him, but he tries to keep an optimistic attitude. He is able to do so until he is laid off. Although Samuel has avoided alcohol for his whole life, he goes to a bar for the first time and becomes very drunk, experiencing flashbacks about his life on the reservation. He wanders onto the railroad tracks and passes out just as a train approaches.
A Good Story
The narrator’s mother asks him why all of the stories he tells about life on the reservation are sad. He offers to tell a happy story. In this story, an elderly man named Uncle Moses lives in the sturdy house he built himself 50 years ago. He forges a strong friendship with Arnold, a young boy who is teased by his friends. One day, Uncle Moses visits Arnold at school, and Arnold asks Uncle Moses to tell him a good story. Uncle Moses responds by telling Arnold their own story. The narrator’s mother approves of the story, and the narrator thinks to himself that there is just barely enough goodness on the reservation to survive.
The First Annual All-Indian Horseshoe Pitch and Barbecue
Victor buys a used piano and plays a Béla Bartók composition at the reservation carnival. The audience appreciates it because the music’s dissonance reminds them of their tribe’s difficult history. A man named Simon wins most of the carnival’s contests, and tells stories about salmon fishing and basketball. The story ends with a surreal moment: the carnival-goers dance, and an anonymous woman holds a mixed-race baby and comments that both sides of it are beautiful.
Imagining the Reservation
The narrator questions whether Native Americans would truly be better off if they had been able to repel European settlers. He then relates a series of stories from his life. These include being robbed while working as a cashier at a 7-11 and only eating potatoes as a child because his family could not afford anything else. The most surreal moment comes when the narrator describes a psychic child who gave readings at the reservation bar. The child told the narrator to break the mirrors in his house and tape the pieces to his body, and then laughed at him when he did it. At the end of the story, the narrator speculates about how Indians can overcome their tragic past, and decides that imagination and creativity are the best sources of resilience.
The Approximate Size of My Favorite Tumor
Jimmy and Norma Many Horses’s marriage has deteriorated since Jimmy was diagnosed with cancer. They fight furiously after Jimmy tries to joke about his diagnosis, and Norma walks out on him to dance at the local tavern. Jimmy gets a ride to the tavern from Simon, and nearly makes up with Norma. She threatens to leave him if he makes fun of his cancer one more time, but he cannot resist making one last joke and she keeps her promise.
Jimmy has several flashbacks about his youth and his marriage to Norma. For Jimmy’s entire life, he has coped with difficult circumstances by making jokes. Sometimes this goes over well and sometimes it alienates him. One of his best memories is of a time he and Norma were pulled over by a racist police officer who tried to extort them. Back in the present, Jimmy’s doctor informs him that he is dying and he responds with humor.
After three months away, Norma returns to Jimmy. She admits that she had an affair but wants to help him die. They laugh together and reconcile.
This story is comprised of a series of vignettes - one from each year Victor spends in school. He is bullied as a very young child but in fourth grade, finds inspiration in a teacher who encourages him to be a doctor. He attends middle and high school in a predominantly white farm town nearby, and must deal with racism and culture shock. His friends on the reservation reject him for kissing a white girl. He graduates valedictorian of his high school and watches his reservation friends slowly descend into alcoholism.
The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven
The narrator goes to 7-11 late at night to buy a Creamsicle. The cashier seems to think that the narrator will rob him, but despite the moment’s racial undertones, the narrator understands his fear because he was once robbed while working at a 7-11. At the beginning of the story, the narrator lives in Seattle with his white girlfriend, but they break up and he moves back to the reservation. His mother constantly nags him to find a job, but he does not do so until he loses a game of basketball to a white youth who lives on the reservation, the BIA chief’s son. This motivates the narrator, who finds a job and moves to Spokane. His ex-girlfriend calls him and they forgive each other for their difficult break-up, although it is unclear whether they will get back together.
“Family Portrait” is another series of vignettes, which follow the narrator’s childhood and family life. His father disappears for several years, his family is very poor, and he suffers from epilepsy. One day, his mother forces the narrator to confirm that he and his sisters will still love her when she has died. As a teen, he sniffs gasoline and learns to drive. His father tells him about watching a TV in the window of a store as a young man. The TV would often play an advertisement with a singing woman, whom the narrator believes represents forgiveness.
Somebody Kept Saying Powwow
Junior Polatkin describes Norma Many Horses, a woman who is highly respected on the reservation for her dancing skills, her compassion, and her appreciation for the tribe’s heritage. After returning to the reservation after college, Norma asked Junior about the worst thing he has ever done. Junior tells her about a time that he and his college basketball teammates mocked a friend who had recently been released from prison. Norma’s relationship with Junior becomes chilly for a long time after this, but one day she decides to forgive him. She nicknames him Pete Rose, after a baseball player whose athletic feats were overshadowed by his gambling problem.
Witnesses, Secret and Not
The 13-year-old narrator and his father go to Spokane to speak to the police about the murder of Jerry Vincent, which happened ten years ago. The narrator’s father is considered a prime witness because he was in the bar the night that Jerry was killed. He is called to Spokane to testify about the murder each year although he never changes his story. On the way to the police station, the narrator and his father give money to Jimmy Shit Pants, a homeless, alcoholic Indian who has moved to the city. After a detective questions the narrator’s father, they go home and the father starts crying during dinner.
A young boy named John-John dreams of moving off the reservation. He has saved $600 for this goal, although he does not know exactly what he wants to do when he leaves. His brother Joseph is a military pilot and has not been heard from since he was captured in action some time ago. John-John daydreams about his memories of Joseph and all the ways he might come home. Some of these daydreams are disturbing, and reflect John-John’s concern that Joseph has been tortured or brainwashed. John-John spends most of his time sitting near the window and dreaming of leaving the reservation. One day, his mother asks him to move so she can clean, and he refuses.
Junior Polatkin’s Wild West Show
Junior Polatkin attends Gonzaga University, where the students are predominantly white and upper-middle class. He dreams of starring in a Wild West show where the Native Americans win all the gunfights. Junior nurtures an intense crush on a white girl named Lynn in his history class, who often questions the professor’s interpretation of American history. She rejects his first attempt to ask her out, but they run into each other again after the semester ends and eat lunch together. They find they have a lot to talk about, and as they chat, Junior daydreams of a movie version of their conversation. Junior and Lynn have a one-night stand, which leaves her pregnant. She refuses Junior’s offer of marriage and gives birth to a son named Sean. Because Junior does not press for more than minimal visitation rights, they maintain a distant but cordial relationship. After Sean’s birth, Junior takes another history class with the same professor and makes a point of asking him critical questions like Lynn did. This antagonizes the professor, who springs a pop quiz on the class in retaliation. Junior aces it and then drops out of Gonzaga and returns to the reservation.