The narrator sits with his mother as she quilts. As she works, his mother asks him why all of his stories about Indians are sad. Thinking about this, the narrator argues that there is a lot of laughter in his stories too. He proceeds to tell his mother “a good story” (140).
Uncle Moses lives on the reservation in a house he built himself 50 years earlier. He has a special relationship with Arnold, a light-skinned young boy who is teased by the other kids although he is a great basketball player. One day, Uncle Moses visits the playground to watch Arnold play. Arnold is the only child there, and he explains that he skipped a field trip with the other schoolchildren so he could see Uncle Moses. Arnold asks Uncle Moses to tell a good story, and Moses tells the one the narrator has just told.
The narrator’s mother admits that she liked the story, and the narrator goes outside and sips his Diet Pepsi. Although he worries about the future, he resolves to enjoy small pleasures in the present.
“A Good Story” features a complex structure that some readers may find difficult to dissect. First and foremost, it is a frame story – a story where the main narrative is "framed" by an explanation of how and why the narrator is telling the story. Some famous frame stories include Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, and Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. In this case, the main narrative is the story of Uncle Moses and Arnold, and the frame narrative is the narrator talking to his mother.
However, the structural complexity of this piece is not limited to its status as a frame story. The Uncle Moses narrative features a circular structure, which is very different from the linear structure of the other stories in the collection (and most stories in Western literature, for that matter). The plot is circular because it ends where it started – that is, with Uncle Moses telling Arnold the story the narrator has just told his mother. This kind of reflexivity can be confusing, but the important thing to remember is that the narrative is cyclical rather than linear. Circular story structures occupy a prominent place in some Native American literary traditions. Leslie Marmon Silko plays on circular structure in a similar way in her 1977 novel Ceremony.
Another potentially puzzling aspect of “A Good Story” is the identity of the narrator. Alexie notes at several points in the collection that many boys on the reservation are nicknamed Junior, so it is unclear whether this narrator is a new character or the return of Victor, who appears frequently as a protagonist. The evidence suggests that the story might be about Victor - like Victor, the narrator is sober. The fact that he tells sad stories about reservation life also supports the thesis that Victor is the narrator. Thomas Builds-the-Fire is the only other prominent character known for telling stories, and his stories can best be described as surreal. In fact, the stories this narrator usually tells seem to have much in common with the stories in the collection itself. This further reinforces the hypothesis that Victor narrates “A Good Story”. After all, Alexie acknowledges in the introduction to the 2003 edition that Victor is an autobiographical character. In this way, Alexie implicates himself when the narrator's mother chastises him for telling only negative stories. "A Good Story" can be see as an attempt of Alexie's to respond to criticism of his own work by offering a more uplifting story of Native American life, using a narrative rhythm particular to his culture.