The first section of Interlude is in essay format, like the opening prologue. First, the narrator explains the far-reaching phenomenon of a Powwow. Every kind of Indian, from cities, reservations, and everything in between, travel to the Oakland Powwow because it is one of the last places where they can be together. Their mix of white and Native blood varies. Blood matters: it used to define their “Indianness” to the colonizers. Now, Indians have survived, but it is not resilience, not a badge of honor. Descendants of colonizers say Natives should “get over it” without realizing that they benefit from the violent deeds of their ancestors. White men also gave Natives their last names to keep track of them. That legacy lives on today. No one at the Powwow expects gun violence—shootings happen somewhere else, to other people. At the same time, it is expected in the same way that death is. When the bullets come, they will be almost expected. The tragedy will be how long Native people have fought for recognition, only to die at their own gathering.
The bullets come from the Black Hills Ammunition Plant in South Dakota. They are packed in boxes of sixteen and stored in a warehouse in California for seven years. Tony buys them at a Walmart in Oakland, puts them in his backpack, and rides his bike to the coliseum. Once there, he places the bullets into pairs of socks and swings them into the bushes behind the metal detector. Looking up at the moon, watching his breath made visible in the air by the cold, he wonders how he has arrived here, at the coliseum, swinging bullets into the bushes in preparation for the Powwow.
Calvin arrives at the powwow committee meeting and sits down next to a big guy, the only one without a plate of food. Blue is there, doodling on a notepad. Blue and Maggie used to work together in youth services, and it was she who got Calvin the job. The committee had wanted fresh perspectives. They had gotten a big grant and wanted to expand the reach of the powwow. Calvin had suggested the name, “Big Oakland Powwow” as a joke, and everyone had loved it. Thomas Frank, the custodian, walks in, smelling like alcohol, and introduces himself to the big guy, Edwin. Blue begins the meeting by asking Edwin to introduce himself. Stammering, he tells the group he plans on enrolling with the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes, and he’s here to help out with the powwow. Another young man walks in who barely looks native. He introduces himself as Dene and says he will be setting up a storytelling booth. Calvin tunes out, bored.
Dene interviews Calvin for his storytelling project in Blue’s office. Both men are nervous. Dene introduces the project and asks Calvin for a story. Calvin tells him that his dad never talked about being Native and left their family at some point. His mom has Native blood on her Mexican side, but he doesn’t know too much about that either. One time, he got robbed in the parking lot on his way to a powwow. The Big Oakland Powwow will be his first. He knows that a lot of Natives have similar stories to his family, but he doesn’t feel like his is a particularly Native story. Dene asks if he feels any Native pride. Calvin says he doesn’t know enough. Dene tells him that, according to his mom, they should forget their Native ancestors, even as they live on in them. Calvin doesn’t know what to do with all the talk of blood and lineage.
Jacquie Red Feather
Jacquie and Harvey drive through the desert. Harvey is talking a lot; he starts telling her a story about a time he got stuck out here in the desert, drinking tequila with two of his buddies. Jacquie tunes him out. She thinks about how people seem to have so much self-confidence, so much more than she; others are like Harvey, telling a boring story as if it were fascinating. Harvey continues despite her lack of attention. He says that, after passing out from drinking the desert, he woke up and saw two tall white guys in the desert. They didn’t speak to him, just looking off into the distance. Later, he found out that other people have seen them, too, and called them aliens. Jacquie pulls out her phone to a text from Opal. She wrote to ask Jacquie if she has ever found spider legs in her own leg. Opal did when she was younger, right before the trouble with their uncle, Ronald, started, and now Orvil has them, too. Jacquie gets overwhelmed by sadness and falls asleep while Harvey continues to drive.
The first section of this interlude is a critical essay, similar in tone and style to the prologue. The narrative voice, for example, is matter-of-fact and succinct as it gives a grim analysis of the tragedy and survival of indigenous life in the Americas. Both the interlude and prologue, as well, abstract the issues faced by characters in the novels and examine them critically in larger, historical context. The interlude differs from the prologue in that it begins to blend the larger historical context with the characters’ specific stories. The narrator, for example, concludes the essay by naming the tragic irony that will befall the Big Oakland Powwow, as Native people gather and find community against all odds, only to be slaughtered in their regalia like a centuries-old massacre. The interlude then picks up with Tony Loneman, who purchases and prepares the bullets that will be used to carry out that massacre. Other characters then pick up where their stories left off, adding their specific voices while remaining within the confines of the interlude. In this way, the interlude serves to bridge the gap between the characters’ storylines and the abstract and critical narrative voice that Orange developed at the start of the novel.
The critical essay that opens the interlude also reminds readers that the violence that will erupt at the powwow is the result of centuries of oppression. To some, it may appear that the violence of the powwow is a sad depiction of a community adding to its own wounds. Throughout the novel, however, Orange has been developing an alternate explanation: the systemic marginalization of Native people is felt acutely by individuals who are forced into acts of violence. The essay in the interlude states this lesson explicitly, reminding readers that the bullets have been "coming from miles [and for] years": they not the symptoms of a sick community but rather of an oppressive nation.
The disparate storylines that have emerged in previous sections also begin to come together in the interlude, specifically at the site of the powwow committee. The committee is a group compromised of several of the characters readers have already met: Blue, Edwin, and Calvin, for example. Readers learn that each of these characters knows the others and they they have their own shared histories. Blue, for example, got Calvin the job on the committee because she and Maggie used to work together in youth services. This convergence of storylines develops foreshadowing of Big Oakland Powwow. Readers know the powwow is coming because each character’s storyline points in its direction. Just as several chapters’ narratives intersect on the powwow committee, so too, readers know, will each narrative intersect at the powwow itself.
The interlude also explores the theme of storytelling; specifically, it concerns instances in which it might be challenging to tell or consume a story. For example, when Jacquie and Harvey are driving through the desert on their way to Oakland, Harvey shares a spooky, surreal story with Jacquie. She, however, does not find the story interesting, and instead takes it as a symbol of his arrogance—a juxtaposition to her own lack of confidence in storytelling. This episode provides a different dimension to the theme of storytelling, showing that stories are not always easy to share and articulate. Later on in the interlude, Calvin provides another example of a character that has difficulty with storytelling. When Dene interviews him for his film project, Calvin is reluctant to speak, mainly because he doesn’t feel “Indian enough” to have stories about his identity. For Calvin, a perceived lack of authenticity prevents him from being authorized to speak about the Native experience. With these two examples, Orange shows the ways that trauma and life’s difficulties create a lack of self-confidence and thus hinder the healing act of storytelling.