A Yellow Raft in Blue Water
1st US paperback edition
|Publisher||Henry Holt & Co|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|Pages||343 pp (hardback edition) & 372 p. (paperback edition)|
|ISBN||ISBN 0-8050-0045-3 (hardback edition) & ISBN 0-446-38787-8 (paperback edition)|
|LC Class||PS3554.O695 Y4 1987|
A Yellow Raft in Blue Water is a novel written by Michael Dorris and published in 1987. It is written from the viewpoints of three people, Rayona, Christine, and Aunt Ida, exchanging viewpoints between different sections of the book.
A Yellow Raft in Blue Water follows the lives of three generations of Native American women: Rayona, who is half African-American, her mother Christine, and Christine's mother Aunt Ida. The story is told in three distinct sections, one for each woman, although the stories intersect from time to time. Throughout the book, themes of family, identity, and heritage are highlighted and examined.
The novel begins with Rayona visiting her mother Christine in the hospital. Christine and Elgin, Rayona's father, do not get along, and Christine makes Elgin so angry that he refuses to come collect her from the hospital once she is discharged. Rayona and Christine drive to Aunt Ida's house on the reservation, where Christine leaves Rayona to get to know her grandmother. Rayona, abandoned and lonely, seeks solace in the attentions of Father Tom, the local priest, but he makes inappropriate advances to her and then abandons her at the train to Seattle. She acquires a job at Bearpaw Lake State Park and befriends the employees there. At the end of the summer, Rayona attends a rodeo and rides in an event disguised as her cousin, Foxy. The owner of the horse she rides turns out to be her mother's old boyfriend, Dayton, with whom Christine is staying. Although angry at first because Rayona left Aunt Ida's without leaving any information about her whereabouts, Christine eventually reconciles with her daughter.
The second section of the novel is Christine's story. Christine has a brother named Lee, who is the handsomest boy in town. Christine doubts that she and Lee have the same father, but Aunt Ida won’t tell them. Christine and Lee aren’t allowed to call Aunt Ida “mom” because she tells them was never married and feels it’s not right. Christine is attracted to her brother's friend Dayton. During the Vietnam War, Christine receives mail from Dayton saying Lee is Missing In Action. Christine goes in Seattle to a bar that night, and realizes everyone in there is black. A black soldier named Elgin buys her a drink, then comforts her when she explains what happened to Lee. Eventually they marry, but Elgin is unfaithful even after the birth of Rayona.
When Rayona is a teenager (this is the point at which Christine's story intersects with Rayona's), the doctors tell Christine that she only has six months to live because she wore her liver and pancreas out. She leaves the hospital with Rayona, drops her off at Aunt Ida's, and ends up at Dayton's house, where she stays for many months. She drops by Aunt Ida's house to pick up some medication, but Rayona is not there, and Aunt Ida has no idea where she is. Christine and Aunt Ida argue and Ida tells Christine that she never wanted her to begin with.
On the Fourth of July, Dayton leaves for the rodeo and Christine stays home. The next day Dayton returns with Rayona, whom Christine initially mistakes for her brother Lee. Christine is angry that Rayona ran away without a word to Aunt Ida. Rayona is upset that her mother left her and only came back for her pills. Over the rest of the summer they all work together around the house. Aunt Ida comes over for dinner, and to Christine’s surprise she is quite pleasant.
Christine gets weaker and can handle only one task a day. Dayton fixed her old car and Christine and Dayton decided to teach Rayona how to drive. One day while Dayton and Rayona are at a stud appointment for their horse, Father Tom appears at the house and drops off a bottle of pain pills, but leaves quickly after Christine starts to say that Aunt Ida had mentioned something about him. Dayton comes back and describes the trouble he had with his horse at the stud: the horses had fallen in love and did not want to be separated. That afternoon Christine gives Rayona her prize silver ring as a gesture of reconciliation.
Ida's aunt Clara arrives on the reservation to help with Annie, Ida’s sick mother. Ida and her sister Pauline are excited to have a sophisticated city girl in the house. Clara cares for Annie and Clara and Ida talk on the roof, where Ida feels comfortable. Ida tells Clara about her crush, Willard Pretty Dog, and his decision to join the army. At Christmas, Clara announces that she is pregnant and Lecon, Ida's father, is responsible. It is decided Clara will have the baby and Ida will raise it. Lecon called on Father Hurlburt for help and lies about the baby’s father, telling him that Clara had been raped by a stranger. Father Hurlburt makes arrangements for the both Clara and Ida to go to Denver, Colorado to have the baby at a mission.
While at the mission posing as Clara’s sister, Ida pays for room and board by doing chores for the nuns. The nuns want Clara to give up her baby for adoption so she can become a nun herself. Ida looks forward to returning home and going back to a normal life. Clara has a baby girl that the nuns name Christine. Clara tells Ida that she wants to give Christine up for adoption, but when Ida threatens to tell the nuns the truth about the baby’s father, Clara lets Ida take Christine. Ida goes back to the reservation and lives in poverty and hardship. Her mother’s health continues to worsen. Ida makes Christine call her “Aunt Ida”, because this name allows Ida to distance herself from Christine. Ida hopes that one day Clara will come and reclaim Christine. Later on, Clara does come to Ida’s house, exactly four years after she last had seen her. Clara tells Christine that she is her mother. Christine accepts it without question, because she does not understand the word "mother".
Several years later, Willard Pretty Dog, returns from the war. Willard was once the most attractive boy on the reservation, but is now rumored to be hideously deformed from combat injuries. Ida and Willard reunite, despite Willard's initial reluctance. Willard moves in with Ida while he recovers from his injuries, but Ida publicly denies she is sleeping with Willard. Soon after Ida realizes she is pregnant, but she keeps it secret. When Willard's reconstructive surgery is a success and his mother declares that Willard can have any girl he wants, Ida no longer wants him because he does not defend her to his mother. Ida continues to associate with Willard, but she is no longer in love. She names her baby boy Lecon and he goes by the nickname Lee. Ida is content with a simple, quiet life. She deflects questions from Christine and Lee about their parentage. Ida never reveals that Clara is Christine's biological mother. Ida never contacts Clara because of her fear that she might return and steal Christine's love away from her.
The novel ends with a scene of Christine and Ida on the roof of their house, awaiting the end of the world as predicted in a chain letter Christine received. Ida does not believe in the letter, but she is willing to humor Christine. The final lines describe Ida pantomiming the action of braiding, symbolizing the intertwining destinies of family.
Characters in A Yellow Raft in Blue Water
- Rayona Diane Taylor – a main protagonist; daughter of Christine and Elgin
- Christine George Taylor – a main protagonist; mother of Rayona
- Aunt Ida George – a main protagonist; legal mother of Christine
- Elgin Taylor – Christine's (separated) husband; Rayona's father
- Lee George – Christine's brother
- Dayton Nickles – Lee's friend
- Father Hurlburt – priest at the reservation mission; Ida's close friend
- Father Tom Novak – assistant priest at the reservation mission.
- Pauline George Cree – Ida's sister
- Dale Cree – Pauline's husband; Foxy's father
- Polly Cree – Dale's mother
- Buster Cree – Dale's father
- Willard Pretty Dog – a reservation man and veteran; biological father of Lee
- Mrs. Pretty Dog – Willard's mother
- Kennedy "Foxy" Cree – Rayona's cousin; son of Pauline
- Annabelle Stiffarm – Foxy's girlfriend
- Clara – Annie's sister; Christine's biological mother
- Annie George – Ida and Pauline's mother; Lecon's wife
- Lecon George – Ida, Pauline, and Christine's father; Annie's husband
- Ellen DeMarco – lifeguard at Bearpaw Lake
- Mr. and Mrs. DeMarco – Ellen's parents
- Norman "Sky" Dial – owner of the Conoco gas station near Bearpaw Lake
- Evelyn Dial – chef at Bearpaw Lake; wife of Sky
- Charlene – Seattle pharmacist; Christine's friend and neighbor
- Mr. McCutcheon – Bearpaw Lake maintenance supervisor
- John, Andy, and Dave – other Bearpaw Lake employees
Veteran narrator Rosenblat displays remarkable vocal versatility in narrating Dorris's cross-generational story of three Native American women in Montana who must come to grips with the past. Divided into three first-person narratives, the book follows teenage Rayona; her mother, Christine; and her grandmother, who both the others call Aunt Ida. Rosenblat gives each a distinct voice, perfectly capturing the youthful yet determined attitude of Rayona and the wizened, sardonic tone of her mother. The syncopated, husky voice she adopts for Aunt Ida, who is said to have a pronounced accent, isn't spot-on, but it isn't distracting either. Ida's story is the shortest of the three, and Rayona's is the longest and most immediate, as the other two are actually monologues that supplement and expand on the events of the first part of the book. Rosenblat ably gives voice to the secondary characters, switching easily from a chummy, awkward priest to the bullying young Foxy Cree, but it is her excellent portrayal of dopey, sweet Sky and world-wise Evelyn, a couple who take in Rayona when she runs away, that serves as an index to the overall quality of this laudable production. 
“Earns admiration from first page to last...Suspenseful, constantly gripping, original in its characters and settings, and finally, profoundly moving.” People
Library Journal; 3/1/2004, Vol. 129 Issue 4, p126-126, 1/9p.
- Rasmussen, R. Kent, and Ann Burns. "A Yellow Raft In Blue Water (Book)." Library Journal 129.4 (2004): 126. Academic Search Complete. Web. 15 Feb. 2012.
- Dorris, Michael, and James Patrick. Duffy. A Yellow Raft in Blue Water Michael Dorris. New York: Spark Pub., 2002. Print.