Review: A Yellow Raft in Blue Water
I first encountered Michael Dorris's writing through his non-fiction many years ago when I read The Broken Cord, about his adopted son, who lived with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). Dorris had a sad and controversial life; he was accused of misrepresenting himself as a Native American; later, he was accused of molesting one of his daughters. He and his wife, Louise Erdrich, were widely criticized in Native American intellectual and literacy circles for the way in which they advocated against FAS. His son, described in The Broken Cord, was hit by a car and killed at age 23; Dorris himself committed suicide in 1997. A Yellow Raft in Blue Water is a novel he wrote in 1987.
I liked the structure of the story being told backwards through time by the three narrators: Rayona, her mother Christine, and Christine's mother, Aunt Ida. On the surface, it's a story about Rayona and Christine going back from Seattle to live in Montana, but there is a lot of family backstory about why Christine stayed away for so long that emerges over the course of the book. Lots of things that seemed to be loose ends at first ended up coming together in the end. I didn't expect him to write female characters as vividly as he did; I was pleasantly surprised both by the characters and by his ear for dialogue.