Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
“The Red Convertible,” which also forms a chapter in Louise Erdrich’s novel Love Medicine (1984, 1993), is the story of two Native American brothers, Lyman Lamartine and his older sibling, Henry, Jr. Narrated by Lyman, the story explores the relationship between the brothers before and after Henry’s combat experience in Vietnam, where he was held as a prisoner of war.
The story begins on an American Indian reservation in North Dakota. Lyman has received a large insurance check after a tornado destroyed his restaurant. He and Henry, a laid-off factory worker, buy a red convertible. Free of daily responsibilities, they take to the open road in their flashy automobile. Along the way, they pick up Susy, a Native American woman who is hitchhiking. After giving her a ride to her home in Chicken, Alaska, they spend the summer with her family. Their idyllic journey comes to an end when they return to their reservation and discover that Henry, who had volunteered for military service, has been called to report for duty.
After nine months of combat duty in Vietnam, Henry is captured by the North Vietnamese and imprisoned for six months. During Henry’s absence, Lyman restores the travel-worn car. Working on the convertible provides Lyman with a tangible link to his brother. When Henry finally returns home, he is profoundly changed. Gone is the fun-loving child, and in his place is a jumpy, mean, and withdrawn man who rarely speaks. He...
(The entire section is 631 words.)
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‘‘The Red Convertible’’ is narrated by Lyman Lamartine, a member of the Chippewa tribe who lives on a reservation with his family. He tells a story from his recent past about his older half-brother, Henry. As Lyman tells the story, the year is 1974.
Lyman was able to buy a red convertible Oldsmobile with his brother because he had always been good with money. He started working as a dishwasher at the Joliet Cafe when he was fifteen, and at the age, of sixteen, he became the cafe's owner. Soon after, it was destroyed by a tornado.
On impulse, Lyman and Henry bought the car on a visit to Winnipeg. That summer, they took the car on a trip without an itinerary or any plans. They traveled around Montana for half the summer before picking up a Native-American girl named Susy, who was hitchhiking home to Alaska. They agreed to take her, and her family welcomed them for the rest of the summer. The brothers shared good times before returning home. They went back home so that Henry, who had enlisted in the Marines, could begin his military service. After training and briefly visiting his family at Christmas, Henry was sent to Vietnam. It was early 1970. Before he left, he gave Lyman his key to the car, but Lyman just laughed and kept it for when Henry came back home.
Three years later, Henry returned as a different person. No longer easy-going, funny, and talkative, he was quiet, anxious, and moody. He often watched television,...
(The entire section is 618 words.)