Based on the ending, it’s pretty safe to say that Alberta Frank and Lionel Red Dog overcome their fragmented pasts and move on in life. In other words, by the conclusion of Green Grass, Running Water, Alberta and Lionel seem to be heading in a positive direction.
Alberta’s fractured past is arguably symbolized in her relationship with both Charlie and Lionel. It’s possible to interpret Albert’s initial refusal to commit to only one man as a result of her parent’s marriage and her first marriage to Bob (which ended in a divorce). As the narrator notes, “Alberta knew that apart from no men in her life, two was the safest number.” What Alberta has to overcome is her fear of the one man.
As for Lionel, according to the narrator, he only made “three mistakes in his entire life.” Yet these three mistakes were large enough to form a fractured past that he has to overcome. The biggest mistake most likely involved getting in the van headed towards Wounded Knee. This led to an incident that turned Lionel into an ex-con—a designation that severely curtailed his future employment opportunities.
Eventually, Lionel finds a job at Bill Bursum’s Home Entertainment Barn. Though the position is steady, selling electronics is not what Lionel truly wants to do with his life. Lionel’s goal is return to school; yet “each year he put off the application until it was too late.”
By the end of the novel, Lionel agrees to help Alberta and his aunt with the cabin. This agreement lends credence to the argument that both Lionel and Alberta have overcome their fractured pasts. Charlie is out of the picture, and now, more or less, she has one man: Lionel. Lionel, meanwhile, seems to be finally on the cusp of returning to school. As Lionel himself concedes, “I should probably go back to school. Maybe that’s what I’ll do.”