At the beginning of Rumble Fish, Rusty-James is spending time on the beach, having recently gotten out of the reformatory. On the beach, Rusty-James runs into his old friend Steve.
The novel utilizes a frame-narrative, with the bulk of the story actually taking in the place in the past. Rusty-James recalls the events when talking to his friend Steve; however, Rusty-James seems to be disgruntled as he remembers these events. In fact, it becomes clear at the end of the novel that Rusty-James fully intends to forget these events in order to live as much at peace as possible.
As Rusty-James and Steve continue their reminiscences on the events leading up to Rusty-James placement in the reformatory, it is revealed that Rusty-James's brother, Motorcycle Boy, was fatally shot by the police several years ago. In response, Rusty-James had thrown a fit and was arrested by the police.
The novel also ends at the beach, with Rusty-James and Steve discussing future plans to get together. Rusty-James tells the reader that he has no intention of seeing Steve again, for he aims to completely forget about the events that led up to his brother's death.