Green Grass, Running Water begins with an unnamed narrator telling the story of the trickster god, Coyote, who is fast asleep. As he sleeps, one of his dreams gets away from him and becomes God. They observe that there is water everywhere. As Part One of the novel begins, the pattern of the novel is established: each section is narrated by one of the four Native American elders (Part One by The Lone Ranger, Part Two by Ishmael, Part Three by Robinson Crusoe, and Part Four by Hawkeye.) In each part, stories of the present-day characters alternate with conversations among the four elders as well as each elder’s origin story. Each elder’s origin story begins with them as a female character: First Woman, Changing Woman, Thought Woman and Old Woman, respectively. Eventually, they encounter figures from the Bible (Adam and Eve, Noah, Mary and Gabriel, and Jesus) and ultimately the story of their namesake. The other chapters are each told from a different character’s point of view. Each of these chapters is told in an alternating structure, telling part of that character’s story in the present day and part of their past.
Part One introduces all of the main characters and establishes the central conflicts of the novel. Lionel, on a long drive home with his judgmental aunt, Norma, recalls some of his past mistakes. While filling in for a friend at a conference in Colorado, Lionel accidentally gets swept up in a radical protest. When the police arrive, Lionel is arrested despite his innocence and serves jail time. Lionel also dreams of one day finishing college, which his Aunt says means he wants to be white (a fault she also ascribes to her brother and Lionel’s uncle, Eli). Norma sees for old Native American men by the side of the road and tells Lionel to pull over.
Alberta is a university professor dissatisfied with her own life. Readers first meet her teaching a class about the internment of Native Americans in Fort Marion in the late 1800s. After class, Alberta begins driving home to Blossom. She is dating two men, cousins Charlie and Lionel, and cannot decide between the two. She recalls her failed first marriage to a man named Bob, who wanted her to give up her career to be a stay-at-home mother. Alberta’s unwillingness to lose herself in a man has led her to keep Charlie and Lionel at a distance. When either relationship gets too serious, she pulls back for awhile. She is returning home for Lionel’s fortieth birthday, much to Charlie’s jealousy.
Meanwhile, the police are interrogating Babo Jones, a janitor, and Dr. Hovaugh about the escape of for Native Americans from a mental institution. The interrogations are largely fruitless, but reveal that the four are unnaturally old and may be men or women. As Babo is questioned by Sergeant Cereno, a pool of water appears beneath her car and carries it away.
Part Two introduces Latisha, Lionel’s sister, who runs the Dead Dog Café in Blossom. In the present day, Latisha and her employees wait on a group of tourists and trick them into thinking that eating dog is a Native American custom. Latish flashes back to her marriage to George, a handsome but aimless man. George constantly criticizes Latisha’s heritage and cannot hold a steady job. They have several children together, but George’s behavior does not improve. Eventually, George begins to physically abuse Latisha.
Eli (Lionel and Latisha’s uncle) has returned to Blossom to live in the cabin in which he was born. Eli is in the middle of a long legal standoff with the developers of a large dam. The dam is holding back a river and is designed to create valuable beachfront real estate around it. Sifton, who works for the developers, comes to Eli on a daily basis to try to convince him to change his mind. Eli recalls his...
(The entire section is 1547 words.)