Chris and Ellen Van Eenanam are still adjusting to life together as a couple, to the death of their stillborn child, and to the changes inevitable in young adulthood. Chris needs to complete the writing of his dissertation, the final step in attaining his Ph.D. in mathematics. In an isolated cabin in upper Michigan, Chris intends to concentrate on his writing and his marriage.
Chris Van Eenanam is of mixed blood (Lakota on his grandfather’s side) but has always considered himself more white than red, having been raised and educated in New York. His relocation will prove to be cultural as well as geographic, personal as well as regional, as he grapples with issues of self-identity. His move inland toward the center of the nation positions him closer to his heritage in a type of reverse migration. Through encounters with other American Indians, Chippewa whom he initially disdains, Chris gradually sees a reflection of himself and acknowledges his Indian heritage, but it comes at a cost—increasing estrangement from his wife, Ellen.
In this novel of personal reversals, Chris makes a final identity shift. His decision to return to New York at novel’s end suggests an abandonment of his newly acquired American Indian persona and a return to the assimilated mainstream Chris Van Eenanam, the selfsame character that he was at the novel’s beginning. In the final analysis, Chris appears to don identities as he dons clothing, wearing that which is most conducive to the social and geographic climate at hand. Woiwode seems to propose that in an age of uncomplicated travel and increasingly merged ancestries, a clear sense of self becomes difficult to sustain. That a unified Chris could emerge with a hybrid identity, one both white and Indian simultaneously, unfortunately is not an option.