Hattie has lived in her yellow house at Sego Lake for twenty years. She arrived at the beginning of the Depression and lived a vagabond’s life with a cowboy named Wicks. When Wicks left, she moved in with a woman of small but independent means named India, the original owner of the yellow house. As the story begins, Hattie is living alone in the small house, which was left to her by India. She has become something of a snob, preferring the society of the Rolfes and the Paces—who, like herself, are landowners and therefore worthy—to that of her former companions.
Into this fairly tranquil life, trouble intrudes. One evening, driving home drunk from the Rolfes, Hattie loses control of her car and ends up stuck on the railroad tracks. Darley, who works on the Paces’ dude ranch, reluctantly agrees to tow Hattie’s car, but he carelessly leaves the tow chain too long. Hattie, who is climbing over the chain as Darley jerks his truck into reverse, is knocked to the ground, her arm broken.
As she slowly recovers, Hattie wonders about the significance of her injury. Perhaps it is a judgment against her for her drunkenness, her laziness, her procrastinations. For the first time in her life she concerns herself with the past as fact, rather than as self-justifying fiction.
However, admitting the truth has never been Hattie’s style; about the accident, she always says she lost control because she sneezed, not because she was drunk. As Hattie proceeds in her quest for truth, her old self-deceiving patterns constantly impede her. Although the old Hattie is bent on surviving, the new one is bent on knowing.
As a survivor, Hattie is a practical, social being. She must somehow pay her hospital bills, replace the blood she required during surgery, exercise her arm to regain its full use, keep the house in repair. Initially she assumes that her friends will be there to help her, as she would help them, but is the community really a safety net for the individual? Gradually she discovers that there are limits....
(The entire section is 838 words.)