Summary and Analysis: Jesus Christ’s Half-Brother is Alive and Well on the Spokane Indian Reservation, The Approximate Size of my Favorite Tumor and Somebody Kept Saying Powwow
James: the baby adopted by the narrator in the “Jesus Christ’s Half-Brother is Alive and Well on the Spokane Indian Reservation.”
Jimmy Many Horses: a Reservation man who is married to Norma Many Horses and dying of cancer.
Junior Polatkin: the narrator of “Somebody Kept Saying Powwow” and an admirer of Norma.
“Jesus Christ’s Half-Brother is Alive and Well on the Spokane Indian Reservation,” is an account of unexpected fatherhood; the tale is broken into sections by year, beginning in 1966 and ending in 1974.
The narrator is the father of an orphan named James who was born and adopted under seemingly miraculous circumstances? His mother, Rosemary Morning Dove, claimed to be a virgin. (The title of the story accordingly compares the conception and birth of the boy to that of Jesus.) Moreover, he was saved from certain death as an infant in a house fire that killed his mother and presumed father, Frank Many Horses.
Although the narrator is reluctant to become a father, he soon becomes accustomed to—even passionate about—his new role. He eagerly awaits each new step in the child’s development, particularly the ability to talk. Yet James is unusual; he neither talks nor cries. In the meantime, the narrator continues with the everyday business of his life. In most respects, his life is uneventful, an “ordinary” existence that feels like “medicine” to him.
An interruption to this routine occurs as the narrator begins to drink heavily, spends a short time in jail, and decides to give up drinking in order to keep James. His efforts bring results; he stays sober and James finally talks. The story ends with a trip to Spokane for the 1974 World’s Fair. James displays his wit with a quick retort to a white woman who comments that he is “so smart for an Indian boy.” Father and son leave; the narrator is comforted by the thought that James will continue to “teach him something new” for the rest of his life and even finally take care of him in old age. The miracle of the story, finally, is that James has changed the narrator’s life forever.
“The Approximate Size of my Favorite Tumor,” focuses on a married couple, Jimmy and Norma Many Horses. The plot begins with a fight. Norma leaves, in anger, to go dancing. Jimmy, who narrates this tale, eats dinner and then looks for her. The cause of the fight is revealed while he rides with a friend to the nearest tavern. Jimmy is dying of cancer, news he delivers to Norma in the form of a joke. He claims that “his favorite tumor” resembles a basketball, a statement that she does not find funny. At the bar, she leaves him because he cannot stop joking about his illness.
After the split of the pair, the narrator reflects on various moments from their relationship. His thoughts are interspersed with accounts of cancer treatments in the hospital and daily experiences at home. The memories include the day they met, their wedding ceremony, the death of Norma’s mother, and the time that the pair was harassed by a state trooper. After Jimmy goes home to die, Norma finally returns. The couple jokes that she will help him to die, one of “the last two things that Indians are good at.”
The focus shifts again in “Somebody Kept Saying Powwow” to a platonic relationship between Norma and Junior. Norma is more of an inspiration than a potential girlfriend for Junior; she is a “cultural lifeguard” more concerned with her tribe than herself in this story. She resists the usual temptations, especially drinking and smoking, and channels her energy into dancing. The only rumors that circulate about her have to do with her sexuality; it is rumored that she is bisexual. Junior imagines that her sexual experiences only contribute to her status in the tribe. Norma even has special power over words; Junior still cherishes an article that she wrote about his contributions to a basketball victory in high school. She has special power over him as well; he...
(The entire section is 1,182 words.)