Painted Turtle: Woman with Guitar is an experimental novel in the fable tradition that traces the moral, personal, psychological, and spiritual development of Clarence Major’s principal character, Mary Etawa, called “Painted Turtle.” Born into a traditional Zuni family on December 17, 1938, Painted Turtle gets her nickname because she crawls on all fours and raises her head like a turtle. In some ways, this name comes to define her position to everyone and for everything outside her own life. She tries to shut out the traditions of her family and the realities of her ancestry, much like a turtle in its shell. She exists in a place between actual reality, dreams, mystical experiences, and the construction of her autobiography, as told through the “voice” of her lover, Baldy. In many ways, this story is a poetic statement on alienation and transformation, the misunderstanding inherent in the dynamics of multicultural interaction, pride and prejudice, sexism and racism, and the known and unknown spaces that exist between the traditional roles of men and women.
The novel begins with Baldy’s explanation of how he came to know Painted Turtle. It ends with their riding through the barren landscapes of the Southwest as a committed team in both music and love. In between is the story of many people who inhabit Painted Turtle’s world as children, ghosts, parents, relations, relatives, and spirits. All these relationships are complicated by...
(The entire section is 572 words.)