Painted Turtle’s alienation from her culture allows her to transcend reality through her music. Early in her life, she yearns to be a boy and experience the freedom of her father’s sphere; however, she must learn the confining ways of the worlds of her mother and grandmother. When she is raped at age thirteen and gives birth to twins, most of the Zuni interpret this as a curse, and their attitude gives meaning to the lifelong distance and discomfort she always feels for the demands and expectations placed upon her by gender and culture. To escape, she goes to a mental hospital and later becomes an unsuccessful barmaid and prostitute; eventually, she becomes a nightclub performer. She finally realizes that her childhood guitar can offer her not only an escape from reality but also an escape from a dreaded life on the reservation. Thus, she travels to third-rate clubs, bars, and hotels, singing for tips while sleeping in flophouses and hour-rated motels, until she meets Baldy.
Baldy, the narrator in the story, peers into Painted Turtle’s life across actual time and mythic distance; his own story becomes woven into hers. He initially meets Painted Turtle on “the grimy cantina circuit” when he is sent to hear her perform by their mutual agent, Peter Inkpen. Baldy’s task is to transform Painted Turtle into a more commercially appealing singer by suggesting that she switch to the electric guitar; instead, she unwittingly transforms him, and he joins her act when he trades in his prized electric guitar for an acoustic one. Being the son of a...
(The entire section is 637 words.)