Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 581
Pete and Donald are brothers who have little in common. Stable and successful Pete is a real estate agent in Santa Cruz. He has two daughters, a sailboat, and a great deal of money. Donald is something of a drifter, never keeping a job for long, often migrating from one religious commune to another. While Pete is at home in the world and looks healthy and comfortable, Donald is gaunt and obsessed with the fate of his soul.
Pete seems to have taken after their parents, who are both dead. Like them, Pete wants simply to be a decent person and not make a fool of himself. Donald insists on taking himself very seriously, though, and is often taken for a fool. For all of his success, Pete feels implicitly judged by Donald, who wonders why Pete insists on purchasing new goods when old ones are still perfectly usable. Donald, however, has a history of financial insolvency and of depending on Pete to get him out of jams.
Donald has joined a commune outside Paso Robles, California. After a few months his letters end and Pete becomes concerned. He finally calls Donald and convinces him to leave. Since Donald’s car has been repossessed, Pete has to drive downstate and pick him up. The day before Pete leaves on the journey, he receives a letter from the head of the commune indicating that Donald has not left voluntarily: He has been expelled. When Pete meets up with Donald, he asks about the circumstances of his expulsion. Donald explains that he was too impractical for the group. For example, when they sent him to go shopping, he ended up giving away all the groceries to the first poor family he saw. When trying to cook for the group, he started a fire.
Pete gives Donald one hundred dollars. As they travel up the coast, they stop at a gas station and Donald invites a hitchhiker to join them. The man, who tells them his name is Webster, begins an elaborate story about having to reach his daughter, who has suddenly taken ill. Webster says this is all part of a long string of troubles that began when he took his wife to open a gold mine in Peru, where she developed a mysterious disease and died. Now Webster is trying his best to raise shares in the gold mine so that the poor Peruvians can benefit from their natural wealth.
Pete is skeptical about Webster’s story, but he makes the mistake of falling asleep. When he awakens, Webster is gone—along with the hundred dollars that he gave Donald. Donald has bought a share in Webster’s gold mine. An argument ensues, in which the brothers bring up old grievances. The most surprising is Donald’s claim that Pete often tried to kill him. When as a child Donald had a serious intestinal operation, both boys got the idea that his stitches could easily rupture and poison his system. Pete, however, frequently snuck into Donald’s room at night and punched him in his wounds.
That Donald would use Pete’s hard-earned one hundred dollars to buy a share in a phony gold mine is the last straw for Pete; he puts Donald out of the car in the middle of nowhere. Before he goes far, however, he decides that his wife will never understand how he could leave his brother behind. He turns the car around to find his brother.
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