Reservation Blues

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A Spokane Indian and the guitar player in Coyote Springs. Junior Polatkin is his best friend. Victor is a bully and a drunk, whose rude behavior is partially a result of his upbringing—his father left at a young age, and his white stepfather mistreated him. Both events are individually tragic, but also part of a large pattern of suffering. In a dream, we learn that Victor was also abused by a Catholic priest as a boy while at summer camp, which might have contributed to his deep mistrust of authority. Before joining the band, he depends upon Junior for money, riding beside him in the water truck. With the magic of Robert Johnson’s guitar, he becomes by far the best musician in the band. At the same time, however, he begins to hallucinate, seeing white women where there are none, and, ominously, dreaming that the guitar is asking him for a sacrifice just before Junior’s suicide.

Victor Joseph Quotes in Reservation Blues

The Reservation Blues quotes below are all either spoken by Victor Joseph or refer to Victor Joseph. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Race, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Grove Press edition of Reservation Blues published in 1995.
Chapter 2 Quotes

They did go home with Junior and Victor one night, and everybody on the reservation knew about it. Little Indian boys crept around the house and tried to peek in the windows. All of them swore they saw the white women naked, then bragged it wasn’t the first time they’d seen a naked white woman. None of them had seen a naked Indian woman, let alone a white woman. But the numbers of naked white women who had visited the Spokane Indian Reservation rapidly grew in the boys’ imaginations, as if the size of their lies proved they were warriors.

Related Characters: Junior Polatkin, Victor Joseph, Betty, Veronica
Page Number: 42
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Alexie discusses the reservation community’s reaction to Betty and Veronica’s fling with Junior and Victor. The boys of the town are entranced by the white women, who serve as a means of affirming their own macho identities - they all lie, shamelessly, to claim an easy familiarity with the sexual prize of the white woman. The fact that these young boys, who are without exception sexually inexperienced, believe that these claims bolster their image in the community, shows that interracial relationships are driven by a set of machismo politics instilled at a very young age.

Victor and Junior are heroes according to this logic, at the peak of the macho pyramid. In reality, though, neither has a very successful night with the visiting women, since their blindness to the women themselves, outside of their role as status-boosting trophies, has meant that neither has grown much in their understanding of romantic love since they themselves were young boys. The boys’ need for a macho reputation is driven, Alexie suggest, by their desire to be seen as “warriors,” striving to conform to an identity that the narratives governing their lives, both White and Native, associate with a glorious and brave past.

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Chapter 4 Quotes

Junior and Victor shrugged their shoulders, walked into Thomas’s house, and looked for somewhere to sleep. Decorated veterans of that war between fathers and sons, Junior and Victor knew the best defense was sleep. They saw too many drunks littering the grass of the reservation; they rolled the drunks over and stole their money.

Related Characters: Thomas Builds-the-Fire, Junior Polatkin, Victor Joseph, Samuel Builds-the-Fire
Page Number: 96
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, Junior and Victor react - or, rather, don’t react - to the sight of Thomas’ drunken father, Samuel Builds-the-Fire, passed out on Thomas’s front lawn. Their shared indifference to the appearance of the drunken Samuel is a product of their extensive experience in the “war between fathers and sons” of which they are “decorated veterans,” since alcohol destroyed both of their families as well. This experience has hardened them against suffering, making alcoholism the expected, normal state for fathers. They respond pragmatically to this abundance of alcoholism now, callously stealing whatever they can from the passed out members of the reservation when they come across them. The key component of this philosophy is despair; there is nothing else to be done but sleep, no hope for changing the habits of the reservation or escaping the pattern of suffering embedded in their culture. Thomas holds on to hope in some ways, but must also therefore continue to confront the sadness of an unchanging reality, since he refuses to escape into sleep or drink like Victor and Joseph. 

Chapter 5 Quotes

“I mean, I think they’re all using each other as trophies. Junior and Victor get to have beautiful white women on their arms, and Betty and Veronica get to have Indian men… Look at them. They got more Indian jewelry and junk on them than any dozen Indians. The spotlights hit the crystals on their necks and nearly blinded me once. All they talk about is Coyote this and Coyote that, sweatlodge this and sweatlodge that. They think Indians got all the answers.”

Related Characters: Thomas Builds-the-Fire (speaker), Junior Polatkin, Victor Joseph, Betty, Veronica
Page Number: 158
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, Thomas speaks to the radio interviewer after Coyote Springs wins a battle of the bands in Seattle, answering a question about the relationship between Junior and Victor, and Betty and Veronica, two groupies who have joined the band as back-up singers. Thomas takes a dim view of these couplings, seeing both the Native men and the white women as being fascinated more with the fact of one another’s race than with one another's actual person. Each is a trophy to the other - Betty and Veronica are in search of the exotic, seeing in Native Americans a stereotypical, mystic and new age identity to be explored, while for Junior and Victor, the act of landing a white woman proves their masculine power and, as they discuss later, serves as a sort of revenge against the white power structures that hold them down in patterns of suffering.

Chapter 8 Quotes

Victor roared against his whole life. If he could have been hooked up to a power line, he would have lit up Times Square. He had enough anger inside to guide every salmon over Grand Coulee Dam. He wanted to steal a New York cop’s horse and go on the warpath. He wanted to scalp stockbrokers and kidnap supermodels. He wanted to shoot flaming arrows into the Museum of Modern Art. He wanted to lay siege to Radio City Music Hall. Victor wanted to win. Victor wanted to get drunk.

Related Characters: Victor Joseph
Related Symbols: Horses
Page Number: 230
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, Victor reacts to the band’s failure in the recording studio, a failure caused by his mystical guitar’s sudden rebellion. Victor “roars,” consumed with anger against the system, the society that has crippled his chances at success. His rage is a distinctly violent one, in the model of the warrior ancestors venerated by his tribe - he wants to enact traditional representations of Native American violence, from bow and arrows to scalping, on every symbol of mainstream American power that surrounds him in New York City: the stockbrokers and supermodels, museums and police.

The image of Victor riding on horseback down the streets of New York is equal parts absurd and tragic, a representation of the extent to which he has been trapped in the past, and is out of place in this modern world, unable to cope. He had dared to hope, dared to leave behind the despair that had dominated his life until this point - he wanted to win, for once, but has only lost once again. And, once again, he will turn to the only relief that many of his tribe have found for this repeated trauma: alcohol. This cycle of disappointment and the desperate search for relief is what has driven so many of his people to alcoholism, and the related suffering of family and community that accompanies that particular sickness.

Chapter 10 Quotes

WalksAlong didn’t respond, and Victor left the office, feeling something slip inside him. He stole five dollars from WalksAlong’s secretary’s purse and bought a six-pack of cheap beer at the Trading Post.
“Fuck it, I can do it, too,” Victor whispered to himself and opened the first can. That little explosion of the beer can opening sounded exactly like a smaller, slower version of the explosion that Junior’s rifle made on the water tower.

Related Characters: Victor Joseph (speaker), Junior Polatkin, David WalksAlong
Page Number: 292
Explanation and Analysis:

Victor is rejected by David WalksAlong after making his final desperate attempt to escape the pattern of suffering and despair that has guided his life so far, and that has claimed that of his best friend, Junior. WalksAlong, an elected leader of the tribe, chooses personal vengeance over his responsibility to Victor as a member of the community, mocking the poorly written resume that Victor had brought in search of a job.

This final blow is too much, and Victor, who had previously resolved to give up drinking after being visited by the ghost of Junior, turns immediately to the only relief he has ever known from the suffering that holds him back from success: alcohol. He is too poor to afford it on his own, stealing from WalksAlong’s secretary in a small act of revenge that will only foster further discord in the community. The echo of Junior’s rifle heard in the opening of the beer can is a not-so-subtle sign that this decision is an equivalent surrender to despair, a slower form of suicide that plays into the same pattern.  

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Victor Joseph Character Timeline in Reservation Blues

The timeline below shows where the character Victor Joseph appears in Reservation Blues. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Race, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Hope, Despair, and the Blues Theme Icon
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...the new tribal slot machines and buys a microwave burrito at the Trading Post. Then Victor Joseph, who is tattered and angry, and Junior Polatkin, a “tall, good-looking buck with hair... (full context)
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Thomas tells them the guitar has a secret name, and Victor pulls him into a sudden headlock to make him reveal it. These tussles are common... (full context)
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Suddenly, Victor smashes the guitar against the sidewalk, and then gives it to Thomas to play. Thomas,... (full context)
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Junior is driving the water truck to the West End, avoiding potholes, with Victor asleep beside him, twisting and turning from a nightmare. Junior remembers the Psych 101 course... (full context)
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...house and pump some water into the well, looking at the dusty lawn. Simon, whom Victor calls the “crazy backwards driving old man,” offers them a drink, but all he has... (full context)
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...a child. The guitar plays him a sad song, the same song for hours, and Victor and Junior hear it too, passed out drunk in the water truck. The guitar tells... (full context)
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Junior and Victor are passed out in the water truck. Junior dreams of his two brothers, his two... (full context)
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The sound of the guitar’s song washes over the reservation like rain, waking Victor and Junior, who, angry and hung over, drive toward Thomas to stop the music. The... (full context)
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Victor and Junior arrive, and Thomas invites them to join a band, offering Victor the guitar,... (full context)
Chapter 2
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...is broken in romantic heartbreak, and the heartbreak of a broken treaty. Thomas, Junior, and Victor are rehearsing in an abandoned grocery store called Irene’s. The electric bass and drum set... (full context)
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...confused by the Sex Pistols covers. The band is improving at a frightening rate, and Victor, especially, is becoming a devastatingly good guitarist. The band’s two most devoted white fans are... (full context)
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Betty and Veronica go home one night with Junior and Victor, and little Indian boys swear they see the women them naked, as if “their lies... (full context)
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...Indians from all over show up to watch rehearsals. Thomas decides they need a name. Victor suggests Bloodthirsty Savages, and Thomas counters with Coyote Springs. When Victor says “Fuck Coyote,” lightning... (full context)
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...and the members of Coyote Springs step up to the stage for the first time. Victor says he is ready to be immortal. They mess up their first count, but then... (full context)
Chapter 3
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...Thomas, is kind of cute. Chess and Checkers dance, even as the music deteriorates since Victor and Junior get drunk on free booze. The band takes a break, and Thomas discusses... (full context)
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Victor confuses Thomas and Junior by talking about seeing white women, when there are none in... (full context)
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Victor’s guitar pulls him back on stage with Junior and Thomas, and Thomas announces that the... (full context)
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...that it “made up in pure volume what it lacked in talent,” and noting that Victor and Junior were “drunk as skunks.” The night of the show, Chess and Checkers helped... (full context)
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...they live with their parents, but Checkers tells him their parents are gone. They leave Victor and Junior to sleep in the car, and Checkers goes to bed, so Chess and... (full context)
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...Sioux ride off in a panic. This reminds Thomas of the summer that Junior and Victor killed snakes by draping them over an electric fence, forcing Thomas to watch. Once Victor... (full context)
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The dream continues: now Thomas, Victor, and Junior are practicing, and Thomas says he hopes they don’t make it big, because... (full context)
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Thomas tells Chess that the band is better than they sounded last night, blaming Victor and Junior being drunk. He tells her he does not drink, and she smiles: this... (full context)
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...and Checkers to join the band as singers. Chess is skeptical, unwilling to leave home. Victor objects to the idea, but when Thomas suggests they vote, Junior unexpectedly votes with Thomas.... (full context)
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...begging for more “music, hope, and joy.” After the show, Chess, Checkers, and Thomas find Victor and Junior naked and drunk in the back of the van with an equally naked... (full context)
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...inside, while Chess and Thomas sit on a bench and talk. Chess tells Thomas that Victor and Junior hanging out with white women feels like a betrayal. The race needs to... (full context)
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...Washington. To get there they drive the faded blue van, which is old enough that Victor says they should get a new rig. Thomas tells him they must respect their elders,... (full context)
Chapter 4
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...headlights of the blue van illuminating an old Indian man passed out on Thomas’s lawn. Victor asks Junior which of their dads it is, and Junior replies that it can’t be... (full context)
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...Horse.” He tells WalksAlong that the only way he’ll stop him is with a pistol. Victor, meanwhile, dreams of his stepfather, Harold, throwing his mother, Matilda into the trunk of his... (full context)
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Suddenly (still in the dream) Victor’s head is shaved, and a huge white man in a black robe leads him down... (full context)
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...WalksAlong calls no foul. Back in the present Junior, who is across the house from Victor, dreams he is in the backseat of his parents’ car outside Powwow Tavern. He is... (full context)
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...begins to chant that the end of the world is near, as he always does. Victor and Junior stumble into the kitchen, looking for food, but there is only applesauce. Victor... (full context)
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In the present, the van leaves and Checkers waves goodbye to everyone but Victor. She is planning to go to church, to meet Father Arnold and sing there. In... (full context)
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Victor and Junior drink coffee while Thomas and Chess discuss Seattle—how it’s named after an Indian... (full context)
Chapter 5
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The song lyrics here refer to religious persecution by the “black robes” from Victor’s dream, with the refrain “My God has dark skin.” Back in the narrative, the van... (full context)
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Checkers begins to tell Father Arnold about Junior and Victor having sex with Betty and Veronica. She explains that this makes her hate both white... (full context)
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Victor, meanwhile, is dreaming of his summer at Mission School when he was nine—a Catholic summer... (full context)
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...love her back. This is the reason, she thinks, why she had the fight with Victor: God was planning for her to meet Father Arnold. Back in the van, the band... (full context)
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Victor is drawn to the drunks that frighten Junior and the others. Lester FallsApart, the “most... (full context)
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...the interviewer that he and Chess voted against the two white women, but Junior and Victor voted them in with a coin toss. He says he feels they are all using... (full context)
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Thomas and Chess take turns driving the victorious band home, with Junior, Victor, Betty, and Veronica in the back seat. Chess asks Thomas if he’ll come with her... (full context)
Chapter 6
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...Coyote Springs’ ability to represent the tribe. It takes issue with Betty and Veronica, names Victor and Junior as drunks, calls out Chess and Checkers for being Flathead (not Spokane) Indians,... (full context)
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Victor and Junior are drunkenly working their way through their share of the prize money, as... (full context)
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White Hawk, Victor, and Junior are taken to Spokane for medical attention. The Indian EMT lies to the... (full context)
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...woman thing.” Junior is “ethnically handsome,” making up for Thomas’s goofiness and the fact that Victor looks like “a train rain him over in 1976.” They list the band members’ particularly... (full context)
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...They spend this on Doritos and Hershey’s, and a stock of beer for Junior and Victor. The next day, Thomas receives a letter from Big Mom, telling him that without her... (full context)
Chapter 7
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...are told about her, but some refuse to believe that she even exists. Junior and Victor, who are “damn good at denial,” once saw her walk across Benjamin Pond, but erased... (full context)
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...that Robert Johnson is gone looking for wood to build a new guitar. She tells Victor that, if he wants, she can throw his guitar away for him. He says he’d... (full context)
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Victor doesn’t understand how Big Mom can help them play, since she’s “just some old Indian... (full context)
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At the end of a long day of rehearsal, Victor resists playing the chord again. Robert Johnson listens, wincing, from the bushes. Thomas tells Victor... (full context)
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In a letter, Junior thanks Big Mom for the drumsticks, and tries to apologize for Victor. He explains that Victor has always been his bodyguard, beating up anybody who touched him... (full context)
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...they may not—they would make their own choices. They all had said goodbye, and even Victor managed a “thank you.” At the airport, as they are boarding, Victor nearly refuses to... (full context)
Chapter 8
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...band counts off as, somewhere, horses scream. At first, all is well, and then suddenly Victor’s guitar begins to rebel, bucking in his arms, and he feels a razor slice his... (full context)
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An article in the local paper shows Victor’s aggressive optimism on his way to the plane the day before, as well as David... (full context)
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Chess, Checkers, and Thomas wait in their hotel lobby worrying about Victor and Junior—they want to find them, but there are too many thousands of bars. Chess... (full context)
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...said she was too. After hours of talking, she kissed him. Back in the bar, Victor interrupts Junior’s reverie. A police report records that Thomas and Chess have reported the pair... (full context)
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Chess and Thomas enter yet another bar, asking the pretty waitress about Victor and Junior. She says she’s never seen a real Indian before, a “bow-and-arrow Indian”—only Indians... (full context)
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...few months into their relationship. In the present, in the sixth bar of the night, Victor laughs, drunk, as Junior announces his pregnancy to the room. “Am I the father?” Victor... (full context)
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...as the sun rises, Thomas and Chess return to the lobby and “discover America,” finding Victor asleep on a couch while Junior reads USA Today. The three of them carry Victor... (full context)
Chapter 9
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...plane crashing, and of the thin flute music he would follow into the next life. Victor had cried, silently, mourning the loss of his guitar. In the church, Checkers tells Father... (full context)
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The night before the episode in the church, Victor dreams of music that will not stop playing, while the band talks to the Tribal... (full context)
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Earlier again, as the band arrives at the Spokane airport, they wait for Victor’s luggage. Just before they decide to abandon it, a guitar case slides down the carousel.... (full context)
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...news, sits onstage, and starts to play the guitar, better than anybody ever. Now, watching Victor’s dreams, Johnson feels guilty about passing on the guitar. Big Mom keeps carving the wood,... (full context)
Chapter 10
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...backwards off the reservation, never to return, since Junior used his gun to commit suicide. Victor is angry with the reservation members, remembering how they watched as Junior did it. Lester... (full context)
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...and father. Big Mom and Father Arnold take turns leading the service, while Checkers, Chess, Victor, and Thomas watch. Lester and the three dogs are also present. The dogs howl, only... (full context)
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Victor drives to Turtle Lake and sits in the van. Junior appears to him with a... (full context)
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...and Thomas get ready to pray, for everybody, as Big Mom puts on a record. Victor goes to David WalksAlong looking for a job. WalksAlong is shocked to see him, after... (full context)
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We then see Victor’s résumé, which is littered with misspellings. Coyote Springs is gone. Victor wanders around the reservation... (full context)