Later, Lipsha sits at King and Lynette’s table, and King tries to convince Lipsha to turn himself in to the military police. King was in the Marines, he says, during Vietnam, and there is no way Lipsha can outrun the M.P. King is “on the wagon,” and he sits drinking 7-Up. Lynette asks Lipsha why he enlisted in the army in the first place, and Lipsha tells her he did it because he thought it was something his mother would have wanted. As soon as Lipsha says this, King and Lynette become awkward and quiet, and Lipsha knows for certain that King and Lynette know that Lipsha is June’s son as well, which makes him King’s half-brother.
Lipsha is the only one who did not know the truth about his identity, and when he mentions June in front of King and Lynette, Lipsha is poking around to see just how much they know and what they are willing to share. King’s avoidance of alcohol suggests that he is trying to correct his poor behavior and his abuse of Lynette, yet he doesn’t seem interested in making things right with Lipsha.
Lipsha had learned the facts of his parentage from Lulu Lamartine, the “jiibay witch” who put a spell on Nector when they were young. Lipsha didn’t initially think much of Lulu—no one really does—but he respects her now, he says, because her reasons for telling him the truth were sincere. One day when Lipsha went to the senior citizens complex to visit Marie, Lulu stuck her head out of her door and told Lipsha to come in. Lipsha refused, but she persisted and pulled him inside.
The fact that no one thinks much of Lulu and most people refuse to respect her again reflects the oppression and discrimination she faces because of her gender and the choices she has made concerning her sexual past. Lulu’s behavior and lifestyle makes others uncomfortable since she doesn’t align with accepted notions of womanhood.
Lipsha was scared of Lulu at first. She seems to know things about other people’s personal business, but since Lipsha himself has “the touch,” he doesn’t doubt her powers. Lulu’s “insight” intimidates most of the people at the senior complex, except for Marie. Lipsha says that Marie and Lulu are “thick as thieves” since Nector’s death, which even Lipsha thinks is a bit strange.
Marie and Lulu’s unexpected relationship again harkens to tribal connections and family ties. Marie and Lulu are connected via their tribe and their myriad of familial connections (i.e., Lipsha, June, and Rushes Bear), which takes precedent over any personal disagreements they may have.
As Lulu pulled Lipsha into her apartment, he was surprised by her strength. She got right to the point. Lulu had talked to Lipsha’s mother—not Marie, but Lipsha’s real mother, June—long ago about Lipsha. He interrupts Lulu. Marie is his mother, Lipsha said, his other mother wanted to tie him up in a potato sack and drown him. No, said Lulu, that isn’t at all what happened. And then she told him everything.
Lulu’s surprising physical strength is more evidence of her power as a woman. Lipsha is caught off guard because he expects Lulu, as a woman, to be weak and demure. Lipsha’s insistence that Marie is his mother again underscores Erdrich’s argument that family need not be blood related.
Lulu told Lipsha that 20 years ago, her son, Gerry, fell in love with an older woman. That woman was June, and Gerry had wanted to marry her. The problem, of course, was that June was already married to Gordie and had a son, King. Before long, June was pregnant, and not long after her baby, Lipsha, was born, she handed him over to Marie. June wanted her baby to have a good life. “In fact,” Lulu said to Lipsha, “it looks like you had the best life of them all.”
June did not give Lipsha up because she didn’t love him, she gave him up because she loved him enough to give him a better life. As Lulu’s comment that Lipsha has had a better life than all of them points out, June succeeded in giving Lipsha a better life simply by walking away, which also points to June’s incredible strength. Likely, June’s decision to give Lipsha up was unbelievably difficult, but she still managed to make it.
Lipsha didn’t believe Lulu at first, but then Lipsha noticed that he and Lulu have the same nose. Lulu told Lipsha that everyone knew the truth, even if they didn’t say it, and Marie was too afraid to tell him because she loves him “like a son.” Now that both June and Gordie are dead and Gerry is in prison, Lulu felt it was time to tell the truth. Lulu said she didn’t have anything to lose; either she gained a grandson or lost a boy who didn’t care for her anyway. The choice, Lulu had said, was Lipsha’s.
Lipsha’s sudden realization that Lulu is, in fact, his grandmother is more evidence of the deep interconnectedness within Native American tribes. This is the first time that Gordie’s death is mentioned, which implies he has finally succeeded in drinking himself to death.
One night after Lulu told Lipsha the truth about his parents, Marie told Lipsha, seemingly for no reason, that she didn’t trust banks anymore and was hiding all her money in a hankie in her underwear drawer. Marie had said she was an old woman and didn’t need all the money, and Lipsha just knew she was telling him to take it. It was Marie’s way of telling Lipsha to get off the reservation and get his head straight. So he did.
Marie offers her money to Lipsha in a coded way, which suggests she is herself coming to terms with Lipsha’s true identity. In giving Lipsha the money, Maire is, in a way, giving him permission to go find his biological family. Marie finally understands that her connection to Lipsha is so strong, it cannot be undone simply because he finds his biological family.
Lipsha took a bus to a border town and found a room at a hotel for veterans. Lipsha tried to decide what to do next, but mostly he just drank and felt sorry for himself. He saw the sign advertising the army, and he decided to sign up. But then Lipsha saw, really saw, all the old veterans at the hotel. They were all neglected and drunk, and Lipsha didn’t want to end up that way. He knew he had to run, and he wanted to meet his father, Gerry.
Like the Native Americans, the veterans are marginalized and neglected by the United States government. When Lipsha attempts to flee the military, this suggests that he doesn’t want to open himself up to yet another reason for the government to treat him badly.
Lipsha had a vision after his friend accidentally hit him in the head with a whiskey bottle that Gerry Nanapush, who was being transferred to the state penitentiary in North Dakota, was going to break out of prison again soon. Following his vision, Lipsha has ended up in Minneapolis, sitting at King’s table. Lipsha has never really cared for King (he always treated Lipsha badly as a child, calling him an “orphant”), but Lipsha puts those feelings aside.
Lipsha again is portrayed as having supernatural powers, much like Lulu and Marie, which Lipsha claims earlier in the novel is part of their Native American culture and identity. Lipsha seems to innately know that Gerry will show up at King’s apartment, even though Lipsha has no idea of King’s betrayal of Gerry.
Lipsha looks to Lynette. Her lip is bruised and swollen, and Lipsha realizes for the first time just how depressing their apartment is. It is narrow and dark, and the air is stale and smoky. Still, plants litter the room and paintings hang from the walls. There is even a velvet rug. Lipsha looks to King, Jr. and says hello. The child doesn’t respond.
Again, it is obvious that Lynette is an abused woman, yet she still tries to make something of her depressing surroundings by adding paintings and plants to an otherwise drab apartment, which is further evidence of Lynette’s strength and resilience. Howard does not respond to Lipsha’s greeting because Lipsha refers to him as King, Jr.
King begins to tell Lipsha again that he can’t hide from the military police, and then they all decide to play poker. Lulu has taught Lipsha how to cheat at cards, and he begins to easily win each hand. Lipsha asks King if he knew Gerry Nanapush when they were both in Stillwater prison. King said he did, and that he and Gerry were close until some other inmates started some rumors about King. Lipsha asks King if he thinks Gerry really killed the state trooper, but King says he doesn’t know. This is the one thing Lipsha really wants to know about his father—whether or not he is a murderer.
Of course, the inmates did not start rumors about King. King’s relationship with Gerry went downhill because King informed on Gerry to the police and betrayed him, not because of inmate gossip and lies. Lipsha is obviously coming to terms with the fact that his father may have killed a man, but even this is not enough to keep Lipsha from fostering a connection with Gerry.
As they play cards, Lipsha notices that Lynette and King are looking more “jumpy,” and then a news report comes over the radio. Gerry Nanapush has escaped the state penitentiary, the newscaster says, and is currently at large in the area. Lipsha stands up and cheers, but King and Lynette are visibly shaken. Lipsha turns and sees Gerry standing in the room.
Like Lipsha, Lulu, and Marie, Gerry, too, seems to possess supernatural powers. His ability to break out of prison is certainly unsurpassed, and he has a knack of showing up at the right place at the right time. In this way, Gerry has the same connection to Native spirituality and magic that Lipsha, Marie, and Lulu do.