As Albertine visits with her family, Lipsha Morrissey arrives. Lipsha was raised by Marie and is always around whenever Albertine comes home. Albertine is aware of the family “secret”—that Lipsha is June’s son, born during one of the many times June left Gordie—but Lipsha seems to know very little about his biological parents. As they sit around the table, Gordie says that Eli is the last one on the reservation that can still snare a deer.
It is later revealed that everyone knows the “secret” about Lipsha’s parentage, except, of course, Lipsha. Lipsha resents being the only one in the dark about his identity, and he ultimately finds tremendous comfort and closure in knowing who he is, which implies that one’s heritage is an important aspect of their identity. The fact that Eli is the only one who can still snare a deer is further evidence of Native assimilation to white culture—there is little reason to go through the trouble of snaring a deer when meat can be purchased in cans.
King adjusts his hat, which reads: “World’s Greatest Fisherman.” He asks Eli for a cigarette, and Gordie, King’s father, says that King should have said “ciga swa.” Eli agrees. “You got to ask a real old-time Indian like me for the right words,” he says. Lynette laughs. Eli has to teach them all their culture, she says, and when Eli is gone, their heritage will be, too. King yells harshly at Lynette to have some respect, and then he turns to his uncle and father. Eli might be the best hunter, King says, pointing to his hat, but King is the best fisherman. Eli claims he once caught a 14-inch trout, and King takes the hat off. “You’re the greatest then,” he says to Eli, giving him the hat.
King instantly snaps at Lynette, belittling her in front of others, which can in itself be considered a form of abuse. The notion of lost Native language is prevalent throughout the book, which implies that language is intricately hooked with culture in general—when one’s language is lost, so is their culture, and King’s hat is evidence of this. King doesn’t speak his native tongue, nor does he live a native lifestyle off the land like Eli.
Later, after both Lynette and King have left the table, Albertine hears shouting outside. “Bitch! Bitch! I’ll kill you! Gimme the keys!” King yells. Albertine runs outside, and finds Lynette has locked herself in the Firebird. Gordie runs from the front porch and embraces King, who falls to his knees and cries for June.
King’s treatment of Lynette and her need to lock herself in the car to get away from him is yet another example of violence against women in the novel. She is clearly afraid of him, and he threatens to kill her, but King’s behavior also suggests he is deeply grieving his mother’s death. The car is a physical symbol of June, and King reacts badly to Lynette taking the keys.
After Gordie calms King down, Albertine and Lipsha sit outside, looking up at the Northern Lights. Albertine has been wanting to talk to Lipsha about his mother, June. “Your mother,” Albertine begins, but Lipsha interrupts. His “mother” is Marie, he says, and if his real mother ever returns, he won’t give her the time of day. Albertine is surprised. What if giving him up was “just a kind of mistake,” she asks. Lipsha says it wasn’t; she had wanted to drown him. Albertine asks if Lipsha at least wants to know his father, and Lipsha admits that he does.
The book later reveals that Marie told Lipsha that his mother wanted to tie him in a sack and drown him, which is why he doesn’t believe it was a “mistake” that his biological mother gave him up. Lipsha’s insistence that Marie is his “mother” reflects Erdrich’s overreaching argument that family is more than blood ties, but it is also the reason why Marie lies to Lipsha about his mother trying to drown him. Marie loves Lipsha like a son, and she doesn’t want to lose him.
Suddenly, Lipsha and Albertine hear a loud commotion from inside the house. Albertine runs inside and finds King drowning Lynette in a sink full of cold dishwater. Albertine jumps on his back, knocking loose his grip of Lynette. When King realizes what has happened, he turns to Albertine with his fists clenched. Albertine is instantly frightened. She turns, expecting to see Lipsha, but she finds herself alone. Staring at King, Albertine’s fear subsides and is replaced by anger.
Albertine is instantly frightened when King turns to her because she fully expects him to respond aggressively and violently. Statistically, Native women are subjected to a disproportionate amount of violence, and this passage reflects this. King abuses Lynette and is prepared to go at Albertine as well, but is ready to fight back.
Albertine looks past King, to the counter where the pies are cooling. They are destroyed. Albertine yells at King as Lynette runs and hides under the table. King leaves the room, and Albertine turns to the pies, trying to salvage them by scooping up the spilled filling and pressing down the demolished crusts. She works for over an hour and does her best, “but once they are smashed there is no way to put them right.”
The smashed pies are a metaphor for Albertine’s family and their struggles. June’s death—in addition to other stressors, like cultural assimilation, racism, alcoholism, and domestic violence—has wrecked their family, and, much like the pies, they cannot be made whole again.