When Joe returns home, he and Bazil act like their fight did not happen. Bazil tells Joe that he had an “interesting” conversation with Father Travis, and Joe tenses up, but it turns out Father Travis did not tell Bazil about the boys’ snooping. Bazil has thoroughly dismissed Father Travis as a suspect. Joe asks his father if the police have talked to either Linden or Linda Lark, and Bazil tells Joe that he talked to Linda. Bazil seems troubled as he tells Joe this, because he does not want to involve him, but Joe knows that Bazil needs someone to talk to. Bazil tells Joe he is going to talk to Linda and he asks if Joe wants to come.
Bazil seems to have adjusted his stance on Joe participating in the investigation since he and Joe fought earlier that day. It is unclear why Bazil decides to let Joe help him talk with Linda—possibly Bazil has realized that Joe, who is now thirteen, needs to have more agency of his own. Joe seems to think that Bazil just needs someone to confide in, suggesting that Bazil’s intense emotional stress requires him to lean on Joe in a way that he might not normally.
When Bazil and Joe meet Linda at the post office where she works, Joe is surprised by how “magnetically ugly” she is. Bazil asks to speak with Linda, and at first she hesitates, but then agrees. The trio walks across the street to a tiny café. At the table, Bazil makes small talk for a while, and then Linda gets up and leaves. Afterward, Joe comments that Bazil did not ask any hard questions. Bazil said he wanted to “get a feel for how she was doing.”
Joe describes Linda as “magnetically ugly,” suggesting that Joe, who has newly become interested in sex, has begun evaluating the women around him based on their sexual attractiveness. After talking with Linda, Joe is frustrated by Bazil’s inaction, feeling that they should have pressed her harder.
A few days later, Linda arrives at the house, hoping to talk to Geraldine. Joe tells her that Geraldine is sleeping, and Linda waits in the living room for her to wake up. When Geraldine stirs upstairs, Linda walks into her room and Joe hears the muted sound of their voices as they talk. A few days later, Linda shows up again, carrying a small package of banana bread. Linda goes upstairs to talk with Geraldine and, while she is out of earshot, Bazil and Joe hatch a plan to try to gather information from Linda about the Lark family. When Linda comes back downstairs, they offer her ice cream. Linda accepts and they sit down in the kitchen to eat together. Joe asks Linda about her adoption. Although Joe initially only intended to get information, Joe realizes that he is actually very interested in Linda’s response.
Although Joe was frustrated that his father did not ask Linda harder questions before, Bazil’s strategy (which also may have been Bazil’s genuine curiosity about Linda’s well-being) has paid off, as Linda comes to the house to talk with Geraldine. When Linda returns again a few days later, Bazil decides it is time to actually ask Linda more pointed questions. Joe finds himself not only interested in the information Linda can provide, but also in her personal story, suggesting, perhaps, that Joe is becoming more drawn to storytelling and personal narratives in themselves.
Linda launches into her story, which is offset from the rest of the narrative by a title proclaiming “Linda’s Story.” Linda tells Joe and Bazil how she was born after Linden and she struggled to take their first breaths. As the nurse was about to clear out her airway, the doctor pointed out her deformed head and limbs and asked Grace Lark if he should try to save Linda. Grace said no, but the nurse cleared Linda’s mouth anyway, against orders, saving Linda. After it was clear that Linda was going to live, the Larks decided that they would not care for her. The hospital put Linda in the nursery while they tried to figure out what to do with her.
Erdrich sets Linda’s story apart from the rest of the narrative by titling it, suggesting that her first person narrative is separate from Joe’s, and so perhaps is not filtered through Joe’s viewpoint. As Linda talks about how Grace and her doctor left her to suffocate when they realized she was deformed, Grace’s moral depravity, alluded to earlier, is cemented for the reader and made more powerful because of Linda’s heartbreaking account.
That night, Betty Wishkob, a janitor at the hospital, held Linda, molding her deformed head with her hand as she did so. Betty later asked if she could take Linda home. She raised Linda on the reservation until she was three, when Linda was taken away by social workers. Linda was returned to Betty, then removed again when she was four. Linda was so upset that she screamed until she was brought back to Betty.
Betty’s kindness and love for Linda, who is not even her biological child, contrasts sharply with Grace’s abandonment. Betty is perhaps inclined to adopt Linda in part due to the pattern of informal adoption on the reservation, like in the earlier case of Mooshum and his family.
Linda describes how her adoptive parents reshaped her malformed limbs and head every night of her childhood—a kind of makeshift physical therapy. Linda remembers her childhood home as untidy but loving. Despite this, though, there were some problems: Linda’s foster father was an alcoholic and Betty had a temper problem. Linda recounts how her sister Sheryl once accidentally broke one of Betty’s beloved vases and blamed Linda for it. Betty began to cry. Linda asked Sheryl why she had blamed Linda, and Sheryl told her it was because Linda was white. Despite this bad childhood experience, Linda and Sheryl became close later on.
Betty and her husband were loving parents to Linda, providing her with a loving home. But although Linda was very much a part of the family, her whiteness caused resentment between Linda and her siblings, with Sheryl blaming things on Linda because Linda was white. It is unclear why Sheryl felt anger towards Linda over their racial difference—perhaps Sheryl resented Linda’s privilege as a white person, or she just wanted an excuse to blame her.
After Betty and George Wishkob died, Linda lived in their house alone. One night, Linda received a phone call from Grace Lark. When Grace said her name, Linda immediately hung up. Linda had had no desire to know George and Grace Lark. After Grace called the first time, Linda felt intense resentment toward both Grace and Linden. Four days later, however, Grace called again and told Linda that she had always wanted to meet her. Grace asked Linda if she would like to meet up for dinner, and Linda agreed.
Although Grace had abandoned Linda as a child, Grace calls Linda again years later. Clearly, the idea of meeting up with her birth mother is extremely stressful to Linda, who immediately hangs up the first time Grace calls. Grace obviously did not consider Linda’s feelings in asking to meet her, or that it could cause Linda pain.
When Linda and Grace sat down to dinner, Grace first expressed shocked that Linda was not mentally disabled because of her birth defect. Grace said that she had wanted to get in touch with Linda before, but she had not been able to find her. The women ordered and ate their entrees. During dessert, Grace started to cry, saying she wished she’d never given Linda up. Linda, trying to distract Grace, asked how Linden was, and Grace explained that Linden needed a kidney transplant and that Linda was his only hope for a donor. Linda immediately got up, threw money on the table, and left. Before she got to her car, Linda threw up in the parking lot. Linda felt someone stroking her back, and it turned out to be Grace, who had followed her out. Linda, knowing that Grace had been lying to her all night, and had always known where she lived, pushed Grace away.
When Grace expresses surprise that Linda is not mentally disabled, her shock comes across as mean-spirited, as if implying that Linda is more valuable as a human being because of her lack of a mental handicap. Of course, it later becomes clear that Grace only wanted to meet with Linda because she hoped that Linda would donate a kidney to Linden. Grace Lark’s treatment of Linda, who she clearly does not care for or love, exemplifies the fact that blood relations are far from the most important aspect of being a family—especially when compared with Betty and George Wishkob’s love for their adopted daughter.
When Linda called Sheryl to tell her about meeting with Grace, Sheryl insisted that Linda not give Linden the kidney, shocked that Linda was even considering it after Grace’s abandonment her. Still, Linda decided to go through with it, traveling to South Dakota for the donation. Linda imagines that Grace may have been a bad mother to Linden because of the shame she harbored after abandoning Linda, and so she felt compassion for him. When Linda’s doctor gave her the test results, she told Linda that she was a match, but also informed her that Linden had several restraining orders against him and he only had kidney failure because he tried to commit suicide with drugs and alcohol. The doctor told Linda to take those things into account.
In this section, both Sheryl and Linda’s doctor tell Linda not to give Linden her kidney for different reasons. Sheryl feels that Grace does not deserve a favor from Linda, while the doctor seems to believe that Linden does not deserve to live because he is not a very good or responsible person. Over the course of the novel, Erdrich seems to endorse the idea that forgiveness is not always the best course of action, but also that the ends don’t necessarily justify the means—killing Linden early would have spared Geraldine and her family much pain, but it could also be argued that Linda made the most moral decision at the time with the information she had.
Later, as Linda sat with Linden in the hospital, Linda asked Linden about his job as a mail carrier, and Linden said that he knew every detail of people’s lives, so he “could have committed the perfect murder.” This comment shocked Linda, who asked if Linden was married to change the subject. Linden told Linda that he had a very young girlfriend, but that a government official was paying her to be with him instead of Linden. Linden then told Linda nonchalantly that he did not want her kidney because he had “an aversion to ugly people” and Linda was “a disgusting woman.” Then, Linden pretended to apologize and started to laugh. Linda left the room.
When Linda goes to visit Linden in the hospital, it is clear that Linden is both cruel and disturbed as he talks about committing murder and aggressively insults Linda, telling her she is ugly so he does not want her kidney. Linden also displays his violent tendencies in this scene, which surface again later. This scene is further proof that it is not necessarily blood ties that actually link people as family, as even Linda’s biological twin treats her terribly.
Linda goes silent, and Joe, struggling to think of what to say, tries to comfort Linda. Bazil asks why Linda still gave Linden her kidney. Linda says that she did it for Grace. After the procedure, Linda got sick with an infection and realized she’d made a mistake giving her kidney. The Chippewa community helped Linda through her illness. Linda was relieved when Grace died and Linden moved back to South Dakota. Linda tells Bazil and Joe that when Linden moved back to South Dakota he “cracked” and “did things... he should have got caught for.”
Ultimately, although Linda does everything she can to gain her biological family’s love, it is her Chippewa family that supports her during her own illness and helps her heal after her painful experience with the Lark family. Again, Linda’s story is evidence that true families are not actually centered around shared genes, but rather around mutual love and support.