Summary and Analysis
Staying with Evelyn and Sky is much easier for Rayona than living with Aunt Ida. Evelyn and Sky accept her unconditionally. "There's a kind of peace in the room," Rayona thinks to herself about Evelyn and Sky's living conditions.
One morning while Rayona is doing her rounds at the state park, she notices a young woman swimming near the yellow raft, anchored in the lake. This woman is Ellen DeMarco. Rayona doesn't draw attention to herself; instead, she draws back because Ellen is everything that Rayona wants to be: beautiful and self-confident.
Another day, Rayona finds a ripped Grateful Dead T-shirt and gives it to Sky, who instantly falls in love with it. And she finds a cotton blanket on which is printed a huge brown male deer; this she saves to give to Evelyn later.
Rayona seems infatuated with Ellen DeMarco. She asks her fellow coworkers about her, and she even asks Sky what he thinks. She pretends that she is Ellen and that she has the perfect life, far removed from her reality.
On the Fourth of July, a big day at the park, Rayona meets Ellen and her parents in the lodge's kitchen, where she's eating breakfast with Evelyn. Rayona listens to Ellen's parents talking about their dog Rascal, and she realizes that the scrap of letter she found earlier in the park was written by Ellen's parents to Ellen. Evelyn, who with Sky secretly read the scrap of letter while Rayona was falling asleep, naturally assumed that the letter was from Rayona's mom and dad; now she realizes that the story that Rayona told Evelyn and Sky about her parents being on vacation in Switzerland is a lie. Rayona suddenly leaves, deeply hurt that her make-believe scenario has been shattered. Christine, in her yellow sleeveless top, using a green felt-tipped pen, did not write the letter, no matter how much Rayona wants to believe that she did. It was written by Dell DeMarco — from San Diego, California.
Rayona finds a kind of peace with Evelyn and Sky that she's never experienced before. "There's a kind of peace in the room," she thinks to herself the first time she's in Evelyn and Sky's trailer. Without meaning to, Rayona idealizes Evelyn, whom she places on an imaginary pedestal. And Evelyn and Sky's feelings for Rayona are only more solidified when they read the scrap of letter from "Mother & Pops" while Rayona is sleeping and naturally assume that the letter is written by Rayona's parents. Not even Rayona seems to know who she really is: Sleeping, she dreams of "half-told stories . . . a lot of lives and I can mix and match the parts into something new each time."
The episode in which Rayona watches as Ellen DeMarco dives from the yellow raft further demonstrates that Rayona is living in a fantasy life, unwilling — perhaps unable — to face reality. Here, the image of Ellen, beautiful, graceful, and sure of herself, is coupled with the safety that the yellow raft symbolizes, but both Ellen and the yellow raft are false images for Rayona. Ellen is everything that Rayona is not, although she's also a symbol of what Rayona could become if only Rayona were more sure of herself. Rayona thinks of Ellen as "everything I'm not but ought to be." Later, speaking to her coworkers about Ellen, Rayona seems to fall deeper and deeper into fantasy. She yearns to be like Ellen, to be Ellen: "It seems to me she has everything, and I hate to say it but there are times I would trade places."
No matter how much Rayona wants to fantasize or lie about who she is, Evelyn and Sky unknowingly refuse to allow her to do so. At one point, Sky, speaking with Rayona, philosophically tells her that everything in life has a purpose. Even the most seemingly inconsequential action has meaning, whether or not a person knows it. Part of Rayona's maturing process will involve accepting that there are many things over which people have no control. Life is not picture-perfect, no matter who you are.
The episode in which Rayona meets Ellen's parents and learns that Ellen's mother wrote the scrap of letter is a defining moment in the novel. In Chapter 5, Rayona had wondered just what kind of person would throw away such a precious letter from parents; now, in Chapter 6, she learns that such a person is the idealized Ellen. This recognition shatters Rayona's fantasized perceptions about life. Although it hurts Rayona to realize that Ellen is not the perfect person whom she thought Ellen was, she grows from the experience. Also, and as important, Rayona fears that she has disappointed Evelyn who overhears the conversation between Ellen and her parents. Rayona has lied to Evelyn and Sky, whom she likes and trusts.
a sixer of Rainier a six-pack of Rainier beer.
an Alabama tape The reference is to a cassette of Alabama, a country singing band whose popularity spanned several decades and was voted Artist of the Decade for the 1980s by the Academy of Country Music. Chapter 6 is set in the mid-1980s, when Alabama was one of the hottest country groups performing. Some of their biggest hits include "Mountain Music," "Take Me Down," and "Close Enough to Perfect."
American kitsch art or figurines that are characterized by an excess of sentimentality — for example, wide-eyed, tear-halfway-down-thecheek porcelain waifs — or pretentious bad taste, such as a 24-carat gold-handled toothbrush.
UCSD the University of California, San Diego.
OSU probably Oregon State University.
flip him the bird to make a sign of contempt by making a fist and extending the middle finger.