Summary and Analysis
The Desert Sections 11-13
One day while driving through Blythe, a police car tries to pull over the family, but Dad guns the motor and speeds away, knowing that if he gets pulled over for a broken brake light, the police will certainly discover he also has no insurance or registration. Driving wildly through town, Dad manages to elude the police, but says it is time to clear out of town. The family rents a U-Haul truck and, because there's no room in the cab, the four kids ride in the back. Dad warns them they must be silent because it is illegal for them to travel in the back.
Alone in the dark, the older children try to comfort baby Maureen. After a few hours, the truck hits a pothole and the back doors swing open, exposing the children to empty desert, flush with moonlight. Eventually, an approaching car spots the children and signals Mom and Dad to stop. Dad is angry with the children, but glad it wasn't a cop who caught them riding in the back.
Once they reach their new home, Battle Mountain, Nevada, they move into an old train depot and furnish their home with whatever they can find. The children sleep in cardboard boxes and the family makes chairs from old crates.
Eventually, Dad gets a job in a barite mine and the family settles in. The children love Battle Mountain because it is a great place to explore the desert and make up games. They do not have enough money for Dad to drink, so the family spends the evenings quietly, occasionally going out to eat, but usually reading library books at home.
These sections highlight the great fluctuations in the family's life and thus add complexity to the theme of stability versus instability. First, through the car chase, Walls shows how completely her father ignores law and order, willing to outrun the police, drive recklessly (endangering his family who is along for the ride), and flee a town to avoid dealing with the result of his decisions. The children bear the fallout of these decisions, having to ride to yet another town in the dark bed of a U-Haul truck. Through these moments of instability, Walls shows that while it causes anxiety in herself and her siblings, it also deepens the bond among the siblings. While trapped in the dark back of the truck, the children take turns caring for baby Maureen, and Brian does his best to close the doors when they fly open. Thus, Walls illustrates how instability, which causes anxiety, can also breed a kind of resilience.
The family's life in Battle Mountain settles into a tranquil routine. First, Dad is able to locate a job that deducts the cost of rent and food from his paycheck, thus making him unable to squander the money on beer. The volatility that alcohol adds to his behavior is thereby removed, and the family lives in relative peace. For instance, they are able to eat out occasionally, and all of them read together in the evenings. Through these scenes of the family's new life in Battle Mountain, Walls depicts the best and most stable parts of her unusual upbringing — she and her siblings living imaginative, adventurous lives exploring the desert and reading books.