Wonderful Novel: A Yellow Raft in Blue Water

No matter what age or generation you belong to, I think you’d appreciate 1987 novel “A Yellow Raft in Blue Water” by Michael Dorris, as much as I did. The title alone is compelling. To me, it suggests one of those stark abstract paintings with just two or maybe three geometric shapes. It’s a tale of a hardscrabble life told by a 15-year-old girl, half Native American and half African American. She lives with her hard-partying mother Christine in Seattle until she is taken to the reservation in Montana, where her mother grew up with her own mother, known as the forbidding “Aunt Ida.”


Teenaged Rayona has a rare seeming but utterly believable dignity for one so young. The same tale is then recounted and expanded upon by the irrepressible Christine, and we get an entirely different but equally plausible and profoundly human take on their reality. Lastly, Aunt Ida tells her story, and you come to understand why she became the silent, unsmiling, seemingly uncaring mother and grandmother who insists on being called “Aunt.”

They are three beautifully drawn characters as are the white reservation priest, a “creepy” character, and a devoted, hard-working couple who live in a trailer. The couple are kind to Rayona when she’s out on a limb. A sense of the meagerness in the reservation life is suggested by the condition of Christine’s car and the belongings she packed in large plastic trash bags (instead of suitcases). The writing is direct and unsentimental. It allows the circumstances and characters to speak for themselves. In the end, we are left with a wondrous grace that wrenching circumstances often drive people to. The grace in “A Yellow Raft in Blue Water” has to do with the miracle of human connection.

Claudia MasonComment