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Arc and the Sediment

a Novel

Christine Allen-Yazzie

Publication Year: 2007

Gretta Bitsilly, a gin-steeped mother of two and self-proclaimed expert at standing just outside the margins of ethnicity and peering in, has been all but eclipsed by the world that eludes her—as a wife, as a writer, as a skeptic in "the other land of Zion," Utah. Gretta has set off to Fort Defiance, Arizona, where she hopes to convince her Navajo husband, who has escaped not from his family but from alcoholism, to come home. Over a sputtering two-steps-forward, one-step-back desert journey, Gretta is diverted by chance, by seizures, an inconstant memory, and the disjointed character of her irresolute quest. She is fueled by a volatile mix of rage and curiosity and is rendered careless by ambivalence toward her marriage—she knows a welcome mat will not be waiting for her, "that white girl" who can't seem to get anything right. On route Gretta fi nds herself lost in the landscape, in strange company, or in her own convolution of language and inner space. With a dictionary and a laptop she attempts to write herself into a better existence—a hopeful existence—and to connect points of intellectual, physical, even spiritual reference.

This tale, though dark and difficult, is infused with tart, twisted humor. Confused, disheveled, self-deprecating, and self-destructive, Gretta is also sharp and funny. Here, first-time novelist Christine Allen-Yazzie breaks apart her own narrative arc but with gritty reality seals it near-shut again, if in rearrangement, drawing us into Gretta's wrestling match with herself, her husband, her addiction, and the road.

The Arc and the Sediment received an honorable mention from the James Jones First Novel Competition, and it won the Utah Arts Council Annual Writing Competiton Publishing Prize.

Published by: Utah State University Press

Table of Contents

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The Plan

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pp. 1

Tonight Gretta will arrive sometime about midnight in Fort Defiance, Arizona, to retrieve her husband in time for their ninth anniversary. Failing that, she’ll deliver to him his eagle-bone whistle. A three-legged Chihuahua will announce her arrival. ...

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The Plan, Amended

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pp. 2-8

There is something beautiful about a golden naked woman lying in the sand, which is why Gretta is stretched out here in the not-terribly- hot late-afternoon sun. But she is not a golden naked woman looking beautiful in the sand. Her face is swollen from drinking gin ...

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New Breasts = New Bras

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pp. 9-10

Gretta wakes to sunburned skin, chilled flesh. The laptop is hibernating. The dictionary is stretched open; she puts it back in her pack. She stands up too quickly, waits for the blackness to subside. Finally she is hungry—fiercely hungry, fourth-month hungry if she were pregnant, which, thank god, she is not. ...

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To Food

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pp. 11-14

“You going to pay for that?” a woman asks. She’s wearing a park ranger hat and a stiff green T-shirt. ...

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Dear James

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pp. 15-18

Something Gretta read last night bothers her, and it will not wait another mile. She’s back on the highway, some twenty miles past the Sinclair. She parks on the shoulder with engine running and returns to her laptop. She pushes M. Butterfly open and braces it with the lip of the laptop. ...

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You Got to Cut Its Throat

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pp. 19-26

Either Gretta will arrive in Arizona and ask for Lance’s return or she will announce her need for a divorce. ...

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Hello, Please Help Me

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pp. 27-28

“It’s me. You up?” ...

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How to Make the World a Better Place

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pp. 29-34

Gretta dreamed of trains, of trying to teach the upper torso of a man to swim. Not the fading dream-abstraction but the memory that must have prompted it washes over her. When she was ten or eleven or so—she can’t remember exactly how old—her dad took her to the train yards. ...

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Just So You’re All Right Now

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pp. 35-37

There is a tapping from the crane; Gretta wills it to go away. There is still the tapping. Or it isn’t the crane, but the ground that taps. Gretta stirs under the bright light of day. She looks around. ...

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All That Matters

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pp. 38-42

“What the hay is this, Gretta? Riots and bra burnings?” ...

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The Arc and the Sediment

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pp. 43-47

Gretta is lost. She is surrounded not by redrock but by pine trees. She woke in her truck beneath a new-smelling, Christmas-colored quilt as the sun was beginning to set, then drove nearly twenty minutes down a shady canyon before her cell phone caught a signal. It’s Tuesday. ...

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A Sore Cursing

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pp. 48-54

“Yeah, hi. I’m just…I’m a little lost, and I was wondering—” ...

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Hello, Kitty

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pp. 55-67

The bathroom smells of kitty litter and hot dogs, but the hot water seems endless and the water pressure is great. Once Gretta’s hair is washed, she lies down in the bath. The shower rains down on her until cold water wakes her up. ...

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Fruit Sauce Should Always Be Served on the Side

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pp. 68-74

The café is dirty. There are cloth napkins on the tables on this side of the room. They have red stains and the ashtrays haven’t been changed. Gretta speculates that it’s because this is a bar-café. Drunks care less about cleanliness. ...

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The Curiously Multifaceted Nature of Victimization

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pp. 75-80

“You’re pathetic.” ...

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The Wavering Red Light

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pp. 81-83

Gretta’s breasts and belly are blue in the light of the computer screen. Th e end of her cigarette, by contrast, lights up red. So very, very red. ...

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An Unspeakable Shine

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pp. 84-86

Thump, thump. That’s how innocuous it can sound when you take a life. Gretta pulls to the side of the road, though the decision to turn around and shine her brights on it is slower in coming. ...

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Entering the Third Dimension

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pp. 87-97

Gretta tosses a Visa card on the counter, struggling to keep the fox from slipping out of her arms. “You can’t have dogs in here. It’s a policy.” Th e hotel clerk lifts his head and squints at her. ...

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Forward, Anywhere

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pp. 98-101

They say if you die in your dreams, you die in real life. Gretta wakes from a dream that she was murdered by Ronald McDonald. She remembers thinking in the dream, This must be Armageddon. Rain, deserts. Weird landscapes. Nuclear mushrooms. Ronald ...

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What Becomes of Virginia Dare

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pp. 102

Th ese competing visions of the world are not so much her own as they are flat, colored stones along a riverbank, which she casts into a tributary of the Colorado River, watching them skip across the surface four, maybe five or six times. ...

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In the Vat Lies the Fruit

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pp. 103-112

Perhaps for resolve—dissolve/separate/melt/deliberate/decide/ reduce—the dictionary is fixed on no particular order. ...

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Second Place Is Pretty Good, Considering

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pp. 113-114

The sight of the truck is as comforting as it is disconcerting. Gretta rips the paper plate off the fence, wads it up, and throws it through the window into the backseat. She pees at the side of the truck, curses the drip-dry method of dripping wet until less wet. ...

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A Little Reluctance Goes a Long Way

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pp. 115-120

Gretta is smoking a cigarette and browsing the dictionary on the tailgate when an old white Corolla pulls over. It is the second car she has seen since a sprinkling of rain cleared up, leaving its scent. She gets up to see who it is. ...

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I Want Some Cookies

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pp. 121-122

“Hey!” ...

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Who’s Your Butterfly?

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pp. 123-127

Th e truck is getting hot and smells of smashed fox foot. Gretta is too sauced to care about that. She feels free in such close vicinity to ruin. She wants desperately to call her kids, hear their voices. ...

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In Drills and Bursts

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pp. 128-133

“You having another one of them damned things?” ...

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Rubber Hatchets

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pp. 134-135

After Gretta maxes out a credit card on the starter, she has, by her estimation, three good cards left. She spends the remainder of one on a big clay salad bowl for her mother, on a white-shell necklace for her grandma and a turquoise bracelet for Jackie, and for the kids she buys T-shirts, rubber animals ...

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I’m Saying If

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pp. 136-137

Gretta pulls into Golden Granary between two jeeps covered in sandy red mud. Just hang up. A driver sits in the jeep to her left. He looks at her, winks. She waves a pinky finger from her cell phone, thinking the man must be desperate. Just hang up, Gretta. ...

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I’m Saying When

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pp. 138-141

Gretta rubs eyeliner from under her eyes and combs her hair back with her fingers. With a baby wipe, she cleans her hands and armpits. “PTA, remember that,” her grandma has said. “A good pussy-tits-and armpits bath is an important part of being on the road.” ...

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Do You Want to Save Changes?

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pp. 142-152

“Utah is the dirtiest place I’ve ever been,” says Peter, passing Gretta’s bottle of magic sand to Stefan. ...

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As a Matter of Spite

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pp. 153-155

When Gretta sees the sign (Repent, Sinners! The End Grows NEAR and GOD Shall Have His Vengence!) nailed to a post in front of a trailer house just outside of Taylor’s Creek, she knows exactly what her grandmother spoke of. The white wooden board with painted red letters is uncomfortably familiar. ...

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Keeping It Out

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pp. 156-161

“There is a contrast in the sky that can’t be explained by her presence in a foreign nation. The sun is lit up crimson in the east, the clouds are brass-gold-green in the west, they move so fast. She has never seen such fast-moving clouds.” ...

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Words for Later

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pp. 162-170

She wakes to noise. There is the blue and the black, and the fluorescent lights between. The noise recedes and the darkness returns, a cavern. The woman is central. She is mostly buried, though traces of her have been unearthed. ...

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And Also It Goes Back to That Whistle

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pp. 171-177

She feels around under the seat—they didn’t confiscate her gin. Her camera is there. Her suitcase is in the back. She checks the glovebox— her books are there. ...

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They’ll Eat My Irises

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pp. 178-184

“Ruthless: Having no ruth: MERCILESS, CRUEL.” Gretta reads aloud from WordsforLater. Her voice is mostly lost over the wind crossing through the windows, so she strains to read louder. ...

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Or What

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pp. 185-188

Lance walks briskly from the store to the pickup, his hands prone as if to hold footballs, and gets in. “They said you already had your prescription sent to Moab. And to Monticello. And to Cortez.” ...

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The Image Lasts All the Way Across

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pp. 189-193

She wakes up to Lance pulling off on an exit and into a small town. She thinks he’s going to stop for fast food, but he passes McDonald’s, KFC, Four Corners Burgers and Shakes. He keeps driving—turning off in the wrong direction: south. ...

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Afterword: Gretta’s Alternative Twelve Steps to Sobriety

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pp. 194-195

1. I conceded that I had long entertained the power of alcohol to console myself of the fact that life is by nature unmanageable. ...


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pp. 196

E-ISBN-13: 9780874216554
Print-ISBN-13: 9780874216547

Publication Year: 2007

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Navajo Indians -- Fiction.
  • Separated people -- Fiction.
  • Women alcoholics -- Fiction.
  • Women authors -- Fiction.
  • Interracial marriage -- Fiction.
  • Psychological fiction. -- gsafd.
  • Psychological fiction.
  • Deserts -- Fiction.
  • Voyages and travels -- Fiction.
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