Associational literature, most often, describes a Native community. While it may also describe a non-Native community, it avoids centring the story on the non-Native community or on a conflict between the two cultures, concentrating instead on the daily activities and intricacies of Native life and organizing the elements of plot along a rather flat narrative line that ignores the ubiquitous climaxes and resolutions that are so valued in non-Native literature. In addition to this flat narrative line, associational literature leans towards the group rather than the single, isolated character, creating a fiction that de-values heroes and villains in favour of the members of a community, a fiction which eschews judgments and conclusions.
The purpose of this, King explains, is two-fold: it's to allow white readers the experience of Native culture free of stereotyping, glamourizing, literary tourism, or pandering; but it's also to remind Native readers of their own culture as valuable, as representable in text, and as present and active rather than archaic and dead.
I now understand better the project of Medicine River, and can genuinely say I learned something useful today.