The durability of a Canadian family is focused on the expected death of Mary Ann whose determination not to die is surrounded by memories of the life she has known. Birthing ""young'uns like a doe"" she recalls her insistence on marriage with Big Bill, lives through the death of the four out of twelve children she bore, sees again the many obstacles that threatened her happiness -- other women, financial ups and downs, degrading privations and utter poverty, and stands by her decision never to surrender. There are the boys -- clever David and his feud with the teacher, swearing Douglas who has become a preacher, Donald, a fighter from the start who died a hero in the war, Albert who ""shamenates"" them with a school scandal, and now there is Lue, mentally deficient but perhaps the daughter of one of Bill's affairs, whom she now must protect. Above all there is Priscilla, married to Albert, who is a devil to be defeated and Mary Ann's stubbornness in refusing to be a corpse is the turning point that brings her back to a reunion with her children. A picture of a ""hard, hungry world"" that never uses soft colors, a sharp rendition of existence living -- this keeps its human values throughout. Tough fibered woman's stuff.