American Gothic in Nebraska: Parris' debut sometimes crosses over into melodrama, but she succeeds in thoroughly engaging the reader's heart on the side of her long-suffering narrator. To begin, Parris presents the Meier family in full, almost predictable, grotesquerie: 70-year-old protagonist Hannah Meier chases a rooster, hints at dark secrets of incest and violence, mutters about sin, and serves secretly contaminated soup to her embittered sister and lewd, disheveled menfolks; she remembers her tyrannical, paranoid, Bible-thumping father and how her brother Karl raped the schoolteacher who had taken an interest in her. The reader's sympathies quicken, however, along with Hannah's hopes when it looks like she'll escape her tribulations and enter domestic service with a kind family in town. But these plans are ruined by the same accident that leaves older sister Gerta paralyzed. As Hannah goes from being a spirited young girl to an old woman generally considered crazy, she remains a compelling character--trying at first to engineer an escape for herself and Gerta but becoming progressively more trapped: She is raped by Karl (giving birth to his child during a tornado); and she loses the support of the only woman willing to help her after she goes to the County Fair and grasps at love, becoming pregnant again (by the object of her adolescent crush). Karl lies to Hannah's two sons about their parentage and teaches them to despise her. Shocks and sentiment: the story of a woman from whom everything is taken except her personality.