Scheibe (What Do You Do All Day?, 2006) chronicles a Minnesota girl’s journey toward independence in a story set in 1958 with pointed contemporary parallels.
Eighteen-year-old Emmy Nelson has known for years that she's expected to marry Ambrose Brann, but since her father moved the family off the farm to a bigger town on the North Dakota border, she feels her horizons expanding beyond her mother Karin’s cramped notions of the proper destiny for a good Lutheran girl. She re-establishes contact with long-estranged, more easygoing relatives and gets a job on the switchboard at the local newspaper, learning the basics of journalism with the help of a friendly reporter. Emmy’s growing maturity is well-portrayed, as is postwar life in the rural Midwest, still very much governed by traditional values—which, in the author’s stinging depiction, include racism, sexism and xenophobia. Scheibe’s indictment would be more persuasive if it weren’t so overdone: It’s not enough for Ambrose to be 10 years older than Emmy and creepily under the thumb of the sinister Curtis Davidson; he has to rape her, and when she tells Karin Ambrose hit her, her mother’s response has to be, “How did you provoke him?” The unfolding story also includes three other rapes, a murder pinned on an innocent Mexican, two suspicious fires and another climactic piece of arson, all of them blatantly designed to make it clear just how dangerous Davidson and his Citizens’ Council are. Revelations about a dead relative in the Ku Klux Klan and a nice Catholic boy who turns out to be gay add to the overheated tone and will come as no surprise to attentive readers. When a rural crowd listening to Davidson rant about low-income housing and shiftless immigrants begins chanting, “Citizens united, can’t be divided,” it’s clear the author intends readers to make the connection between then and now, but she sabotages her case by making it so luridly.
A good coming-of-age story lies buried underneath a ridiculously overdetermined and didactic plot.