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THE SWEETHEART SEASON by Karen Joy Fowler

THE SWEETHEART SEASON

By Karen Joy Fowler

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-8050-4737-9
Publisher: Henry Holt

 A sluggish though skillful second novel from the author of Sarah Canary (1991). The time is 1947. The place is an all-American town called Magrit, in northern Minnesota, whose sole source of employment is a breakfast-cereal factory called Margaret Mill. The main characters are nine pretty millhands who test recipes by day in the company's Scientific Kitchen and, on weekends, play pick-up baseball on an all-female travelling team called the Sweethearts- -assembled by the mill's much-loved and feared founder, Henry Collins, in order to (a) promote the mill's most popular product, the breakfast cereal Sweethearts; (b) help the girls meet marriageable young men in distant towns, because Magrit's own men seem reluctant to come home after the war; and (c) lure back Henry's grandson Walter, a young vet who loves the game. The plot: Just as the team picks up a talented pitcher and gets on a winning streak, a handsome stranger named Thomas Holcrow appears in town. The girls' happy teamwork begins to give way to fractious competition, and all sorts of strange things happen: Recipes stop working, the household-tips column Henry and the girls ghostwrite for an East Coast magazine under the name of the mill's invented guiding spirit, Maggie Collins, begins to appear in print dotted with untraceable revolutionary slogans; sightings of the traditional town ghost, thought by some to be Maggie Collins herself, speed up; and Henry starts aging fast. In the book's final third, the plot thickens as love interests among the girls proliferate and the nefarious Holcrow is revealed to be an FBI agent, infiltrating the town to root out hidden Communists--and, in retrospect, pronouncing the end of American innocence. Narrated by a grown daughter of one of the nine ballplaying millhands (the one who ends up marrying coach-turned-hero Walter), this is a mixed bag: alternately a romp and a slog. (Author tour)