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Cruel turns of fate""--theirs not to reason why--in the North Woods in the early 1900s. At the outset, twelve-year-old Carrie Usher, her dashing candymaker Pa, her resilient teacher Ma, her two older sisters Iona and Naomi, and her two younger sisters Zoë and Little Ruth, are snugly set up in a clearing with Swedish, Finnish, Irish, and English neighbors, along with some reclusive Crees, spotted nearby. The one odd quantity is Ma's solitary sister Aunt Mary, who's been writing love poems to Pa for years (did Pa jilt her for Ma?) and who, Carrie discovers, secretly imbibes Lydia Pinkham's Compound. Then: Pa dies of an infected mule kick; Aunt Mary drowns herself, leaving a misanthropic will; Carrie, burning her poems (partly to thwart that will), burns down her cottage; the Lydia-Pinkham man, finding the burned cottage, wrathfully (or so it at first seems) kidnaps Toddler Devitt, of the Irish family; his sister Mary Beth, thinking a bear's got him, gets herself mauled by the bear and tended-to by the Crees; the L-P man, sneaking around when Carrie's Ma is gone (to see Ions and Naomi off to St. Paul), kidnaps Little Ruth; Toivo Kaukonenn (of guess-which family), Carrie, and Zoë, in pursuit, are captured and chained too; the L-P man, who means to sell all of them, is killed by the would-be purchaser; and Carrie, plying the killer with bloodroot candy (fatal in quantity), kills him. Meanwhile: Mom has gone blind from glaucoma and (among other things) the Kaukonenns have been blown away by a tornado. Finally: Carrie and Mary Beth take over Ma's school; Ma dies; and Carrie, Zoë, and Little Ruth, moving into the schoolhouse, give a party to keep up the family reputation for high-times! Because everyone displays a certain stoicism, it's not totally ludicrous; and because Carrie plows ahead with no ado, it's not even unlikable. But as an example of frontier fortitude, it's still more than a bit much.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1982
Publisher: Knopf