The struggles and embroilments of neighboring farm households in the upper Midwest beginning in the summer of 1913 through the Great Depression, as narrated by the farmers’ wives.
From the beginning, Enidina Current, Eddie for short, is wary of Mary Morrow, and for good reason—the misfortunes the Morrows visit on the Currents are nothing short of biblical. Mary plays the piano and seems ill at ease with the hand she’s been dealt, hard work on the farm with her boys and her rough and sometimes abusive husband Jack. Mary is religious and plays more than just the piano in the lonesome white chapel their pastor, Borden, built with his father. Eddie’s first pregnancy results in a miscarriage—no small blow in a world where children mean the sort of additional labor that can make or break a farm. Somehow, even in this misfortune, there’s the taint of blame. Far-flung as these individualistic farming families might be, judgment and gossip run rampant. Eddie’s is the story of wrongdoing inflicted by the self-righteous on the innocent, of blame twisted from the doer onto the victim. Despite their initial aloofness, the families forge bonds when Eddie turns to Mary for help pending the birth of twins. The households intertwine when one of the Morrow boys, Kyle, whose sensitivity sets him apart from his ilk, becomes a regular fixture on the Current farm. When the Currents, who cannot abide waste, refuse to go along with the killing of pigs as mandated by a movement for solidarity among the region’s farmers desperate to drive prices up, Jack takes matters into his own hands. Bloodshed foreshadows the ultimate penalty Eddie and her family will pay. The tale develops through the narration of both women from later in their lives, elucidating with dramatic irony the warped nature of the judgments and self-justifications of the devout in a community pushed to extremes by the Depression, where some go so far as to call cowardice bravery and to impose their own twisted fears on others. Hoover paints stormy scenes of individuals and communities at odds with one another and with their own dark histories in a vivid, pastoral panorama.
Ultimately, this is the story of survival—how life quickens and is borne on through turmoil, pain and perseverance. At times slow-moving, but imbued throughout with a careful and evenly wrought lyricism.