Audrey and Randy come from hearty Iowa farm stock, and they are living out the American dream in their suburban house with four children. They find strength in their stoic Norwegian, Lutheran traditions. But it's the late 1970s and the lives of their children will take some very unexpected turns. Their eldest daughter, Anita, is the consummate girly cheerleader who wants nothing more than to get married and stay home with her children. Her husband is on the fast track to success as a banker and her future seems all planned out. It doesn't take long for Anita to find the joys of motherhood leave her cold, and her husband's drinking habit becomes problematic. After a DUI, Anita takes more control of her life and finds a new side of herself as a realtor. Second oldest, Ryan, has continual trouble with the women in his life, and is unfulfilled in his job as a computer programmer. Ryan finds an uneasy friendship with his burnout, Vietnam vet cousin, Chip. Even though Chip tends to cause Ryan trouble, he is also a voice of reason that grounds Ryan in reality. Blake is the next child in line. Blake finds a career in construction and a good life with a wife and kids. The youngest child, Torrie, had been the one with the most promise. She was a beautiful and impetuous young woman who excelled in school. On the way back from a funeral, Torrie is involved in an accident that shatters her dreams, but opens the door to a new world.
Jean Thompson creates characters that are breathtakingly real. There isn't a page of this book that doesn't ring true. It covers issues as diverse, controversial and relevant as alcoholism, Vietnam veterans, Native Americans, farm subsidies, motherhood, and women's roles. It is political and intimate at the same time. Every family in America has dealt with some of these issues in one way or another. This is definitely not a light summer read, but a perfect choice for a book club or for someone who is looking for a contemporary family saga that is painful at times, but hopeful in a way that never gets sentimental.