The Sweetheart Season

Overview

It's 1947 and America has once again made the world safe for democracy. A can-do optimism governs the land - nowhere more so than in America's heartland, the picture-perfect town of Magrit, Minnesota. Headquarters of one of the nation's largest manufacturers of breakfast cereal, Magrit is also home base to the company's mass-circulation magazine, which each week dispenses kitchen wisdom and housewifely advice to millions of women across the country. It is 1947 and a woman's place is once more in the home. But in ...
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1996 Hard cover First edition. New in new dust jacket. Sewn binding. Paper over boards. Audience: General/trade.

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1996 Hard cover First edition. New in new dust jacket. Sewn binding. Paper over boards. Audience: General/trade.

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1996 Hardcover 1st Edition, 1st Printing New in New jacket Ms Fowler's hilarious 2nd novel, 352 pages. New, unread copy: I bought it new in 1996, never read it, stored it ... carefully over the years. Other than one VERY faint crease on dj's back it's perfect. It has NO markings throughout, NOT an ex-library, NOT a book club, NOT a remainder, dj NOT price-clipped ("$23.00"). Fine in Fine dj. Read more Show Less

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New York, NY, U.S.A. 1996 Hard Cover First Edition New in New jacket 8vo-over 7?"-9?" tall. 1st Ed. so stated, 1st Printing, numbered row starting with 1, HB/DJ, brand new, 352 ... pp. In 1947 in rural Magrit, the boys who marched off to war don't seem to want to come back to make a home. For Magrit's young women the future is uncertain. Until the company founder decides to form them into a ball team, the Sweetwheat Sweethearts. And if, while on the road, the players should happen to meet young men. Read more Show Less

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Overview

It's 1947 and America has once again made the world safe for democracy. A can-do optimism governs the land - nowhere more so than in America's heartland, the picture-perfect town of Magrit, Minnesota. Headquarters of one of the nation's largest manufacturers of breakfast cereal, Magrit is also home base to the company's mass-circulation magazine, which each week dispenses kitchen wisdom and housewifely advice to millions of women across the country. It is 1947 and a woman's place is once more in the home. But in rural Magrit, the boys who marched off to war don't seem to want to come back to make a home. For Magrit's young women, the future is decidedly uncertain. Until the company founder (and town benefactor) decides to form them into a ball team. What could be better for business than a group of lovely young women wearing the company logo and playing the great American pastime? And if, while on the road, the players should happen to meet up with eligible young men, so much the better. And so the Sweetwheat Sweethearts were born. This is the story of that team. But is it? Told many years after the events by a team member's grown but rebellious daughter, it is a tale of the buoyant forties as reconstructed by a child of the suspicious sixties, a young woman who finds the world of her mother's youth to good to be true: too generous, too innocent, too wedded to happy endings. Who are we to credit, then, for the odd spins and curious twists that surface in her story - the mother, or her doubting daughter? Little by little as the tale is told, Magrit's slow and steady ways come a cropper. Ghosts are seen. Mistrust is sown. And hearts break.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In the aftermath of WW II, halcyon days have not returned to Magrit, Minn., where the veterans have failed to come home. The men haven't died; they've just moved on to greener pastures, rejecting the local women, who served the war effort in the Scientific Kitchen of Margaret Mill. The mill was founded by patriarchal Henry Collins, the man responsible for Sweetwheats, the world's first puffed and sugar-coated cereal. Henry also invented Maggie Collins, a fictional Betty Crocker-type icon whose popular magazine column gained her the vote as the "most admired woman in America" in 1945. As part of a publicity campaign (and to avoid the formation of a union), Henry creates the Sweetwheats Sweethearts all-girl baseball team, convincing the mill girls that this activity will help them find husbands. The now-adult daughter of a Sweetheart recalls the team's history in a wry, witty voice that balances our revisionist present with the romanticized past. Fowler's (Sarah Canary) authentically detailed and clever novel is frequently digressive, but the digressions charm. Deadpan irony ("The Baldishes had been among the first to explore the possibilities of decorating with deer'') and quirky characters worthy of Dickens raise the entertainment quotient. With fictional Magrit, Fowler depicts our nation's past as more surreal than real, while at the same time slamming her novel out of the ballpark. Major ad/promo; author tour. (Sept.)
Library Journal
From the author of Sarah Canary (LJ 5/1/92): a town fields a girls' ball team.
The Washington Post
A remarkable treasure -- often wistful and hilarious at once...Smart, wry, and just this side of insane. -- The Washington Post Book World
Kirkus Reviews
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.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780805047370
  • Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/28/1996
  • Edition description: REV
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 6.56 (w) x 9.37 (h) x 1.23 (d)

Meet the Author

Karen Joy Fowler
Karen Joy Fowler
An author who traverses genres from sci-fi/fantasy to women's fiction, Karen Joy Fowler explores the mysteries of history, feminism, love, and friendship with her novels, like the reading group favorite The Jane Austen Book Club.

Biography

A genre such as science fiction, with its deeply committed fans and otherworldly subject matter, tends to stand apart from the rest of the book world. So when one writer manages to push the boundaries and achieve success with both sci-fi and mainstream fiction readers, it's a feat that signals she's worth paying attention to.

In terms of subject matter, Karen Joy Fowler is all over the map. Her first novel, 1991's Sarah Canary, is the story of the enigmatic title character, set in the Washington Territory in 1873. A Chinese railway worker's attempt to escort Sarah back to the insane asylum he believes she came from turns into more than he bargained for. Fowler weaves race and women's rights into the story, and it could be another historical novel -- except for a detail Fowler talks about in a 2004 interview. "I think for science fiction readers, it's pretty obvious that Sarah Canary is an alien," Fowler says. Yet other readers are dumbfounded by this news, seeing no sign of it. For her part, Fowler refuses to make a declaration either way.

Sarah Canary was followed in 1996 by The Sweetheart Season, a novel about a 1950s women's baseball league that earned comparisons to Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon works; and the 2001 novel Sister Noon, which Fowler called "a sort of secret history of San Francisco." For all three novels, critics lauded Fowler for her originality and compelling storytelling as she infused her books with elements of fantasy and well-researched history.

In 2004, Fowler released her first contemporary novel, The Jane Austen Book Club. It dealt with five women and one man reading six of Austen's novels over a six-month period, and earned still more praise for Fowler. The New York Times called the novel shrewd and funny; The Washington Post said, "It's... hard to explain quite why The Jane Austen Book Club is so wonderful. But that it is wonderful will soon be widely recognized, indeed, a truth universally acknowledged." Though Fowler clearly wrote the book with Austen fans in mind – she too loves the English author of classics such as Pride and Prejudice -- knowledge of Austen's works is not a prerequisite for enjoyment.

Readers who want to learn more about Fowler's sci-fi side should also seek out her short story collections. Black Glass (1999) is not a strictly sci-fi affair, but it is probably the most readily available; her Web site offers a useful bibliography of stories she has published in various collections and sci-fi journals, including the Nebula Award-winning "What I Didn't See."

Fowler also continues to be involved with science fiction as a co-founder of the James Tiptree, Jr. Award, designed to honor "science fiction or fantasy that expands or explores our understanding of gender." The award has spawned two anthologies, which Fowler has taken part in editing.

Whether or not Fowler moves further in the direction of mainstream contemporary fiction, she clearly has the flexibility and skill as a writer to retain fans no matter what. Her "category" as a writer may be fluid, but it doesn't seem to make a difference to readers who discover her unique, absorbing stories and get wrapped up in them.

Good To Know

In our interview, Fowler shared some fun facts about herself with us:

"The first thing I ever wanted to be was a dog breeder. Instead I've had a succession of eccentric pound rescues. My favorite was a Keeshond Shepherd mix, named Tamara Press after the Russian shot-putter. Tamara went through college with me, was there when I married, when I had children. She was like Nana in Peter Pan; we were a team. I'm too permissive to deal with spaniels or hounds, as it turns out. Not that I haven't had them, just that I lose the alpha advantage."

"I have cats, too. But I can't talk about them. They don't like it."

"I'm not afraid of spiders or snakes, at least not the California varieties. But I can't watch scary movies. That is, I can watch them, but I can't sleep after, so mostly I don't. Unless I'm tricked. I mention no names. You know who you are."

"I loved the television show The Night Stalker when it was on. Also The Greatest American Hero. And I Spy. And recently Buffy the Vampire Slayer, except for the final year."

"I do the crossword puzzle in the Nation every week. I don't like other crossword puzzles, only that one. It takes me two days on average."

"I take yoga classes. I eat sushi. I walk the dog. I spend way too much time on email. Mostly I read."

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    1. Hometown:
      Davis, California
    1. Date of Birth:
      February 7, 1950
    2. Place of Birth:
      Bloomington, Indiana
    1. Education:
      B.A., The University of California, Berkeley, 1972; M.A., The University of California, Davis, 1974

Read an Excerpt

        Holcrow had followed her father home and was demanding a rematch. Irini inferred this; she could not hear Holcrow at all. "She is not some sideshow exhibition. She is a growing girl." Her father's voice was crisp with indignation. "Go ahead. Break the window. Break down the door! I'll never get her up. She has work in the morning!"

        Irini heard the sound of smashing glass. Two minutes later her father knocked on her bedroom door. The knock was ever so soft, a knock designed to bother her as little as possible. "Irini, can you help me? I seem to have cut myself."

        Irini put on her bathrobe. "Did Mr. Holcrow break our window?"
        
        "No. I dropped my bottle."
        
        Irini went to look out the front door.
        
        "He's gone," her father said. "He had an engagement. Just as well. What a sore loser. I swear, it almost makes a man afraid to ride the trains." Her father held out his hand. He had cut across the tips of two fingers and was bleeding. "No need to put anything nasty on it. Some of the whiskey splashed over it on the way out of the bottle. It's as clean as can be."

        Irini went to the medicine cabinet for the iodine. Her father closed his eyes. "I'm just a little sorry everyone at Bumps sawyou win," he said. "I could have lined up the matches if I'd thought it through more. It was just a happy inspiration and I didn't think it through. You were a trump, though. You were beautiful. Two seconds and you had him pinned. Did you hear that little squealing sound he made? If I'd thought it through more I would have told you to make it look more difficult. Ouch, Irini! Ouch, my love!"

        Maggie Collins writes: "No open wound, however small, can be considered trivial. Bacteria gather at the site and begin to enter the body immediately. The quick use of an antiseptic is the first priority."

        Maggie Collins writes: "Every girl must learn early not to compete in sporting events with men. It is not the possibility that she might lose that must be avoided. It is the very real possibility that she might win."

        "No good ever came to me from arm wrestling men," my mother always told me, and these are the words I've tried to live by.

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Reading Group Guide

1.         Why does the narrator of The Sweetheart Season state up front that the story she is about to tell is "told by two liars"?

2.         The narrator is a child of the 1960s--a person labeled a "baby boomer" by popular culture. How does her perception shape the story, and what shaped her perception?

3.         How do you think World War II shaped the ethos of the country in the 1940s?

4.         Irini Doyle and her daughter, the narrator of the book, both came of age during a time of war--World War II and the Vietnam War--yet their experiences, opinions, and attitudes are vastly different. Why?

5.         Do you think women today are anything like Maggie Collins, whom the narrator describes as "a tidy, indefatigable, even-tempered, ageless woman... she shared the scientist's obsession with reliable, predictable results... and she was as interested in innovation as she was in codification"? What about women of the 1940s?

6.         What does the narrator think about the culture and climate of the 1940s?

7.         Conservative social critics frequently call for a return to the simpler values of America's past--particularly the values of the 1940s and '50s. Do you think things are better now or were they better back then? Why do many of us tend to romanticize the past, whether it's our own past or that of our ancestors?

8.         Which mind-sets and behaviors have changed since the 1940s? Which do you wish had stayed the same?

9.         Do you think the Vietnam War and World War II had different effects on the young Americans who lived through them? If so, why?

10. Why do you think the author has chosen to make Irini Doyle motherless with an alcoholic father?

11. Why does Fowler make Upper and Lower Magrit in dissension? And what role does the sunken part of the city play in the story?

12. Is Henry Collins anything like today's business tycoons? How does he compare to modern captains of industry such as Bill Gates, Lee Iacocca, Donald Trump, and Ted Turner?

13. Is Ada Collins, genteel bohemian and former Communist turned follower of Ghandi, the antithesis of Maggie Collins? Explain how Henry Collins could be in love with two such dissimilar women.

14. What's the significance of the fictitious radio character little Anna Peal? What purpose does she serve?

15. Discuss the following quote from Irini Doyle's father: "The whole world has been sugar-coated. It's this labored American blandness. This forced optimism. It happened during the war, somehow. Darndest thing. We've seen the concentration camps. The mass suicides of the Japanese. We've seen hostages shot and hanged, whole cities obliterated in a blink. And we still think we live in a Disney cartoon." Do you agree?

16. Why did men consider it so undesirable for women to be strong and competitive in the 1940s? Do you think most men still feel threatened by women who excel in sports and things that are physical?

17. Why do you suppose the author chooses the character she does to be responsible for writing Maggie's final columns, which urge women to "Flee through the open space with only the clothes on your back. What you need most after food and sleep is silence and time. You will not find these in your house with the white picket fence and the screaming children and the glowering husband. Live in the woods, eat like the birds. Wear your feather dusters as hats; make hammocks out of your aprons. Warm yourself at the primitive fires. Be nameless. Life is a smorgasbord. Take many lovers, you will be surprised at how many people are edible if you prepare them properly."

18. Karen Joy Fowler is a cocreator of the James Tiptree Jr. Memorial Award, which is presented, in her words, "to a short story or novel that explores or expands our understanding of gender... to remind the field of its own importance in the continual struggle to re-imagine more livable sexual roles for ourselves." How does The Sweetheart Season accomplish this goal?

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 5, 2001

    A real gem

    Beautifully written, poignant and funny. Loved the imagery and the characters. Highly recommended!

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