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The Sweetheart Season

The Sweetheart Season

by Karen Joy Fowler

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As a rebellious daughter of the sixties recalls the year her mother played baseball in 1947, two luminous stories begin to unfold in America's heartland, one lived and one imagined. . . .


As a rebellious daughter of the sixties recalls the year her mother played baseball in 1947, two luminous stories begin to unfold in America's heartland, one lived and one imagined. . . .

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.

Product Details

Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
6.56(w) x 9.37(h) x 1.23(d)

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.

Meet the Author

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.

Brief Biography

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

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