The Beet Queen Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The Beet Queen narrates the adventures of several characters of mixed Native American and European background from Louise Erdrich’s first novel, Love Medicine (1985), as they interact with Mary and Karl Adare. The novel illuminates the lives of these characters over a forty-year period.

The Beet Queen’s sixteen chapters fall into four parts. Most are recounted by a single character; some are told by several characters. The chapters include short scenes sketched by an omniscient narrator who seems more detached than the characters. Each chapter is dated to give the reader some sense of time, but the chapters are not chronological in the traditional sense. Told and retold by different characters, the events repeat, circle, overlap, and digress.

Erdrich centers her novel on the adventures of Mary Adare, whose father is dead and whose mother abandons her and her two brothers at a fair by flying off with a stunt aviator. After the baby brother is snatched by a recently bereaved father, eleven-year-old Mary and her older brother, Karl, take a freight train to see their Aunt Fritzie and her husband, Uncle Pete, who are butchers in Argus, North Dakota. On arrival, Karl is mysteriously drawn to a flowering tree, where he is attacked by a dog; he escapes by running back to the train and leaving town. Mary plods on to the butcher shop and is taken in by her aunt and uncle, although their daughter, Sita, resents her presence.

Mary shares Sita’s room, wears her clothes, steals Sita’s best friend, Celestine, and performs a miracle at their school. Sita, a pretty, vain, self-centered girl, longs to have her own apartment in the big city and become a model. When Fritzie develops lung trouble and she and Pete move to Arizona, Sita moves to Fargo to seek her fortune. Mary, who has been working at the butcher shop all along, hires Celestine to help her and...

(The entire section is 780 words.)

The Beet Queen Summary (Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Louise Erdrich’s second novel, The Beet Queen, is centered in the fictional little town of Argus, somewhere in North Dakota. Unlike her other novels of people living on reservations, the characters in this story are mostly European Americans, and those Native Americans who exist have very tenuous ties to their roots and to the reservation that lies just outside the town. Racism, poverty, and cultural conflict are not in the foreground in this novel, which makes it different from most novels by Native American authors. Instead, European Americans, Native Americans, and mixed bloods are all in the same economic and cultural situation, and each of them is involved in a search for identity.

The prose in The Beet Queen is lyrical and finely crafted, as is evident in the description of Mary Adare, the novel’s central character. Abandoned by a mother who literally vanishes in the air, she builds her identity by developing a solid grounding. She is described as heavy and immovable, and she makes a home for herself in a butcher shop that is described as having thick walls and green, watery light coming through glass block windows. She has found an earthy den, which attaches her to the one thing that will never abandon her—the earth. Her brother, Karl, is her opposite. Thin, flighty, always moving, he is a European American who fits perfectly the archetype of the Native American trickster figure. He is the destroyer, lover of men and women,...

(The entire section is 402 words.)

The Beet Queen Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Eleven-year-old Mary Adare and her brother, Karl, who is fourteen years old, are left penniless with their mother, Adelaide, after her married lover dies. It is 1932, and many people are suffering through the Great Depression. Adelaide tries to keep the family together by pawning her few bits of jewelry, but this fails to bring in enough money. In desperation, she leaves Mary, Karl, and her newborn baby to fend for themselves, leaving them for stunt pilot Omar. Adelaide and Omar fly off in his barnstorming plane, never to return. The children are left to care for the baby. When things get even more desperate, Mary and Karl give their unnamed baby brother to the Millers, Catherine and Martin.

Mary and Karl hop a freight car for Argus, where their aunt, Fritzie Adare Kozka, runs a butcher shop. Mary arrives safely with a little box containing her mother’s garnet necklace, but Karl, after arriving with Mary in Argus, jumps back on the train. Fritzie and her husband take Mary in, give her a bed in their daughter Sita’s room, and give her some of Sita’s old clothes, sparking a lifelong jealousy in Sita.

Mary discovers that the necklace box contains only a pawn ticket. She puts this disappointment behind her and busies herself with the butcher shop and with school. She becomes friends with Celestine James, once Sita’s closest friend. Celestine is more like Mary—competent and practical—than like Sita—who has romantic notions about herself. When Fritzie shows Mary a postcard from her mother in Florida, Mary sends the card back to her mother, with a note that her (her mother’s) three children have died.

Mary had made a new life in Argus after traveling there by train with Karl. Her brother, however, broke both legs after jumping again from the train. Fleur Pillager, a Chippewa woman, helped him to heal. After recovering, Karl begins to fantasize about rescuing his mother from Omar, who is now married to her. Eventually, Karl enters a Catholic orphanage in Minneapolis and plans to become a priest. His vocation is mostly self-preservation, however, and he leaves the seminary in early adulthood, returning just long enough to recognize a young seminarian as his lost brother—the abandoned baby, now known as Jude Miller.

It is now 1941, and Mary is running the butcher shop for her aunt, whose health is failing. Mary, who knows that she is not attractive, makes a play for Celestine’s half brother Russell, who bluntly resists her advances. Fritzie and her husband retire to Arizona, and Sita moves to Fargo, North Dakota, to model for a local department store. There, Sita puts most of her energies into preserving her looks and angling for an advantageous marriage. She receives a forwarded letter from Jude’s adopted mother that tells the story of how she raised him and announces his ordination in Minneapolis. Sita goes to the ceremony and later redeems Adelaide’s ancient pawn ticket for the old garnet...

(The entire section is 1208 words.)

The Beet Queen Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In the opening episode of “The Beet Queen” (a six-paragraph prologue that displays the author’s flair for the dramatic), Mary, a girl of eleven, and her fourteen-year-old brother Karl leap from a boxcar in the sugar beet valley of fictional Argus, North Dakota, and head for the home of their Aunt Fritzie, who, with her husband Pete, runs a reasonably successful butcher shop. As they walk through the streets, a fierce dog frightens them. Mary runs toward the butcher shop and Karl runs back to the boxcar in a scene reminiscent of the flight of Mendel and Isaac from Ginzburg in Bernard Malamud’s short story “Idiots First.” However, in “The Beet Queen,” it is not Death pursuing the youngsters; it is Life.

Following this prologue, recounted by a third-person narrator, the rest of the story is told in the first-person voice of the little girl, Mary. She recounts the events that led to this fateful train ride, as well as her experience following it, beginning her story with the grain-loading accident that killed her father and the sad relocation of his pregnant widow and two small children to the Cities. There, they are reduced to penury and the new baby brother is born. “We should let it die,” she recalls her mother telling her, “I won’t have any milk. I’m too thin.” Some weeks later, Mary recounts, with an eviction notice in hand they stumble on a country fair called “The Orphan’s Picnic,” where all three children are...

(The entire section is 593 words.)

The Beet Queen Summary (Masterpieces of American Literature)

In The Beet Queen, Erdrich shifts her main focus from the American Indian to the European immigrant side of her background, creating in impressive detail the fictional town of Argus, modeled on Wahpeton, where she grew up, but located closer to the Chippewa reservation. The novel captures both the flat surfaces of life in small-town North Dakota and the wild incidents and strange passions that seem all the more startling, comic, and heartrending for their appearing in such a mundane environment.

As in Love Medicine, The Beet Queen features first-person and third-person-limited narration to present characters’ diverse points of view. In this novel, however, Erdrich focuses more closely on a...

(The entire section is 849 words.)

The Beet Queen Chapter Summaries

Pages 1-2 Summary

A long time before beets were planted or highways arrived in Argus, North Dakota, “there was the railroad.” The tracks crossed the Dakota-Minnesota border and went on into Minneapolis; everything that both makes and diminishes the town arrives and leaves on that track. On a cold spring morning in 1932, the train brings “both an addition and a subtraction.” Two passengers, with blue lips and numb feet, are stowed away in a freight car. When they jump, they are so cold that they stumble.

Karl Adare is a tall, pale fourteen-year-old; his eleven-year-old sister, Mary, is short and quite ordinary looking. Things are better in North Dakota “than in most places,” which is why they have come here to live with their...

(The entire section is 285 words.)

Pages 5-21 Summary

Mary Adare hears the train whistle and realizes Karl must have run back to the boxcar in which they arrived and is now riding away. If her father had not died in 1929, the Adares would probably still be living comfortably in an isolated house on the edge of Prairie Lake.

Karl, Mary, and their mother, Adelaide, live a solitary life; their only visitor is Mr. Ober, Adelaide’s lover, who comes to stay with her several nights a week. Although Karl hates Ober’s visits, Adelaide is thrilled when he comes. One day Karl reads in the newspaper that Ober has died in a grain-loading accident (the article includes a picture of Ober and his wife). Karl is glad, but Adelaide blurts that Ober was his father.

Everything...

(The entire section is 504 words.)

Pages 22-26 Summary

The boxcar into which Karl jumps is soon separated from the train and left on the tracks. By the end of the day, Karl is hungry, cold, thirsty, and ready to die. When a man jumps inside, Karl is glad for an excuse to live. The man is wearing an old army uniform; he sits near Karl and smokes a cigarette before Karl finally makes his presence known.

The man, Giles Saint Ambrose, assumes Karl is a girl masquerading as a boy and calls him Karla. When Karl sits next to Ambrose, as requested, he sees the man is not old, just brown and leathery from the sun and wind. Karl explains he lived in Prairie Lake but his family lost everything. Ambrose sees that Karl is hungry and offers him a ham sandwich, which the boy eats with...

(The entire section is 300 words.)

Pages 27-34 Summary

Sita remembers her cousin Mary arriving with nothing but a box of worthless keepsakes. Sita’s father picks the girl up and carries her. Sita is too old to be carried any more. While Mary tells Sita’s parents how she came to be here, Sita is sent to clean the counters in the butcher shop, so she never knows what lies her cousin tells them.

When Mary is given Sita’s bed, she objects and says Mary can sleep on the trundle. Her mother unsympathetically says Sita can just as easily sleep there. Sita feels “crammed in the trundle,” which is too short for her; it is not surprising that Sita does not feel particularly welcoming to Mary in the morning.

This morning, Mary discovers her blue velvet box is...

(The entire section is 512 words.)

Pages 35-40 Summary

Sita thought no one could see her dancing topless in the cemetery, but from an upstairs window Mary sees and wonders how long her cousin is going to continue her ridiculous behavior. Mary hears Celestine reenter the house and begin banging around in the kitchen and goes down to join her. Celestine meticulously removes cookies from the baking sheet, and Mary can tell that Celestine knows Mary observed the events in the cemetery from an upstairs window.

Suddenly the sky grows dark as a storm approaches, so the two girls decide to get Sita from the cemetery. Sita meets them along the way, passes them without speaking, gets on her bike, and rides home without uttering a word. Now Mary has to walk home, a distance of more...

(The entire section is 504 words.)

Pages 41-44 Summary

Celestine watches from behind as Mary slides face first down the icy slope. Everything happens so quickly as Mary hits the ice and rolls twice; her face bloodies and one of the nuns runs to help her immediately. Celestine hears a scream and sees Sita trying to draw attention to herself by staggering dizzily at the sight of her cousin’s blood and crying out feebly (but piercingly) for help. Celestine knows Sita is much stronger even than she is, so Celestine ignores Sita.

Celestine follows Mary and the nun but is shooed away at the infirmary door. Sister Hugo’s voice is shaking as she tells Celestine to hurry to the convent and get one of the nuns with a camera because “it may not last.” Celestine is confused but...

(The entire section is 307 words.)

Pages 45-47 Summary

In a small house in Minneapolis, a young woman nervously scans the newspaper advertisements; her husband, Martin, sits across the room from her, their son in his arms. She explains to Martin that she is perusing the ads because kidnapping is a crime. Martin just looks down at the contented, sleeping baby. Catherine Miller finally puts the paper down and also watches her son. She named him Jude after the patron saint of lost causes, and remembers the night “their other son, the one who had only lived three days, was buried.”

Catherine tries not think about that time, but tonight she remembers how still the world had been then and how her mind was frozen with loss. Despite the numbness, she could not sleep and refused...

(The entire section is 302 words.)

Pages 48-55 Summary

When he jumps from the boxcar, Karl Adare lands in a patch of tall, dead grass. His legs hurt and he is cold. Karl is in great pain and even slight movement stings, so he just lies still. He thought perhaps Ambrose would return for him after he woke up in the boxcar but had discovered he was alone. Still, Karl assumes “since [he] hadn’t died [he] certainly would be saved.”

Karl’s salvation is a dark-skinned, scavenging, homeless lady who pours some whiskey down his throat. She tries to examine his feet, but Karl cannot bear the pain and twists away from her probing hands. The woman leaves and comes back for him later, carrying him to her fire.

Later, he learns that the woman, Fleur Pillager, is able...

(The entire section is 512 words.)

Pages 56-61 Summary

Aunt Fritzie invites Mary into her office one day. The cramped and busy space is Mary’s favorite place. She has already decided she wants to learn how to “keep books like Aunt Fritzie,” as she finds comfort in the warm room and the soothing sounds of the keys.

Aunt Fritzie hands Mary a postcard from Adelaide; she is living in Florida but thinks about her children every day. Mary knows her aunt is an ally, since Adelaide abandoned them both. Mary does not know what she will do, but Fritzie wants to horsewhip Adelaide. Mary is free to write to her mother, but Fritzie “washed her hands of Adelaide” when Mary walked into her house. All she asks is that Mary not return to her mother, and tacitly Mary knows that...

(The entire section is 506 words.)

Pages 65-79 Summary

Mary Adare is no longer remarkable or miraculous; she becomes an “ordinary girl again, and maybe something worse than that.” Mary likes the butcher shop and bluntly speaks her mind; she is “pigheaded, bitter, moody, and [has] fits of unreasonable anger.” Her experiences have given her a unique perspective, different from anyone around her.

Though she has lived closely with Sita and knows her better than Celestine, Mary does not really understand Sita. Celestine quit school and works for the telephone company. She is “handsome like a man,” smokes like Fritzie, and exudes confidence. Mary wishes she were tall like Celestine, but at eighteen she has stopped growing and will always be short.

The...

(The entire section is 510 words.)

Pages 80-82 Summary

Karl walks quickly into the Orphans’ Picnic and stops, “waiting to be seen.” Everyone he expects to see, fathers and sisters from seminary, is there. They do not recognize him immediately, so Karl sits in plain view and waits.

His is slick, polished, and has “made a lot of easy sales to women.” He has a lot of money and has “turned out worse than their wildest dreams.” A young, red-headed seminarian good-naturedly tries to coax Karl to come to his fishing booth, but Karl dismisses him at first. When he looks closer, the young man’s unruly hair looks just like Adelaide’s; when he looks closer still, the young man’s features are also exactly like Adelaide’s.

Karl sits in the place where...

(The entire section is 307 words.)

Pages 83-96 Summary

Sita lives in an apartment in Fargo on Broadway and is doing well, despite being in several unfulfilling relationships. Her current beau is Jimmy, though he is not her social equal. Sita is ten years older than many of the other girls she models with, so she goes to great lengths to maintain her looks and charm. Though she has experienced moderate success, she is thirty years old and knows “something more should have happened.” Sita missed her chance at Hollywood, so now she must find “the ideal husband.” If something more had happened in her life, the letter might not have mattered.

The letter, addressed to Sita’s parents, was forwarded to her by Mary. It is from Catherine Miller, confessing that she and her...

(The entire section is 506 words.)

Pages 97-100 Summary

At Sita’s wedding, the groom’s drunk brother and cousins decide to kidnap the bride and make her husband, Jimmy Bohl, find her. They are giddy with drunken laughter at the thought of Jimmy hollering for Sita; they are even more amused when they imagine him getting into his Lincoln (decorated with toilet paper and shaving cream), driving off to find her, and immediately smelling the Limburger cheese (which they strategically placed) coming through the heat vents.

Jimmy is pudgy and wears a pompadour and goatee; he is an accomplished ballroom dancer, but Sita is miserable dancing as she is being “flung back and forth across the floor.” The drunken gang wonders if Sita’s parents will be angry when they kidnap...

(The entire section is 303 words.)

Pages 101-107 Summary

Karl Adare is a salesman who dramatically sells the miraculous Air Spreader, a device that blows seeds gently onto the ground so the soil is not disturbed and surface moisture is not lost. Today, at the Crop and Livestock Convention in Minneapolis, a slim blond man is quite interested in Karl’s product.

The man introduces himself as Wallace Pfef. He says he is from Argus and that he is always interested in innovation; he quizzes Karl with many questions. As Karl tells Pfef all about this miraculous machine, Karl wonders why he keeps meeting people from, and hearing about, Argus, a “two-bit town” in his mind. When the town appears in the newspapers, Karl always wonders if he will read his sister’s name but knows...

(The entire section is 513 words.)

Pages 108-110 Summary

Wallace Pfef drives from Minneapolis back to Argus. He turns off the highway onto a “dirt road known for harboring high school sweethearts.” Tonight the road is deserted and he soon stops the car and listens to nature’s night sounds outside his business. He is not ready to go back to his empty house, which is only half-built, but he also does not want to think too much about what happened between him and Karl in Minneapolis, either.

He tries to nap a bit and turn his thoughts elsewhere, but he is not particularly successful. Pfef thinks about one of his jobs, managing the swimming pool in town. It was a WPA project and much too “large and fancy” for a town like Argus. The pool is in terrible condition and is a...

(The entire section is 281 words.)

Pages 111-140 Summary

It is 1953. Mary Adare is thinking about robots, but she is concerned that beet sugar, the current craze in Argus, is unhealthy. Russell Kashpaw was wounded in Korea but is finally home, though he drinks too much and is depressed. Sita is frustrated that her husband’s restaurant, The Poopdeck, serves the kind of food people in Argus like; Sita wants to create a four-star restaurant and the couple fights constantly. Sita “remains toothpick thin and sour,” spending so much time on her appearance that she “ends up looking stuffed and preserved.”

Over the past few years, Mary has grown “more unshakable in deed and word.” She avidly practices organic gardening. Wallace Pfef visits the butcher shop and gives...

(The entire section is 502 words.)

Pages 141-143 Summary

Mary hangs up the telephone after Celestine tells her that Karl is gone (which is not a surprise to Mary) and that she is pregnant (which is a huge surprise to Mary). She grabs a crowbar and opens the crate which arrived for her a month ago. She sees that it is a heavy black sewing machine and contemplates it for some time before going back to the telephone and calling Sita.

Neither woman is happy to speak with the other, but Mary tells Sita that her aunt (Adelaide, Mary’s mother) has sent her a sewing machine. Sita remembers how much Adelaide liked to rework out-of-style garments into fashionable clothing and says she will send Louis to pick up the machine.

Mary has always believed she has some psychic...

(The entire section is 290 words.)

Pages 144-153 Summary

A few weeks after the food-poisoning incident at her restaurant, Sita married the former health inspector, Louis. They have lived together comfortably for the past two months in the grand house Sita’s ex-husband built. One morning, she discovers her cousin Karl Adare sleeping in her wet shrubbery and clutching a Bible.

Karl looks shabby and “well-trampled by the adventures of life.” Despite that, Sita is interested and chooses to see his appearance in her yard as a compliment. She invites him to join her and Louis for lunch, though she fears he may only be hoping she will be an easy sale. She introduces Karl to her husband and then grows coy, hoping Karl thinks she is still pretty but knowing she is “acting...

(The entire section is 506 words.)

Pages 154-158 Summary

Russell Kashpaw has built a summer fishing shack which he can move and use for ice fishing in the winter. He enjoys not having a “regular job” so he is free to go fishing and get drunk whenever he wishes, though he is not “much of a drinker.” He keeps a lock on the shack now, since he knows Celestine has discovered it; he knows she has been here because she tidies everything, as is her habit when she is restless. Everything she does is an improvement, but Kashpaw knows Celestine wants to visit and he wants to avoid her a little longer.

Though the door is still locked, he can see her footprints in the snow outside the shack, where she has obviously spent some time waiting for him. Inside, he immediately scoops...

(The entire section is 485 words.)

Pages 159-174 Summary

Wallace Pfef has never been married, but he has a photograph and other items commemorating a woman the town refers to as his “poor dead sweetheart.” Pfef found the photograph and the memorabilia in a box he bought for five dollars at an auction. Because of his apparent undying allegiance to a non-existent dead girlfriend, Pfef has “never had to marry.”

Pfef is brings “beets to the valley,” an unfailing crop which produces refined white sugar, despite considerable resistance. He lives far outside of town in a fine house which he built; his nearest neighbors are Celestine and her daughter. Two things happened at a 1952 convention in Minneapolis: he discovered beets and he discovered he “was queer.”

...

(The entire section is 499 words.)

Pages 175-176 Summary

During Dot’s first summer, Celestine brings her daughter to work with her every day. The little girl, placed in the padded bottom of an old shopping cart, either sleeps or sucks on her fingers as she watches her mother. Sometimes Celestine directly meets her daughter’s eyes, stunned by the intensity of Dot’s gaze. She picks her up, almost ready for the infant to begin speaking to her. Once Dot makes her body rigid, making it clear she does not want to be held, Celestine puts her back down.

No matter how exhausted Celestine is, she feels a “nerve of excitement running through each hour.” Everything which is common seems strange, almost as if she is experiencing them in a dream. It is Dot who has caused this...

(The entire section is 221 words.)

Pages 179-204 Summary

In the first three years of Dot’s life, the winters are so frigid that many things do not survive. Finally, when Dot is five, the weather turns mild and Mary softens her heart toward the girl. Mary has always hated the name Celestine chose (Wallacette) and Celestine has always stubbornly rejected any help from Mary. Mary is convinced she understands things about Dot which Celestine cannot accept.

Mary knows that Dot was “never meant to be a baby.” The child is impatient with the dependence of being an infant and moves recklessly toward independence and danger as soon as she is able. Trouble seems to avoid her loud little voice, and the first word Dot speaks clearly is “more.” She is spoiled and greedy, only...

(The entire section is 482 words.)

Pages 205-212 Summary

Louis and Sita are standing near ward A, a building set apart from the state mental hospital. Louis says the windows of the building are regular glass and Sita will be able to sit outside on warm days, just as she would on her porch at home. Sita refuses to look either at the windows or her husband.

Louis and Sita’s psychiatrist have both explained that ward A is for patients who might eventually return to society and lead a “normal life.”  Four months ago, Sita pretended to lose her voice and enjoyed all the attention she got everyone having to lean in close to read her lips. She enjoyed the attention so much that she actually did lose her voice; if she spends some time here, her psychiatrist believes she might...

(The entire section is 500 words.)

Pages 213-229 Summary

The butcher shop, which has not been as profitable since the “boom with the sugar beet began,” is damaged in a fire and Mary lives with Celestine until her home (connected to the shop) is repaired. After three days, Celestine is edgy. Mary disrupts the routine she and Dot have established and is constantly doing some psychic study. Mary always wears a turban over her hair now, and she looks like some kind of psychic as she tries to read the lines in Celestine’s and Dot’s hands.

Mary and Dot have a common bond: neither of them wants to obey Celestine and they laugh at her conspiratorially behind her back. Celestine feels as if she is living with two unruly daughters.

Dot will play Joseph in her...

(The entire section is 506 words.)

Pages 230-232 Summary

Adelaide has been brooding for days and Omar knows she is “building up a fit of anger.” He understands that her rages have little to do with him but are the accumulation of her feelings which are damned up for a time but will eventually burst. When the dam brakes, Omar stays out of Adelaide’s way as she pounds and beats and curses until she finds some peace.

Omar wakes up alone in bed, so he sneaks downstairs to “spy on her mood.” Adelaide’s skin has turned white with age but her throat and waist are still supple; her red hair stands out like an electric shock and she regularly snaps at customers who come to examine their birds. She is now subdued, sitting at the kitchen table with some hot chocolate.

...

(The entire section is 282 words.)

Pages 233-254 Summary

Mary and Celestine love Dot too much, "and for that sin she [makes] them miserable.” Dot has Mary’s stubbornness, Celestine’s occasional cruelty, Karl’s irresponsibility, and Sita’s vanity. Wallace Pfef routinely avoids Celestine and Dot for months at a time, but one thing draws him back: Dot’s fearlessness.

She is afraid of nothing and cares tenderly even for loathsome creatures, but she starves her mother and aunt. Pfef made significant money on sugar beets and now lives a leisurely life; Dot likes to work with him on various projects. When she runs away to live with her dad, Pfef finds her curled up at the top of his cellar stairs. When Dot claims that her father is not a bum like her Aunt Mary claims he...

(The entire section is 505 words.)

Pages 255-260 Summary

Karl likes motels with strange names, so he is disappointed to learn that the “ox Hotel” in Argus has a burnt-out F and is really just the Fox Hotel. After he gets settled, Karl dials Wallace Pfef’s telephone number. Pfef answers and says hello many times before Karl hangs up the telephone without speaking. He considers calling Mary but dials Celestine’s number instead.

He assumes his wife will recognize his voice, but he is dismayed when she suspiciously asks who it is. Karl tells her and says he is unexpectedly in Argus for the night and thinks he might stop by to see her and Wallacette. When Celestine remains silent, he suggests she could join him for a drink or he could take her and Wallacette to dinner....

(The entire section is 496 words.)

Pages 263-280 Summary

The butcher shop is barely breaking even, but the women refuse to open on Sundays like the chain and discount stores. Like the shop, they are getting older. One day Mary will sell the shop for a tidy profit, and Celestine has insisted on receiving retirement benefits. Mary shows Celestine a red brick which flew through a window in her house. Celestine assumes it was vandalism, but Mary, as always, is convinced it is a sign of trouble.

That night, Celestine uncharacteristically dreams. Sita stands in her front yard watching for someone to come and saying she calls but Celestine never comes. The dream seems acutely real to Celestine. Mary thinks Sita must want to see her former friend and offers to accompany her.

...

(The entire section is 503 words.)

Pages 281-289 Summary

Sita does not enjoy having Mary and Celestine here, even wishes they would get sick and leave, but she sleeps far away from them on the pool table downstairs because she likes it. The recreation room is full of things from both of her husbands and serves as a kind of shrine to both of them and yet neither of them. Sita has moved all of her favorite things down here, so it is her room now.

She used to have her pills, “the little stockpiled prescriptions that were Louis’s legacy,” stashed everywhere; however, she kept forgetting where she hid them. No doctors will write her any more prescriptions, so these leftovers are invaluable to her. The room is always dark, and she can do nearly anything she wants by remote...

(The entire section is 482 words.)

Pages 290-297 Summary

Mary and Celestine drive up to Sita’s house and see her, dressed in white, standing erectly and inspecting her yew bushes. Her purse is on the ground next to her feet, her legs seems like wooden blocks propping her up, and her demeanor says she is impatient. Mary comments to Celestine that Sita is probably upset that they are late. Celestine is annoyed that Sita decided to come, for she had hoped to watch the parade and enjoy Dot’s crowning without any judgment or distraction from Sita.

Mary can see that Sita has decided to be unpleasant. She does not even greet them when they get out of Mary’s truck to help her. When Celestine and Mary each take one of Sita’s arms in an attempt to help her through the tangled...

(The entire section is 506 words.)

Pages 298-300 Summary

An orderly gets Russell Kashpaw dressed and ready to transport while Fleur sternly supervises the proceedings. The orderly dresses Russell in his military uniform, and Fleur takes his medals from a leather case and pins them just above Russell’s heart. She puts his rifle, in a long, olive case, on his lap, and Russell waits for someone to put his hat on in the same jaunty position he wore it for his formal military photographs.

The orderly wheels Russell up the ramp and into the nursing-home van; they drive for an hour and suddenly they arrive. He is whisked out of the van and down the ramp, where Russell sees parade participants. No one pays any attention to him except for a brief comment by his former boss.

...

(The entire section is 301 words.)

Pages 301-311 Summary

With every year, Dot grew angrier, created more trouble, and put herself in more danger. In grade school she had no friends, but now she has enemies. Mary, Celestine, and Pfef are her worst enemies until she needs something from them; once they give her everything they have, Dot resents them for it.

Dot’s spite is only thing the three adults have in common, and they are shocked by what they had created. Her friends are druggies and hoodlums, she has no interest in anything but trouble, and if she were not related to her, Mary would have disowned her. Pfef, however, has “fundamental and abiding” faith in her courage. Pfef knows that if the adults who love her “can hardly stand her,” she must really hate...

(The entire section is 504 words.)

Pages 312-315 Summary

Nearly everything that arrives into or leaves from Argus comes by truck, but Father Jude Miller does not like driving and arrives from Minneapolis by train. Though there is some kind of celebration happening in Argus, he is the only passenger to get off the train. The train continues its journey and the priest stands alone at the Argus depot. It is hot, and the heat “set[s] him at a boil.” He is here to discover the truth after reading a letter his mother gave him two days ago.

Miller is a warm, sensible man who is satisfied with his calling, and at first he was not even curious about the contents of the letter. His mother is weak and quite sick, so she is not particularly concerned about anything but her own...

(The entire section is 297 words.)

Pages 316-323 Summary

Karl Adare has always “traveled light.” His habit has been to throw away or leave behind worn clothes, finished books, old correspondence, and records he is tired of listening to; but things have changed. He has “outlived something careless” in himself. Most men Karl’s age grow dissatisfied with the things they have accumulated. Karl is the opposite. He wants everything he has left behind him.

After months of dissatisfaction, Karl realizes that what he really wants is the futures of all the people he knows. When Celestine’s note about the Beet Queen candidates reaches him, he is ecstatic and proudly shows everyone his daughter until his manager is sick of hearing him and asks when he last saw Dot. Karl quits...

(The entire section is 500 words.)

Pages 324-328 Summary

Mary and Celestine are torn between sitting high in the grandstands under an awning and roasting in the front row closest to the royal platform. They choose the front row and wait in silence. They see a priest sitting at the end of the row, and Celestine considers getting him to help Sita, but Mary reminds her that Sita has left the church. It does feel as they should have done something for Sita, and Celestine thinks the solid-looking priest looks quite capable of helping if they asked him.

Russell arrives and finally the princesses claim the platform. Dot is the last to arrive. Mary thinks Dot looks stunning, like an “ancient pagan goddess,” but Celestine thinks her daughter looks uncomfortable and perhaps...

(The entire section is 296 words.)

Pages 329-338 Summary

Dot hates the green dress her Aunt Mary bought for her and refuses to wear it, but she loses the argument. She is near the floats, watching her Uncle Wallace try to bring order to the chaos; she can tell by how Pfef acts that this is her day and he has done something to ensure that she will be crowned Beet Queen.

Dot and the others climb onto their float. She sees an orderly unloading her Uncle Russell from a van and is appalled at how Russell sags in his wheelchair. She hollers for someone to give him a drink until someone finally brings Russell some water and the American Legion float begins its parade journey.

The crowds are quite near the float, and Dot hears several women discussing her. They...

(The entire section is 506 words.)

Lori Steinbach, Ed. Scott Locklear