Ongoing tension defines the relationship between Henny and Sam Pollit. They do not speak to each other except to argue violently. Sam expends enormous energy on his children, getting their help with projects around Tohoga House in Washington, D.C., a rambling rundown property they rent cheaply from Henny’s father. Sam speaks various forms of partly made-up speech with the children and calls them by numerous pet names. He has high praise for them at one moment and then turns on them, sometimes physically.
Sam’s relationship with his daughter Louisa is particularly problematic, as he has high hopes for her but is disappointed by her fat awkward body and her tendency toward romantic literature. Sunday-Funday is Sam’s day at home with the children.
Henny, who feels herself ruined after her ten-year marriage to Sam and after raising their five children, goes into town the next day to see Bert Anderson, who is her friend and presumably her lover, as they retire to his place after lunch. Then Aunt Jo visits the Pollits to complain that her sister, Bonnie, who works at Tohoga House, is carrying on with a married man and ruining Jo’s reputation as well as her own.
Back at Tohoga, the battles between Sam and Henny continue over such issues as a servant for Henny (who does not like Sam’s sister, Bonnie) and over Henny’s stepdaughter, Louisa, whom Henny neither likes nor feels she can manage. Sam tries to talk to Louisa about the problems. They discuss, among other things, the possibility that murder might be for the good of the many at the cost of the victim. Henny, meanwhile, is in bed, worrying about all the debts she is secretly running up, vaguely hoping that her sister Hessie Collyer or her father will help her, and focusing on how idiotic she finds Sam with his dreams for the future of humanity and for his wild domestic schemes.
Sam, who is an anthropologist employed by the federal government, tells Henny that he is going to Malaya on a Smithsonian expedition for six to eight months and that he will send her money. She threatens to take the children and move back to her father’s house. Sam explodes at the idea that the family would be broken up. Finally, he hits her, and she responds by slashing him several times with a bread knife. After the violence they come to an uneasy truce, and Sam reminisces about the early betrayal of his marriage, when Henny flirted seriously with Mark Colfax.
Louisa visits for the summer with her dead mother’s family along the Shenandoah. The family has a long and twisted history stretching back to the American Revolution. She stays with Rachel’s sister and meets all the family, including Grandfather Issac. Henny and the children go to Monocacy, where they meet Old Ellen...
(The entire section is 1134 words.)