The grandparents of Virginia “Ginny” Cook Smith had settled Zebulon County when the land there was fertile but full of standing water and abundant wildlife. They had used tiles to drain the excess water into cisterns and wells; when the land was cultivated, the ponds, plants, and animal life became marginalized; the fertilizer and chemicals used on the land then drained into the wells and cisterns.
Ginny, along with sisters Rose and Caroline, spend part of their childhood being raised by their father, Larry Cook, after the death of their mother. Larry often beats and sometimes rapes the older girls, Rose and Ginny. The daughters marry young—Ginny at the age of nineteen to Tyler “Ty” Smith, who brings his father’s acreage into the family. By 1979, after a series of miscarriages, Ginny still has no children. Rose also marries at a young age. With her husband, Pete Lewis, they have two daughters, Pammy and Linda. Pete, a frustrated musician who is stuck farming and hates it, gets drunk and breaks Rose’s arm, but he stops harming her even further when she puts him on notice. Rose is diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of thirty-four; Ginny nurses her through the surgery and becomes a loving aunt to Pammy and Linda, sometimes envying Rose for having children and wishing that the girls could come home from boarding school.
In the spring of 1979, their neighbor Harold Clark holds a hog roast to welcome back his son Jess, who went to Canada to evade the draft during the Vietnam War. During the hog roast, Larry announces that he is turning the family farm into a corporation, with shares going to each of the daughters and their husbands. In fact, he is turning over control of the property—a farm of now one thousand acres—to the younger generation.
Everyone seems to give their assent to Larry’s idea, everyone except Caroline. Larry angrily tells her that she will therefore not receive a share. Caroline leaves the party and drives away without another word.
Ginny anxiously tries to make peace during the next few days, mainly by arguing with Caroline to change her mind. Soon the family gathers to sign the papers, with Marv Carson, from the bank, and Ken Lasalle, the family lawyer, present. Caroline drives up and approaches the screen door, but Larry gets to the door first and slams it in Caroline’s face. Now alienated from the family, she stays away, working at her law practice in Mason City and commuting to New York frequently. When she marries Frank Rasmussen, another lawyer, the family receives only an announcement, and no invitations to the wedding.
Ginny’s husband, Ty, is happy about the arrangement. He borrows money from Marv’s bank to set up a large hog-confinement operation, which involves putting up new buildings and buying equipment and breeding sows. The farm is already the most successful farm in Zebulon County, and among the largest.
Larry no longer works on the farm and begins some erratic behavior that worries Rose and Ginny. When Ginny, who continues to cook for him, tries to reason with him...
(The entire section is 1263 words.)