The narrator begins the story by describing the place where she grew up, her family and her neighbors. The narrator remains unnamed in the first chapter but she talks about her family and her family’s farm in Iowa. She has a younger sister who was born in 1951 and whose name is Caroline.
From a young age, the narrator always wanted to have more and felt as if her family deserved the lands their neighbors had. The Ericsons and the Clarks are the families surrounding the narrator’s family’s farm. The narrator, who will be later revealed as Ginny Cook, used to enjoy the Sundays she spend with her family and her friendship with Rose Ericson but her happy memories stopped when Caroline was born.
In the second chapter, the narrator talks about Jess Clark who is drafted in the year 1966 to participate in the Vietnam War. Jess leaves home for a period of 13 years, managing to escape being drafted for a period of time. Jess returns home in 1979 and the narrator ends up participating at the welcoming party thrown for Jess.
The reader finds that during the 13 years span, the narrator’s mother, Rose was diagnosed with cancer and the narrator married a man named Tyler when she was just nineteen. The narrator thus had to take upon herself the task of caring for her family, her husband and Rose’s family. Rose had two children but Ginny was unable to have any children of her own so she grew extremely close to Rose’s children, Pammy and Linda.
Ginny also meets Jess’s brother, Loren, at the party and the differences between the two men are pointed out by the narrator. Ginny’s sister also comes but Ginny doesn’t talk with her. The narrator tells Jess that Caroline moved to another city where she plans to marry a lawyer named Frank. Larry Cook divides his lands to his three children to avoid paying taxes and while Ginny and Rose like the idea, Caroline does not. Because of this, Larry threatens Caroline to cut her off his will. Ginny tries to convince Caroline to be more obedient to their father but she refuses to be treated as a child. Caroline also accuses Ginny of going along with Larry’s plan only because she wants to get rich quick.
Rose’s husband quickly thinks about new ways to exploit the land and make it even more profitable and thinks about bringing electricity and growing new crops. Rose and Ginny start inviting Larry over to dinner every other night but Larry seems to be unhappy with the decision he took and the relationship between him and his daughters becomes even tenser.
Ginny and Jess become closer because Jess is not afraid to express his emotions and talk about his traumas from his past. Jess tells Ginny that he feels guilty because his mother never forgave him for becoming a draft dodger and that while he was in Canada, he was engaged to a woman who was unfortunately killed in a car accident. Ginny tells him about Rose and how she was diagnosed with cancer and Jess admits that he didn’t knew about Rose and her illness.
Ginny take good care of Rose, going with her to her doctor’s appointments and making sure that she has what she needs. The two women are close and they admit missing their sister but they both agree that Caroline must be the one to make the first move towards reconciliation not them. Ginny thinks how both she and Rose used to protect Caroline and decided to call her once she gets home. But that night however she decides against it and calls Rose instead.
Ginny and her husband invite Jess often over to dinner or to play board games and he quickly accepted by the family. Larry begins to spend his money recklessly to compete with one of his neighbors and Ginny is concerned with the way her father choses to spend his money. Ginny and Rose discuss that maybe Larry’s mental state deteriorates and that he may be getting Alzheimer’s.
When Rose’s children came home from boarding school, Ginny is the one who takes care of them, taking them to the pool. There, Ginny meets with Mary, a woman who used to know Ginny’s mother extremely well. Marry tells Ginny that Mrs. Cook wanted her daughter to receive and education and leave the farm but the complete opposite happened and Ginny became dependent on the farm and her father.
Ginny calls Caroline and the youngest asks about her father, clearly interested in his wellbeing. Rose however grows tired with taking care of Larry and she doesn’t hesitate to speak her mind. Larry implies that he would like to mend things with Caroline but his pride prevents him from doing it. Ginny thinks about how Larry used to be when he was younger and notes sadly how much he had changed over the years. Jess is also concerned with his father’s will and asks himself who would get a bigger part out of his father’s wealth, he or his brother. Jess is looked down upon because he is an inexperienced farmer but with big dreams and Tyler jocks with Ginny that Jess will never be successful.
When Ginny talks with Caroline, she finds that Larry went to Caroline’s office and that he was drunk. Caroline tells Caroline to take better care of their father before accusing her of pining after his money and wealth.
Ginny and Jess spend their time together as often as they can and Ginny can’t deny her attraction to Jess. Jess confesses that he is afraid of remaining on the farm after his father dies and suddenly kisses Ginny. Instead of rejecting him, Ginny kisses him back, realizing that she waited a long time for that to happen. Caroline gets married to Frank but she doesn’t tell anyone in the family. Larry has an accident while driving to the city where Caroline lives but he is not severely injured so Ginny takes him home and takes care of him.
A few days later, Ginny and Jess are intimate for the first time but Ginny is not guilty because she cheated on her husband. Larry becomes harder to control, going as far as steeling Pete’s truck and then refusing to come inside the house when he returns home. Instead, he disappears in the night while it starts raining. Pete and Ty go looking for Larry while Rose and Ginny stay behind.
Rose tells Ginny that the reason she hates Larry is because he used to sexually abuse her as a child. Rose thinks that maybe it happened to Ginny as well but she denies remembering anything about that. The next day, Jess comes to Ginny telling her that Larry ended up at Harold’s house where he refuses to see any of his children. Harold tries to convince the girls to try and reconcile with Larry and tells them that they must meet with their father for Sunday dinner.
Ginny and Ty try to take a loan to expand their farm but the bank is reluctant to offer them the loan because of Larry’s erratic behavior. Ginny tries to convince the bank representatives that Larry no longer controls the lands but they are suspicious. Ginny and her husband begin meanwhile to replace the old machineries with new ones in hope of creating a bigger profit. Ginny suggests that maybe her family should attend therapy after thinking about everything they went through but Rose is more concerned with the fact that the community thinks they mistreated their father. Larry accentuates this even more by letting it be understood that his children plan on sending him to a home for the elderly and when he goes to church on Sunday he makes it his mission to appear as miserable as possible. What is more, Harold insults Ginny and Rose by calling them bitches and stops them from talking with their father.
Because Larry moved in with Harold, Jess finds himself in the situation of searching for a place to live. Ginny offers to let him live in Larry’s house and while she prepares the house for Jess she remembers her father raping her when she was just a teenager. A few days later, Harold has an accident and he remains blind as a result. Jess, Rose and Ginny all decide to not visit him and keep themselves separated from the man. Rose and Ginny are sued by their father who wants to reclaim his property and everyone makes it seem as if Rose and Ginny are to blame for everything bad that happened in the past and that they are to blame for not taking care of their father. What is more, Caroline is helping Larry sue her sisters, not knowing about the abuse the two suffered.
Things between Ginny and Tyler become tense when Ty discovered that Ginny had another miscarriage and failed to tell him. The work on the farm is stopped because of the lawsuit and the people in the town start to badmouth the two sisters. Ginny is plagued more and more by the memory of her father’s abuse and she admits to Rose that she remembers everything that had happened.
The family hires a new lawyer who assures them that as long as they take good care of the farm, nothing will happen to them. Ginny goes to great lengths to make sure that everything is in order and she doesn’t notice the weeks passing by. Chapter 36 ends with a tragedy, with Pete’s death who drove straight into a lake after he had an argument with Harold. Rose admits sleeping with other men and sleeping with Jess as well, Ginny tells Rose that she slept with Jess as well and Rose tells her sister that she already knew about that.
Ginny plans to murder Rose and she goes as far as poisoning her sister’s food. Rose and Ginny win the trial and Caroline and Larry are forced to pay the court fees. The relationship between Ginny and her family becomes tense so Ginny leaves and finds work as a waitress. Rose remains with Jess but Jess leaves her after just a few months. A few years pass but Rose has not died. One day, Tyler visits Ginny and asks for a divorce. He also tells her that his farming ideas did not work out and that he was forced to sell his property to Rose.
One day, Ginny receives a letter from Rose, telling her that she is sick. Ginny goes back to her sister to find that her cancer came back and that it was going to kill her. Rose makes Ginny promise to take care of her children and makes Ginny promise that she will reconcile with Caroline. After Rose dies, Caroline and Ginny sell everything that was left behind and Ginny takes in Rose’s daughters. She raises them and pays for their education but Ginny never remarries or finds another man to make her feel the way Jess used to.
The novel ends with Rose thinking sadly about her life and how her days spent on the farm made her incapable of having children of her own.