cover image The Sweetheart Season

The Sweetheart Season

Karen Joy Fowler. Henry Holt & Company, $23 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-4737-0

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.)