Ginny recalls a neighbor, Cal Ericson. Cal owned lots of animals, which he kept on his vast farm. Cal was educated, but he didn’t know how to repair his machinery, and so Cal and Larry Cook came up with a deal whereby Cal would make fresh cream and ice cream in return for which Harold and Larry would repair his machines. Larry seemed to dislike Cal because his only ambition in life was to be happy. Larry, by contrast, believed that it was a farmer’s duty to feed the world.
As Ginny thinks about her family history in more detail, she comes to realize that her father wasn’t exactly the legendary leader and farmer she remembers him being. Yet he is motivated by seemingly noble goals: he thinks of himself as doing almost holy work, providing food and nourishment for the entire world (and he looks down on farmers who don’t share his idealistic worldview).
Ginny’s mother, Mrs. Cook, got along decently well with Mrs. Ericson, though deep down she agreed with Larry that the Ericsons were too trivial to be “real farmers.” Ginny, however, loved the Ericsons: Ruthie Ericson, the daughter, was Ginny’s close friends for years.
Everyone in the community seems united in agreement that farming is a holy profession: even Mrs. Cook (about whom the novel says very little) believes that a good farmer is never trivial. Ginny seems not to fit with the rest of her family: she doesn’t care about holy work; she just wants a friend.
After the corporation is established, Ginny and Rose take turns having Larry over for dinner. For months, Larry visits his two daughters every week, but never seems to relax: often he’ll finish his meal and just go home. Larry never visits Caroline, who lives in Des Moines now.
As in Lear, Ginny and Rose begin by showing their gratitude to Larry by taking care of him, one night at a time (in the play, Lear travels back and forth between the two sisters’ kingdoms). Although Caroline lives far away from Larry, she claims to love him more than either Ginny or Rose.
One night at dinner, Ty and Ginny talk with Larry about their plans to enrich the land Larry has given them. Larry is quiet and says nothing except, “Do what you want.” After dinner, Larry leaves instead of staying to watch TV with his daughter.
Larry isn’t happy with the way things have worked out: he seems to be resentful of Caroline for daring to challenge his judgment (especially because Caroline seems to have been his favorite daughter). Notably, Larry seems be the one to lash out first against his daughters with his morose, rude behavior—much as Lear’s coterie offends Regan and Goneril in the play.
The next day, Ginny goes to plant tomatoes on her property. While she’s outside planting, she sees Jess Clark, who greets her cheerfully. As they talk, Jess mentions that his old fiancée, Alison, was killed in a car crash while they were living in Canada. Jess was so saddened by the accident that he almost drank himself to death afterwards. While Ginny plants tomatoes, Jess claims that since Alison’s death, however, he’s become “all sweetness and light.”
Ginny finds it easy to open up to Jess, and it’s important to understand why. Jess is eager to talk about his own rough experiences—to share them with someone else in the community. Jess is an especially mysterious character because he claims to have found a way to get over his own misery—a talent that could be considered impressive or sociopathic (in some potential foreshadowing).
Jess goes on to talk about meeting Alison while working with her at a crisis center. Jess admired her kindness and dedication. Ginny is reminded of Rose’s breast cancer diagnosis, and Jess insists that nobody told him that Rose had cancer—not even his own father or brother.
Jess continues to open up to Ginny about his romantic life, and Ginny seems inspired to open up about her own feelings, too. It’s surprising that Jess hadn’t heard about Rose’s breast cancer, considering how close the Clarks and the Cooks are—Smiley suggests that Harold and Loren aren’t interested in the problems with Rose’s body or with the female body in general.
Jess turns to talking about his mother, who died years ago. As he talks, he begins to cry. He explains that he went to Canada to dodge the draft, and his mother never properly forgave him. Ginny tells Jess she’s sorry, and Jess smiles, saying that he believes that life is good, in spite of everything he’s been through. Ginny finds Jess’s smile not just charming, but beautiful.
Jess and Ginny both have dead mothers—there are no strong mother figures in the father-dominated novel (and play). Jess also feels a great rift between himself and his mother’s memory: she never forgave him for dodging the draft. Ginny seems charmed by Jess—not just because of his beauty but because of his honesty; in a community where everybody controls their appearances, it’s refreshing to see some genuine emotion. (Of course, Jess could be “performing” for Ginny.)