The story is set in a lower-middle-class household in an unnamed town in the Midwest shortly after World War I. The novel begins with Virgil Adams confined to bed with an unnamed illness. There is tension between Virgil and his wife over how he should go about recovering, and she pressures him not to return to work for J. A. Lamb once he is well. Alice, their daughter, attempts to keep peace in the family (with mixed results) before walking to her friend Mildred Palmer's house to see what Mildred will wear to a dance that evening.
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Through half I believed this novel to be just another bit of high-society snobbish gobbledegook as so many of the earlier Pulitzer Prize winning fictions have proven to be, but as it progressed further and Alice grew decreasingly concerned with appearances and posturings and increasingly herself, I found myself liking it more and more until her epiphany and acceptance of the reality of her middle-class station transformed my opinion into that of being a fine and heart- warming read.