Once a year, a tent city springs up overnight around the exhibition halls in Des Moines as farmers and their families pour in from across Iowa to attend the State Fair. After months of hard and often lonely work, farm families are given the chance to step out of their rural routines ― picnic and gossip, sing and dance, take a chance at the hoopla stands, and strut their stuff in stiff competition for ribbons and prizes.
When the close-knit Frake family set out from Brunswick, Iowa, Abel's hog, Blue Boy rode proudly in the back of the truck ― manicured, curried and rubbed to enameled perfection ― ready to compete and win the sweepstakes, the highest honor which any hog could attain. Melissa, Abel's wife, had her hopes set on beating the competition with the prize-winning quality of her pickles. Their teenage children, Wayne and Margy, found themselves faced with a pickle of another kind. Although committed to sweethearts in their hometown, brother and sister are each seized by a new love that sweeps them along, secretly and illicitly, somewhere between the sweet taste of cotton candy and the breathtaking plunge of a roller coaster ride.
State fairs were a subject that Phil Stong knew well. For several years his grandfather had been superintendent of the swine division at the Iowa State Fair and, as a reporter for the Des Moines Register, Stong was assigned to cover the evening stock shows at the fair. Iowa held its first state fair in 1854, and for some time fairs were held at various locations around the state before permanently settling in Des Moines. State Fair is very much an Iowa book, filled with incidents and details from the author's own life.
Although State Fair suggests a deep satisfaction and fondness for rural life, it shocked some readers in 1932 and was banned in the city library of Keosauqua, Iowa (Stong's hometown) for twenty-five years after it was published. However, judging from the success of the book and the enthusiasm shown for the movies that followed, most readers were captivated by the Frakes' down-home talk and whimsical humor and commended the author's portrayal of rural America. Exuberant and fresh, lively and joyful, State Fair was Phil Stong's most celebrated novel.