Fidelus Waldvogel fought for Germany in WW1. He returns home to his village to marry the pregnant fiancee of his best friend who was killed in action. He emigrates to the U.S. with a suitcase of sausage to sell, and his father's butchering knives. His money runs out in Argus North Dakota, so that's where he settles, and brings over his sister, his wife and her small son. They set up a butcher shop. Fidelus gets involved in a singing club that includes many of the town's men including Roy Watzka, the town drunk.
Roy's daughter Delphine escaped the town as soon as she was old enough. She performed in a vaudeville show. She teamed up with a man named Cyprian, and they started their own balancing act. Delphine and Cyprian try, but have no success in a romantic relationship. Delphine understands why when she sees Cyprian with another man. When Delphine decides to return home for a visit, she and Cyprian pose as a married couple to avoid town gossip. They find Delphine's father Roy at his rough little farmhouse horrifyingly drunk. They consider burning down the house it is so filthy. They do clean it up, and make a horrifying discovery in the basement. A family of three got locked down in it months ago during a wake that went wild with alcohol. Roy was so drunk, he thought he was imagining the sounds coming from the basement and never investigated. Delphine doesn't learn the full truth of what happened that night til the end of the book.
Delphine meets Eva Waldvogel when she shops at the butcher shop. She is drawn to Evan's caring maternal manner, and the two become friends. Delphine starts working in the shop, and gets to know the Waldvogels and their four boys well. When Eva becomes ill with cancer, it is Delphine that cares for her and her family. Roy's sister is jealous and malevelant and goes so far as to steal Eva's morphine. Delphine's caring for the family continues after Eva's death even though she quits work at the shop. She stands by them through many crises.
As the depression comes to an end, and WWII begins, Delphine must work through her relationship with Cyprian. They have continued to keep up the pretense of being married. She loses her best friend when she is accused of locking the family in Roy's basement, commits a crime in response to the accusation, and leaves town.
Fidelus must come to terms with the loss of his beloved wife, and the needs of his four boys. Delphine and Fidelus grow in their feelings towards each other, and must consider the needs of all the people in their lives as they decide how to resove their relationship.
This report prepared by Susan Coffey