After a family friend accidentally detonates a bomb during a political protest, the aftershocks continue to roil through 17-year-old Beamer Flynn's life. The first child born in a commune her parents helped form, Beamer has grown up under the watchful eye of all the people once involved in the now-disbanded commune. They were all present at her birth, voted on her name (Merry Moonbeam), and still feel entitled to have a say in her life.
As those friends (the “Woodies”) gather at her Northern Minnesota home to discuss and deal with the consequences of the bombing, Beamer yearns to escape their constant presence--especially their surveillance of her life, her deepening romance with boyfriend Andy, and her developing relationship with a college student, Martin.
Andy will soon be graduating and heading east to college; he wants more emotional and physical intimacy. Martin wants time together and to become part of the cozy community around the family’s woodstove. The Woodies want updates on every conversation and night out. Beamer wants to escape.
Cross-country skiing, school, snowmobile racing, and winter softball (on-ice) all provide welcome distractions until Beamer comes to the attention of a persistent reporter who is writing about the bombing. When the reporter expands that story to include Beamer, the turbulent winter threatens to explode.
Through her relationship with Andy and Martin, and in the lingering shadow of the distant 1960s, Beamer is finally forced to examine her unusual upbringing and confront the legacy of being Everybody’s Daughter.
Beamer Flynn lay on her bed and scratched a design on the frosted window with her thumbnail. From that bedroom window in the second-story living quarters above her family’s bait and tackle shop she could watch the approach and hear the passing of the eastbound highway traffic, first visible two miles away where the road broke over the forested hill, then lost until it roared past the bait shop. This morning, however, the cold weather had entirely frosted over all the windows in her room, blocking her view of the acres of forest and the black stretch of highway that connected her home with the world. Beamer had awakened early and immediately felt herself closed in a crystal world, a strangely warm and comfortable ice palace.
She had lain in bed for an hour, waiting for the rising, warming sun to peel back the frost from the window. She had listened to the sparse traffic on the highway and imagined its destination and nature: that would be a highway patrol speeding toward doughnuts and coffee at the nearest truck stop; that’s a fuel truck hauling heating oil to the scattered country homes; that’s a traveling salesman heading happily toward Duluth after a night in a seedy motel.
A car pulled into the shop’s parking lot. Beamer’s father came out of the store and greeted Daniel, and Beamer listened as the men exclaimed about the cold while clapping their hands and jogging quick steps in the snow. Beamer began scratching out the words “get lost” in the frost; then, pressing her fingertips against the glass, she erased the message with crisscrossed lines of tiny ovals.
Daniel was one of the family’s oldest friends, a former member of Woodlands, the now-disbanded commune her parents had helped form eighteen years ago. She knew Daniel would be at the store most of the morning. He had just checked out of an alcohol treatment center—his second rehabilitation in three years—and Beamer’s parents welcomed him at all times for all reasons. It was a small thing to do; they loved him.
Beamer dressed and went downstairs. Her father and Daniel were sitting by the wood stove in the store, fondling their coffee cups and speaking in low tones. Daniel had brought a bag of assorted doughnuts, which was warming on top of the stove. Beamer poked around in the bag, found a plain one, and sat next to her father. She dunked the doughnut in his coffee, chewed, and listened to Daniel, who was telling a joke and happily included her in his audience. She waited for the punch line—it was a long joke—then murmured goodbye and went outside.
She pulled the cuff of her sweater down over her fist and polished the open eyes of a huge concrete fish that stood next to the store’s entrance. Wally Walleye, Beamer’s younger brother, Johnny, had christened him. The garish purples and greens of the monster fish contrasted with the Victorian facade of the building. The store had originally been someone’s summer place, a replica of that owner’s city home built halfway between a small lake and a once narrow and gravel-covered road. The road had been paved, repaved, and finally labeled a major highway, and the ever-increasing traffic and widening shoulders had chased a succession of owners from the house.
Beamer’s parents had bought the building six years ago, using their share of the money earned from the sale of the commune’s business, land, and buildings. They spent eighteen months fixing the house and remodeling the lower level into a store—an unnecessarily long time, but time they claimed they needed to make the transition from being commune members to being small-business owners. They adjusted, and Beamer and her brother settled happily into the luxury of private rooms and bath.
When the commune disbanded, many of the members, the Woodies, stayed in the area. Now they used the bait shop for a meeting place, settling in for evenings of happy chats and weepy confessions among the display freezers of prize catches, tanks of minnows and frogs, and racks of T-shirts emblazoned with leaping fish.
They talked about everything during those evening conversations. Beamer had often cringed and withdrawn when they discussed and relived her birth. They passed around that favorite memory as if it were a friendship quilt, each friend adding and changing: Sue—no, LuAnne!—caught the baby; Jeffrey—no, Peter!—took the pictures; Maud—no, Sam!—cooked the birth-night supper. Three details were intact: it had happened nearly seventeen years ago; the moon had been full (that’s how Beamer got her name, Merry Moonbeam Flynn), and Daniel, dear Daniel, had been asleep in the kitchen and missed it all.