"Ruth remembered drowning. 'That's impossible,' Aunt Amanda said. 'It must have been a dream.' But Ruth maintained that she had drowned, insisted on it for years, even after she should have known better."
WARNING: Very long summary follows
Amanda grew up protecting her little sister Mattie, the parental favorite. Mattie married Carl when she was 17, and Amanda went off to nursing school without ever forgiving her sister of breaking their sisterly bond. Soon after the wedding, Mattie and Carl find themselves in an unhappy marriage that neither of them expected. Carl's remedy is to run from the situation, so he enlists in the Army, leaving his new wife and baby daughter alone.
Off nursing during WWI, Amanda meets Clement, and falls in love. She doesn't find out about his wife and three children until after their one night stand. When Amanda finds out that she is pregnant, she goes home to Mattie and there she lives with her sister and niece until little Imogene is born.
The sisters plan to tell everyone that a young homeless girl came to them in the middle of the night with labor pains, claiming that she is from a neighboring village and asking them to keep the baby, as she is unwed. This plan falls through when Mattie holds the little girl close and tells her that she will be her mother. Amanda is insane with jealousy, knowing that her daughter will never call her mother, she takes the baby and tries to leave.
However, Amanda and Mattie live on a island, and she has to cross the ice to get to land. Once she is out on the ice, Ruth, Mattie's 3 year old daughter, starts to follow her aunt. Mattie is awakened, and goes out after the others to get them back in the house, but when she picks up Ruth the ice can not hold their combined weight and they both fall through the ice. Amanda is able to save Ruth, but Mattie is drowned. Amanda then takes Imogene to a friend who recently had a stillborn daughter, claiming the previously arranged story.
Amanda raises Ruth as her own. Carl returns from the war, lives with them for about 10 years, during which he finds out that Imogene was Clement's daughter, and mistakenly assumes that his wife had an affair with Clement and died in childbirth. He goes to kill Clement, and thinks better of it, eventually accepting that his wife did not love him and becoming a sailor. He does not re-enter the book.
After Carl is gone, Ruth meets Imogene. They become fast friends, from middle school on up, until Clement's son Arthur becomes interested in Imogene. Amanda feels that she must stop this romance at all costs and begins spying on Imogene, who is at this point working in Clement's house as his wife's secretary. Amanda soon sees Clement trying to seduce her and goes to talk to him. They go out in the boat, he goes for a swim, and she leaves him. She doesn't mean for him to drown, but his body is found, more than a month later.
Amanda then tells Ruth about Imogene, who she is, why she can't marry Arthur, and what happened on that fatal night, when they both lost the ones they loved most. Amanda and Ruth write a letter to give to Imogene from Arthur, saying that he is in love with someone else. When Imogene sees the letter, she asks him if he loves another woman, and he answers, "Yes". He does in fact love Ruth, unbeknownst to either of them.
Ruth and Imogene plan to move to Chicago together, but Amanda throws herself down the stairs and breaks several bones to keep Ruth with her.
Imogene moves to Chicago, where she meets and marries another guy. They have a child and visit Ruth often as she continues to live on the Farm and to care for Amanda, while getting repeated offers of marriage from Arthur.
The writing was all right, but the plot was unnecessarily complex and the characters didn't have anything compelling about them. I didn't care if any of them died and the story would have been better if it were 100 pages long, instead of the 350 pages it took Schwarz to unravel her tale. Also, I don't think Oprah has actually read Anna Karenina.