Jean Clocker is conceived by her mother Wisteria only as a means to entrap a damaged First World War veteran into marriage. Having achieved wedlock but failed in her plan to rid herself of the now-redundant snare, Wisteria visits maternal tyranny on her prodigious daughter.
Jean spends her early years avoiding her mother’s blows and striving to make herself just a little less extraordinary. Orphaned, finally released from servitude, in the opening days of the Second World War, she thrives as a member of a demolition crew. It is Denny, a tiny, charismatic GI with a reverence for size, who facilitates a second liberation as he takes her across the ocean as a GI bride. But, once in California, he disappears and Jean is left once more to negotiate the world on her own.