Richard Peck

Fair Weather

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Fair Weather Summary

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Fair Weather is a 2001 historical fiction novel by Richard Peck. Set in 1893 Illinois, it concerns the humorous travels of teenager Rosie Beckett and her family as they journey from their farm to Chicago, where they hope to visit the World’s Columbian Exposition, also known as the Chicago World’s Fair. Along the way, they run into various notorious and famous figures. Most of the novel’s comedic value comes from the clash of cultures and classes that plays out as the Beckett family traverses the countryside confused about their own motivations for anything. It also draws irony from the absurd concept of its central event, the World’s Fair, which fancied itself a grandiose conception of American spirit and idealism, but which only represented the constant disruption and dynamism really taking place in America.

The novel opens in the summer of 1893, after the eccentric Aunt Euterpe invites Rosie, her siblings, and their parents to visit for the Chicago World’s Fair, an exposition celebrating the four-hundredth year since Christopher Columbus arrived in the land that would become the United States. The fair is centered around a huge water pool representing the sea voyage that Columbus risked to get to the New World. The event is supposed to be a hit, drawing social and cultural symbols from around the country and showcasing the latest innovations in architecture, industry, public planning, and the arts and humanities, not to mention Chicago’s urban future and American optimism.

At the novel’s beginning, Buster, Rosie and Lottie’s brother, is skinning a squirrel on their rural farm, intending to sell its tail and cook the rest for the family. The farm’s atmosphere seems infernal and boring until it’s interrupted by the delivery of a letter from Mrs. Beckett’s sister, Euterpe, inviting them to Chicago.

The Becketts have their own motive for attending the fair. They go principally because Mrs. Beckett wants to detach Lottie from her boyfriend, Everett Evans, whom she considers a vagabond and thief. Granddad immediately declares himself the leader of the pack. On their way by wagon, they stop at various abodes and reveal that they each have unique conceptions about what life in America means.

Once at Aunt Euterpe’s, the woman answers the door in mourning clothes, having lost her husband and never gotten over it. Lottie, Rosie, and Granddad try to help with the housekeeping but only frustrate Aunt Euterpe, who is stuck in her old ways.

The day of the Chicago World’s Fair comes, and the family travels in a pack to the fairgrounds. There, they are awestruck by the city’s size. They walk between the skyscrapers, ride on the Ferris wheel, and see motion pictures for the first time in their lives.

At the fair itself, the family collides with various figures from American history. Granddad astonishes the Becketts when he reveals that he is an old friend of Buffalo Bill, a showman and bison hunter famous for his skill and larger-than-life personality. In the crowd that amasses before Buffalo Bill, Aunt Euterpe is gifted with a bouquet of roses in front of everyone, and feels like the luckiest girl alive. Euterpe also meets Lillian Russell, a famous singer and actress.

The next day, she receives a calling card from Everett Evans’s family. Lottie cleverly sent the card to force a reunion with Everett, but they all enjoy the party anyway. Lottie is finally able to spend time with Everett, and Rosie reflects on how clever and enterprising her family is.

At the novel’s end, Aunt Euterpe is inspired to discard her mourning outfit, no longer feeling stuck as a widow. Equally inspired by their travels and what the journey taught them about themselves, the Becketts return to their farm. Fair Weather is thus about the awkward and meandering process through which individuals can broaden their social and cultural horizons and escape any singular fate.