The plot concerns the marriage of Michael Anton and Pauline Barclay, who meet when he tends to her bloodied brow in his family's grocery store, located in a primarily Eastern European conclave in Baltimore, in December 1941. They marry after Michael is discharged from the Army with a permanent injury caused by a deliberate shot from someone he assaulted. Michael and Pauline settle in a small apartment above the store, but their widely different temperaments and expectations quickly create dissension in the relationship. He is repressed, controlling, and quiet; she is loud, emotional, and romantic. At Pauline's insistence, they move to the suburbs, where they raise three children: Lindy, George and Karen.