This novel is the story of the Berrys, a quirky New Hampshire family composed of a married couple, Win and Mary, and their five children. The parents, both from the small town of Dairy, New Hampshire, fall in love while working at a summer resort hotel in Maine as teenagers. There they meet a Viennese Jew named Freud who works at the resort as a handyman and entertainer, performing with his pet bear, State o' Maine; Freud comes to symbolize the magic of that summer for them. By summer's end the teens are engaged, and Win buys Freud's bear and motorcycle and travels the country performing to raise money to go to Harvard, which he subsequently attends while Mary starts their family. He then returns to Dairy and teaches at the local second-rate boys' prep school he attended, the Dairy School. But he is unsatisfied and dreaming of something better.

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