This synopsis will contain spoilers!
America America follows the story of Corey Sifter growing up. Though there is one main narrative, it also jumps back in forth through time, following Corey in high school, college, and in the present. Whereas the book intersperses tales from each of these time periods throughout the book, I will summarize each separately for the sake of an easy to follow synopsis.
Corey, the son of a Union Worker in Saline, NY, joins is father one day to go work on the plumbing at the Metarey household. Eoghen Metarey made his fortune at the turn of the century through his coal mines, quarries, oil rigs, and intelligent land speculation. His son, Liam, is now the head of the Metarey household. He and his wife June have two daughters, Christian and Clara, who live on the farm and a son Andrew, who is a medic in Vietnam. While fixing the plumbing, Corey impresses Liam with his hard work, and at that point Liam begins to have Corey come work regularly at the estate. Though primarily a worker on the estate, Corey also begins to become a part of the family, developing a particularly close relationship with Christian.
One night a party is thrown at the estate and Christian pulls Corey away from his work to spy on her father and Senator Henry Bonwiller, a powerful senator who is greatly loved by the local residents. Christian explains to Corey that Senator Bonwiller has decided to run for president on this night, and that Liam will help run the campaign. Overwhelmed with excitement, she kisses Corey. They are caught in the act by Clara.
Corey is given an opportunity to go to Dunleavy, the same private school that Liam Metarey went to. He agrees to go, returning every weekend to help with the campaign (which consists primarily of driving the Senator and others around and running errands at the estate). He returns for Christmas, and brings a gift back for Christian and her mother from Dunleavy. However, during the dinner, he suddenly decides to give the second gift to Clara instead of Mrs. Metarey - Clara cries upon receiving the gift.
One day, during a snow storm, Corey sees the Senator arrive at the estate, appearing shaken up. That evening, Liam and the Senator ask Corey to take them for a drive. During the trip, they tell Corey to stick his head out the window, and when he does, Liam crashes the car. Some photographers arrive to take pictures. The next day, Liam and Corey fix the damage done to the car. This was all done, we learn later, to cover up the Senator's involvement in a car accident that resulted in the death of JoEllen Charney (the senator's mistress).
Not long after, Corey's mother dies from a brain tumor. He was away at school, and he is called back home as soon as it happens. While at the funeral, he remembers that Clara in particular was extremely supportive. The Senator's campaign grows stronger and stronger, and just when it appears he will win the nominee and have a chance at defeating Nixon, the story of JoEllen's death comes out. Though he is not officially ever found guilty, the rumor is enough to effectively end his campaign. A party is thrown at the Metarey estate, but it is clear that no one is taking him seriously as a candidate. After the Senator leaves, Liam kills himself by crashing his wife's plain into an oak tree.
The college timeline is relatively short. It follows as Corey attends Haverford, where he meets a woman named Holly. They fall in love for a time, but upon seeing Christian again at a coffee shop in New York, Corey does not speak of Holly anymore. He sees Christian a few more times at this stage, but he sees Clara as well, and this timeline is ended with this somewhat cryptic comment from Clara: "Well, Corey," she said finally, "Church would say it's time to do something about it." (314) - (Note: Church is the Metarey dog). This comment is clarified soon after in the present when, for the first time at page 321, we learn that Corey's wife is Clara. A reference is also made later that during this time period, Andrew Metarey is killed in Vietnam, just before the soldiers were pulled out.
In the present, Corey is the publisher of the local newspaper The Speaker-Sentinel. This timeline consists of conversations between Corey and Trieste (and intern at The Speaker-Sentinel) and time Corey spends with his father and Mr. McGowar - an old neighbor. It seems Corey is more or less explaining what happened to him to Trieste, who interviews him much as reporter might. Of significance during this time is the Senator's death (how the story actually begins) and his father's stroke (which he father survives with limited harm).
America America is a beautifully written book that is full of insight, especially for someone who has just had a child and is often thinking about what being a father …- Aug. 8, 2009
Ethan Canin the First Line of America America