The Westing Game: huh? [Spoilers]

I read this Newbery winner as a child, and was moderately happy with it, but it was super-forgettable. Based on several folks here, and also my mom, recommending it effusively, I just reread it.

And I’m confused.

So here’s what I understand the real timeline was:

Sam Westing was wealthy. He had a daughter and an ambitious wife. His wife pressured his daughter to marry a crappy old corrupt senator instead of marrying the love of her life.

I think the daughter committed suicide (I kept expecting her to pop back up, not really dead, but I don’t think she did), rather than marry that senator.

The wife then left him, changed her name, became a super-alcoholic, then found Jesus and stopped drinking and opened a soup kitchen.

Sam Westing hired a private eye to spend like two decades watching her to make sure she’s safe AND that she didn’t use the Westing name (what?!). The detective fell in love with her.

Two decades later, Sam Westing gathers a bunch of people together in an apartment with the goal of having them realize that his wife’s new name consists of six syllables from the song “America the Beautiful.” He also hints that he’ll give his fortune to anyone who realizes that he has a fourth alter-ego beyond Sam, Sandy, and Northrup. The people he gathers include the detective, his niece, a guy who sued him, and a bunch of others who seem only vaguely related to him.

Okay, what the hell? Why does he do this? What’s his goal here–is he just fucking with them, and if so, why them in particular? Is he looking for vengeance? Trying to atone? And why now? And does he actually intend to pass on his fortune if they guess who Eastman is? Turtle figures it out, but there’s no sign at the end that she’s fantastically wealthy.

I know the novel is comic, but his motives don’t even make comic sense to me. I feel like maybe I’m missing something huge here.

Re: “Super-forgettable.”

Yeah, I read this again two weeks ago, at the height of the Newberry thread, and I remember a LOT less than you must have to have written the above. Mainly I remember that Turtle was an obnoxious little shit who kicked people, and grew up into an adult with combination law degree/MBA, which would make her an obnoxious BIG shit and probably a Reagan supporter.

Westing’s goal is to subtly improve the lives of the peripheral characters in his life before he dies. He does so through a complicated game because he had a passion for chess, and this would be his greatest game of it. By the end of the book:

Angela Wexler, who was on the verge of being shoehorned into a marriage that would have stifled her personality, dumped her fiancee and went on to medical school. In the end, she married him, but did so out of satisfaction, not being forced - the situation that led Westing’s own daughter to suicide.

Denton Deere, a budding vanity surgeon (yes, not all plastic surgery is vanity, but in the beginning of the book, it is implied that that was where his interest lay) recognizes the intelligence behind a sick boy and his medical skills are put to more altruistic use.

The sick boy, who is the son of the man his daughter had truly loved, has his condition ameliorated.

Judge Ford is given the opportunity to win a game against Sam Westing for once (though she still fails) and is told that her debt to Sam Westing is paid off.

James Hoo and Grace Wexler find success in their true passions, invention and restaurant management, as opposed to the positions they somewhat grudgingly held before.

Flora Baumbach recieves a surrogate for the daughter she had lost long ago.

Turtle, the under-appreciated little sister (mom always doted on Angela, because she was so pretty, she’d marry a doctor), gets the mother figure she needs in order to finally exercise her intelligence and talents.

Crow finds love after the bitterness of her marriage to Sam Westing.

And of course, each of the heirs receives valuable real estate as share-owners of Sunset Towers.

But all before that are moves and counter-moves typical of a long-term chess strategy…sixteen pieces, with the penultimate move being (rather dramatically) a Queen’s sacrifice that no one sees coming. Westing was making his peace with the world, but went about it in the way that he loved to live.

Thank you, cmkeller! That matches what someone told me on facebook, but in much greater detail. I’m starting to see why people like this book after all.

cmkeller nailed it.

I read the book 7-8 times in one year as a teacher and I think cmkeller hit all the key points.

I think to win the “Westing Game”, you had to realize that Northrup, Westing, McSouthers, and Eastman were all the same person. Tabitha(Turtle) does this.

My memory is that the Judge is just about runner-up, as she is smart and begins to realize that “solving the murder” was not the purpose of the game. She’s so close and is just about as smart as Tabitha.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve wondered more about just how Westing manages to pull off playing so many different characters who interact with the same people. It’s borderline preposterous that he could manage to do so without a make-up department and a voice coach. That’s one sense of reality that you can suspend when writing books with people playing multiple characters; if you just say they’re different people, the audience will have no way of knowing otherwise.

Excellent summary, CM.

I think one of the things about it that was revelatory to me as a child was how the people didn’t get the partners they wanted, but they did get the partners they NEEDED.

It’s not preposterous because “appearances” are central to the theme of the book. People accept what’s put in front of them unless they are forced to see what’s behind the curtain (a theme Raskin explored in other works as well)

Remember also that McSouthers was the only one they interacted with regularly. Nobody had seen Westing for years and he looked different before his accident. They each met Northrup only once, and I don’t think anybody met Eastman until the epilogues. (Correct me if I’m wrong in these)

Seriously? Is this presented as a particularly hard challenge in this book? I mean, N,W and E, sure, I can see overlooking them. But “McSouthers”? :dubious:

It’s a children’s book. And McSouthers and Westing are the only two whom you see regularly. And the challenge isn’t to figure out who Westing is playing–it’s to figure out that he’s playing anyone at all, since early in the book he dies, since early in the book he stars in an open-casket funeral.

Well. I’m going to have to re-read this book now because I think I managed to miss the entire point of the whole thing when I read it in 4th or 5th grade.

They were not told the objective, though. It was presented in a way to make them think they were looking for a murderer.

However, if they go back over the will(which contained the rules), it only asked for “The Answer”, which they had to present to the end.

One group did not figure out everything, but when asked for their answer, they did say, “Mr. Westing was a good man.” At least they realized the answer was not a murderer.

Wait a minute, I’m confused. According to Wikipedia Julian Eastman was a witness to Westing’s will. If this was Westing himself wouldn’t that make the whole will invalid?

Mainly the will was invalid because Westing was alive. The whole thing was a massive trick.

I’m not entirely sure that Wikipedia page is correct, I’ll have to get the book out to double-check that. I only remember Julian Eastman mentioned once in the book, while Turtle is watching financial news about Westing Paper Products. (The barely-there mention of Eastman is one of the other factors that makes it difficult, albeit not impossible, to solve the mystery.)

Hmm… Eastman was not at the reading of the will as McSouthers was.

As a witness to the signing? I have no idea. I’ll have to grab a copy and read it.

Thank you, cmkeller and Green Bean for your excellent posts.

If I may continue to play devil’s advocate, is there ANYONE who doesn’t see the “America the Beautiful” link really early on? And since the teams are leaking their clues to each other like a sieve, howcum none of the characters saw it?

Again: children’s book. If the mystery is too hard for a bright ten-year-old, that’s not a great thing.

I always thought it was an old man meddling in peoples affairs … but I haven’t read the book in 20 years …

what always rubbed me the wrong way was turtle and husband decision on not having kids because of the disabled brother …

Ukulele Ike:

First of all, it’s not true that none of the characters saw it. One of the teams - I think it was the Angela-Sydelle team, but I don’t recall for certain - definitely did, and made an effort to find out the clues of the others, but the competing teams didn’t share, and the James Wexler-Madam Hoo team didn’t even see their clue until the second meeting. Additionally, Judge Ford was intentionally ignoring the clues, instead trying to look at the game-behind-the game that she realized Westing was playing.

But more importantly, the whole “America the Beautiful” thing was a feint, to lead on the reader all along and distract the reader from thinking the answer might not be related to the song.