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.