Seymour Levov, going by the nickname of ‘Swede’ in the Jewish community he was born into, was even more of an all-American than Douglas Fairbanks himself. He had just everything an American idol can dream of: not only was the tall muscular young man a high school star athlete but he married a beauty queen named Dawn in the bargain. And as if all this were not enough, Swede later became the successful manager of the glove factory his father had founded, which allowed him to live with his wife in a beautiful house in the New Jersey countryside. Well-mannered, always bright, smiling and positive, conservative but with a liberal edge, what bad could ever happen to him? And yet…this was reckoning without fate and its obnoxious irony, Swede and Dawn’s nemesis manifesting itself in the person of Merry, their beloved daughter who in her teens unexpectedly turned into a violent activist.
Seymour Levov, known as "Swede" has died. His story is told in flashbacks. Swede was from a Jewish family and worked at the glove factory his father, Lou, founded. He and Dawn Dwyer, a former beauty queen and pageant winner, meet with Lou before their marriage. Lou and Dawn disagree about whether Dawn's future children will be raised as Jews or Catholics. He unsuccessfully tries to intimidate her. Then Dawn says she and Swede will not have children if it means raising them as Jews. Swede intervenes and smooths things over between Dawn and Lou. The Levovs have a picture-perfect life during post-war 1950's America. They have a beautiful country home in Newark and Swede commutes daily to the factory. He is good to his employees and they are very loyal to him. Dawn raises cows. She and Swede have a daughter, Meredith (known as Merry) who has a severe stutter. They send her to a speech therapist but see little improvement. A new therapist, Sheila, believes the stutter is caused by Merry's unconscious resentment of her mother. The Levovs don't believe this but since Merry likes Sheila, she is allowed to continue. An adolescent Merry and her father go camping. Dawn stays behind because one of their cows is about to give birth. As they are preparing to leave, Swede hands Merry a bouquet of wildflowers for her mother. Merry seems disturbed and asks Swede to kiss her. He does, on the cheek. Then she asks to be kissed like he kisses her mother. Swede blows up and orders her to fix the strap on her dress, which was pulled down over her shoulder.Fast forward to Merry's teenage years, which take place in the mid to late sixties. She is contemptuous and disrespectful to her parents, especially Dawn. She has no friends at home but is allowed to spend her Saturdays in New York City. Dawn and Swede don't know her friends there and feel they are a bad influence. Nonetheless they continue to allow her to go, provided she is home by curfew. One night she doesn't show up. Swede waits a long time and at last she arrives by the last train. They argue and a police officer orders Swede to move his car. Because of the riots, shootings and bombings of local businesses, there is a curfew. Swede narrowly escapes being attacked by a gang of thugs and they arrive home safely. Merry is informed that she has lost the privilege of going to New York because she broke the rules. Swede advises her that if protesting the war means so much to her, she should do it locally. Not long after, a bomb explodes in the local post office, killing one man. Merry disappears and the FBI come looking for her. Swede and Dawn cannot believe their sixteen year old daughter has done this terrible thing. They believe she was brainwashed. But a search of their home by the FBI reveals many incriminating pieces of evidence. Their phone is tapped in case Merry calls them. But she has disappeared into thin air. Swede learns that the underground has probably taken her in and are protecting her. An charming young woman visits the factory, introducing herself as Rita Cohen and pretending to have an interest in how gloves are made. Swede welcomes her and offers to have a pair made for her, on the spot. After accepting them, her personality changes. She is suddenly all business as she demands Merry's Audrey Hepburn scrapbook. Merry had asked for it. Rita turns a deaf ear to Swede's pleas to take him to Merry. They arrange to meet at a deserted spot late that night. Dawn thinks Swede should call the FBI or police but he refuses. He recently learned that Merry was sighted in the Newark train station six months earlier but the FBI couldn't find her. He spends many nights waiting until the last train, hoping to spot her. At the predetermined spot, Rita takes the scrapbook but won't say where Merry is. Swede notices that she is wearing Merry's coat. She tells him that Merry hates her parents, especially her beauty queen mother. Rita speaks of Dawn in very contemptuous terms. Swede hasn't noticed but Dawn has sold off most of her cows. When she goes to the barn, she finds a note demanding $10,000 in small bills. Swede is to take it to Rita's hotel room. She attempts to seduce him, promising to tell him where Merry is after it's done. Swede runs from the room but returns a few minutes later. Rita and the money are gone. She left via the fire escape. Swede runs outside, spots Rita's van, and runs after her but to no avail. He finally contacts the FBI, who take fingerprints but tell him he made a grave mistake in not notifying them. Swede still believes Merry is being held captive and brainwashed. But he and Dawn are finally beginning to realize that they might never see their daughter again. Dawn has a nervous breakdown and is hospitalized. Swede visits her faithfully, during which time she asks how she ended up with a life like the one she now has. She had wanted to be a teacher but instead wound up as Swede's princess, isolated and kept from doing what she really wanted to. After her return home, Dawn decides to undergo plastic surgery to make herself look younger. The psychiatrist assures Swede it is normal. But once the surgery is done, Dawn drifts away from Swede. She takes up with a younger man. Swede knows about the affair but does nothing. Finally there is an unofficial break in Merry's case. In downtown Manhattan, Swede spies Rita. He follows, then attacks her, pushing her into a wall and demanding to know where Merry is. She says that Merry is working at a vet clinic. She warns him not to go there during business hours as he will make a scene and Merry will be discovered. There is no way she could handle the FBI. Before leaving, Rita asks Swede to take care of Merry, as she herself can no longer stand being around her. Swede goes to the clinic, which is in a run-down part of town. He sees a girl locking up and leaving. But he barely recognizes his daughter. Merry is filthy, run-down, and wearing a face veil. She is shocked to see him but doesn't run away. They talk and he is surprised to find that her stutter is gone. Merry is living in an abandoned house. She is now a "Jain", a member of an obscure India religion. They don't believe in bathing, among other things, and she wears the veil to avoid breathing the fresh air. Swede learns that after the bombing, which Merry admits she is responsible for, she hid in the home of her speech therapist Sheila. From there she went into hiding with the underground, changing her name nearly every day. In the process of being moved from New York to Chicago, she was raped. At home, Swede tests the waters by asking Dawn how she'd feel if Merry turned up after all these years. Dawn declares it is not possible, that if she had wanted to get in touch with them she would have. Swede realizes Dawn has pretty much written Merry off and doesn't tell her of his meeting with their daughter. He goes back, taking a bag of Merry's belongings. This time he asks her how many other bombings she has done. The answer is two. But despite his pleas, she refuses to return home and asks him not to come back. He does but she has vanished. He continues to go there. Years pass and at last he dies. At his graveside service, Merry shows up as the mourners are leaving. She is more conventionally dressed as she walks up to the coffin. Dawn stares at her in disbelief.