In Schmidt's sensitively written first novel, Cole and his widower father journey to his maternal grandparents' home in Albion, N.H. The Emersons offer a haven for their grandson and son-in-law at their old farmhouse, crammed full of handmade furniture, the rich smells of Grandma's home-cooking, and the sounds of laughter. Grandpa's spicy crustiness and Grandma's boundless good humor work like a balm on Cole's spirit, involving him in Albion's church and fair, nudging him toward friendships. Cole's father, however, withdraws in his grief from family meals and conversations with his son. Cole becomes intrigued with local stories about the Sin Eater, a man who ate the breads baked by neighbors that supposedly contained their sins. When his father kills himself on Christmas Eve, Cole becomes his own sin eater, nurturing the memory of his mother, while forgiving and cherishing the father who found life unbearable without his spouse. Schmidt imbues the grandparents with the wisdom to keep Cole fed and focused, but does not pretend that they can fill the gaps left by the boy's parents. A work laden with atmosphere and meaning, this is a promising debut from an author who captures with admirable accuracy both the dark and light of life.