Cass Nowell's wife died during the birth of her first child, Martha, and John Roger Williams, coming to the small New England town in the depression, brought his wife and their son, Matthew. Onlooker to the tragic confrontations of these two men is Simon Forbes, the town undertaker, who has his own terrible secrets about his early life as a preacher-con man. Matthew grows up a loner, while Martha is fearfully protected. And when these two grow up and fall in love, the final tragedy is abetted by the incomprehension of their fathers. The novel is very fine as a portrayal of non-communication among and within generations; the dialogue is realistic and urgent; and Olsen's characters are all thoroughly alive. The total conception illuminates a tragedy of mistakes and neglect, of too little effort and too much left unsaid, of spiritual and atheistic selfishness, and of the always clouded crossings of guilt and innocence. It succeeds.