Cox (Bargains in the Real World, 2001, etc.) dissects the secret emotional fault lines of a small Tennessee community before and after the rape of a teenager.
Sophie and Crow are in the woods beginning to have sex for the first time when Crow leaves to get a condom from his car. While he’s gone, Sophie is gang-raped. She survives, but has no memory of what happened. Although Crow is charged with her rape, his innocence is never in doubt, either to the novel’s characters or its readers, and his trial generates no suspense. Instead, Cox uses the attack against Sophie as a touchstone, moving back in time to the events and interactions leading up to the attack, then jumping forward to its aftermath. Everyone else has secrets that create guilt, fear or alienation. Crow considers himself a coward because he panicked and ran away after finding Sophie. Crow’s father, the rich mill owner Carl, has been carrying on a secret affair with Crow’s aunt, his mother’s sister, while Crow’s mother actually became pregnant with Crow by someone else before marrying Carl. One of Crow’s friends, Bobby, discovers that his mother, a local judge, lied when she said Bobby’s father died ten years ago. She actually left him when he was convicted for fraud and embezzlement. Another friend is secretly gay and in love with Crow’s younger brother. The token black among Crow’s friends is exceedingly well-behaved. Nevertheless, his grandparents fear the authorities will make him the scapegoat because of his race. In the previous months, Sophie, the new girl in town, has broken several boys’ hearts by choosing Crow for her boyfriend. As Sophie heals emotionally, her memory returns. The perpetrators take responsibility for their crime, while Sophie and Crow gingerly renew their romance.
The author painstakingly and ploddingly spells out every development, leaving no room for imagination or surprise.