In many ways Tim Meeker follows the traditional pattern of a young boy caught up in a great historic upheaval. Tim is an unexceptional observer with whom we can readily identify and his placid hometown, Redding, Connecticut -- drawn accidentally into the whirlwind of the American Revolution -- is the sort of authentic locale that makes us feel immediately comfortable in the genre. What differs here is Tim's experience of war as an irrational, destructive force in which he can find neither a meaningful allegiance nor a standard of justice, however partisan. Unable to share the convictions of his patriot soldier brother, Sam, or his nominally pro-Tory parents, Tim finds that his loyalty to his family leads him into contradictory, even dangerous, confrontations -- over Sam's theft of his father's gun, a messenger job that turns out to be a Tory spying assignment, and protecting his family's small herd of cattle from hungry armies on both sides. Tim first sees his father captured for trying to sell beef to Loyalist New Yorkers (only to learn later that he has died, inexplicably, aboard a British prison ship); then, in a climactic scene of confusion Sam is mistakenly accused of cattle stealing and executed by the Continental Army he has ardently supported. Sam's death, so capricious and irrational, upsets all expectations while underlining the prophecy of Tim's father -- ""In war the dead pay the debts of the living."" The Colliers mean to confound, and they do so even when the machinery of irony becomes creaky in the end. The uncharacteristically philosophical perspective has impact even though not everyone will be able to accept the form of its dramatic resolution.