On the small island Anapoll, in the Tyrrhenian water, Tom Patch has found refuge for his painting, drinking and isolation. The arrival of Fred Rannay, master of The Great Walling Street, the recurrence of Mont Amarea's rumblings and the threat of an eruption are the inescapables that crack his indifference and, against his philosophy, he becomes committed to others' lives and others' problems. There is Hannay's determination to adopt the boy Christeforo and free him from his vicious uncle; there is a coming election in which Communists and democracy are fighting; there is Cecilia who is pursued by a jealous lover and for whom Patch would rather not lift a finger; and there is the supposedly extinct volcano whose ""staccatos"" mount to a point in which relief ships of all nationalities are standing by. And, like an infamous joke, the threat blown over, the mountain, after wiping out one village, subsides and, with vigilance relaxing, then really blows its top.... so that Patch is permanently wakened to needs other than his own and, saved with Cecilia, heads to a more real life. The aggressive humanity of Rannay, the unwilling gestures of Patch, the village life and the physical drama of the volcano add up to a decent bit of story telling.