A bittersweet love story about a widow (and writer) who returns from Europe to West Virginia for a love affair with the town's most eligible bachelor--a man still and always tied to his mother's apron strings. The narrator remembers that when she was young ""all the wild roads led to Charley Bland."" The novel, archetypally southern, moves easily between past and present, and contrasts the dying rituals of a closed-off family (and society) to the staying power of love, even doomed love. Charley Bland is the eternal adolescent who never married because he found it more fun to court--his affair with the narrator is the closest he comes to the real thing, and his inability to have a family comes to symbolize the end of the ""Old"" South. Meanwhile, Charley's mother tolerates the narrator and allows her to participate in the genial disillusioned routines of the well-to-do because it amuses Charley, but the narrator was ""gradually becoming to them a non-person."" Settle's prose speaks mythically and intimately of the ways of southerners, and her narrative includes brief but sharply etched instances of small-town southern life: country-club rituals, hunting trips, invitations rendered or withheld, icy or solicitous social facades behind which lie closed doors and secret lives. While the narrator reports on this milieu, she waits for Charley but finally, at a Derby Day party, Charley, defeated at 50, tells her that ""It's too late""--whereupon the narrator slaps him, and his mother calls, ""What are you children doing out there in the dark?"" Freed from the illusion of love, the narrator leaves after a bitter farewell party, but the chronicle continues: Charley Bland, long dead spiritually, finally hangs himself at 64. Among the best of Settle's West Virginia books (The Killing Ground, Blood Tie, The Scapegoat)--an elegant, moving, and old-fashioned account of southerners who are emotionally in bondage to family history and social circumstance.