Two brothers in rural Vermont carry on dutifully after the suicide of their father, in Greene’s uncomplicated, heavily moralistic debut.
Charlie and Owen are young men ready to start their lives when their father, the owner and chef of the notable local restaurant Charlotte’s, kills himself in the woods near their home. He had lung cancer and not long to live; his will decrees what the various family members are supposed to do now that he’s gone. He leaves older son Charlie the restaurant, judging that he has “the right instincts and temperament to be a good, and maybe even a great, chef”; Owen gets $10,000 and an invitation to head out into the world to seek his fortune; the remainder of the dead man’s money goes to their mother Charlotte, so she can return to her native New York City, where she was happiest. Owen leaves his girlfriend Claire, a pretty local girl, and joins the Merchant Marines, traveling the world for the next 18 years. Meanwhile, dutiful, responsible Charlie puts all his heart and energy into Charlotte’s, leaving no time for romance until Claire, having learned the culinary arts during a year abroad in France, answers an ad for help at the restaurant. Charlie, who’d always admired her from afar, falls head over heels and proposes marriage in a matter of weeks; Claire, seeing no better prospects and rather enjoying the quiet, stable life at home in Vermont, accepts. Years of married contentment and a son follow as the couple work side by side at Charlotte’s. Then handsome, wayward Owen returns and finds Claire as appetizing as ever. When Charlie gets badly burned in the kitchen and is hospitalized for several weeks, brother and sister-in-law embark on an affair.
Love eventually wins out in this quiet melodrama, though it’s hardly a thrill as described in Greene’s uninflected prose.