...is composed of drakes, cranes, dredges, pumps and a skyline of steel marking the wells of that favorite black gold...oil. And there is a well-oiled pattern to this lusty, sprawling story. It's Horatio Alger again only this time cast as Jim McNeely whom we meet as a starved stripling, a highschool dropout from the wrong side of the tracks who had the temerity to aspire to one of the hometown society darlings. The beloved, Maizie, had refused to follow him into a life of sublime poverty and Jim has taken to the oil fields to prove himself. He soon discovers that he has fallen into ""the sinkhole of the universe"" where ""you make like an animal or you don't make it."" Jim makes it, with guts and brawn (he gains a few pounds) and departs four years later a Man with a carefully saved stake and the lovely wife of a local engineer. Lee, now Mrs. McNeely, is a real brick. She sticks with our hero through the next uncertain years as he builds up his own wildcat operation. Wheeling and dealing like a derrick, Jim can soon count himself among the Gods of industry and it is now time, naturally, for a triumphant return to the hometown that had rejected him. Jim does everything gaudy baroque...a castle...lavish parties and crashes into the social set. Meanwhile, little Maizie has blossomed into ""a big vulgar Venus."" Jim cannot resist and Lee arrives home one night just in time to literally pour cold water on the affair. Lee leaves. Maizie moves in and Jim slowly disintegrates and degenerates until, at the end of his rope and fortune, he performs an unprecedented act of heroism which lands him in the hospital but brings Lee back. At the end of the book they are discussing the merits of a small farm. And as dust settles over The Iron Orchard we find ourselves contemplating the sludge.