In 1979, ten-year old Daniel and his mother Anna live a difficult life alone, after Daniel's father Bob has been kicked out of the house for infidelity. Heavy drinking and chain smoking ex-Marine Bob comes to his son's window each night to talk, smoke and give money for Daniel to slip into his mother's purse. Anna's niece Jocelyn returns to Cargill Falls, CT to comfort Anna but has an ulterior motive for becoming embroiled in the domestic crisis. On a previous stay after the death of Jocelyn's mother she took a ring that had been in the family for years. Bob works to patch up the troubled marriage but Anna won't go the same route her mother and sister have in taking back philandering husbands. Daniel is angry and conflicted by the situation, often put at odds with one parent by the other. Occasionally, he accompanies his father to work cleaning windows of local businesses, but Bob keeps him out late as he drinks his way back to Anna's house to drop his son off.
Bob and Jocelyn have a love hate relationship. Jocelyn shows Bob the receipt for the missing ring that is now at a pawnshop in NY, so he gives Daniel the paper for safekeeping. One morning during a heated moment between Anna and Bob, Daniel slips away by bus, bound for the pawnshop in NYC. He reaches the store, discovering the money he has brought will not cover the cost of the ring, so he panics and swallows the ring. He father and Jocelyn pick him up from the police station. Bob being Bob takes his time leaving the city and decides the group will spend the night. At the hotel that night something transpires between Jocelyn and Bob but Daniel is unable to tell what happened.
In the morning, both his father and his cousin are gone but the Bonneville is still there in the parking lot. Daniel waits by the car and his dad shows but no sign of his cousin. They wait but eventually work their way out of the city. Bob thinks this would be an excellent time for a vacation alone with his son. They travel west, making camp along a lake with Bob sending Anna a postcard inviting her to join them. Daniel is torn between love for his dad and the lack of regard his father has for others. Bob gives Daniel his first drink of hard liquor and they hike and swim each day until Anna shows up. The novel's last chapter advances many years and wraps up the family situation with Daniel and Anna coming to terms with the strange and erratic figure in their lives.
This report prepared by David Fletcher