The setting is in the rural Indiana community of Windomville shortly after World War I. It concerns the arrival of Courtney Thane, a Royal Air Force veteran of that war and volunteer in the American Field Service. He has come to the community, from where his father came originally, to recuperate from injuries suffered from a chemical attack late in the war. It goes on to chronicle his actions and influences with the other members of the community, most notably Alix Crown, the sole descendant of David Windom, the trailblazer who first founded the town.
The book is notable primarily for its unusual narrative style. The narrator is omniscient, but only gives out information based on what is relevant to nearby characters at that specific point in the narrative. This is done most commonly with transcriptions of letters, all but one of which are repeated word-for-word for the benefit of the reader. One early passage, for example, has Thane pondering what's in a letter that's clearly making Alix upset. The narrator obligingly gives us the full text of the letter- however, it seems to say exactly what the letter had already been implied to say, so that even if Thane had seen it it would have offered him no useful information. Such events are common throughout the novel, where the same events and attitudes must be interpreted through several characters' knowledge and backstory before the full relevance can be understood. Due to the conspicuous absence of the Idiot Ball, however, nothing comes out of nowhere. The book's overall writing can best be described as a mixture between normal Foreshadowing and the clues given in a mystery novel.
Tropes in this novel:
- Chekhov's Gun: Nearly everywhere. All sorts of seemingly random details, even about characters that died before the book starts, are incredibly relevant as the book goes on.
- I Have No Son!: It turns out that Courtney had a disagreement with his father reach this point, shortly before the latter's death.
- I Love You Because I Can't Control You: This ends up being the reason behind Courtney's affections towards Alix.
- Old Maid: A plot point with Alix Crown, who is still unmarried at 25 years of age. This is highly unusual for the time period, particularly as Alix is both attractive and wealthy.
- The Rashomon: Well, not exactly. Events are portrayed objectively and as they actually happen. However, an event we see specifically through one character's view the first time will have a radically different interpretation when another character refers to it later. The conversation between Courtney Thane and Addison Blythe, for example, seems pretty straightforward as interpreted by Charlie Webster. Addison's previous knowledge, however, leads him to come from the conversation with a very different conclusion than Webster or Thane.
- Selective Obliviousness: It should be rather obvious to Courtney's mother why Courtney was taken out of his father's will, seeing as how she directly participated in the events that led him to make that decision.
- Unreliable Narrator: Not the narrator proper, who is an objective third person. Rather, how characters have a tendency to avoid dwelling on events in the past unless they directly relate to a present situation. All of the major revelations about Courtney Thane, for example, are stimulated by discoveries from other characters.