Set in mid-twentieth century Canada, this novel speaks to both the end of an era and the duplicity of manís character, the impulse to spread gossip and innuendo without thought to the detriment of others. What may have been an unrequited love story becomes instead an avaricious exercise that affects the fall of a great lumber mill and the personal lives of innocent victims.
Canadaís vast lumber industry is on the decline, although few are cognizant of the changes yet over the horizon. In the meantime, the old ways persist, massive amounts of timber moved by the grueling labor of men who have defined their lives in the felling and harvesting of trees.
Only sixteen when he takes over the family business upon the death of his father, Will Jameson establishes himself as a legend in short order. His untimely demise, though prophesied by a palm-reader, throws younger brother Owen into the breech, Owen forever fighting the long shadow of his more accomplished and manly sibling.
Owen, a returning WWII war hero, knows he can never measure up in the eyes of the town but feels obligated to help his widowed mother, Mary. Enthralled by the charms of Camellia, who works in his motherís house, Owen has no idea she is the wife of Willís best friend, Reggie Glidden, his attraction entirely innocent. For her part, Camellia encourages Owen to help his mother for the sake of the business and to help her locate the now-missing Reggie.
The gossip originates with Lula Brower, Owenís once-aspiring fiancť who is felled by a stroke while he at war. In any case, Lula was but a passing fancy of his youth, now transformed into a powerful adversary as the tentacles of gossip reach out to enfold Owen and Camellia. The rumors reach a deafening roar, especially an accusation that the couple has done away with Reggie. When an unidentified body is found floating in the river, despite the fact that it is unrecognizable, the town assumes the worst, pointing the finger of guilt at the suspected miscreants, Owen and Camellia.
Meanwhile, Owen throws himself into the lumber business, desperately harvesting the timber in one of the most dangerous areas of growth, his men held barely in check with their internal feuding and petty grievances. As the industry is doomed in its present incarnation, so too are the innocent lovers, tried by public opinion, rumors flying from mouth to mouth in lieu of facts, the town seething with rancor at an assumed crime.
This sad drama plays out against the majesty of the great wooded forests, families spreading falsehoods to alleviate their uncertainty, ignoring the changes inherent in mechanization. Seen through the telescope of time, the history of an era is rendered insignificant compared to the gratuitous evil of careless and vicious words.