The story begins in a fictional Cape Cod town located between Wellfleet and Truro where Art Wise has bought a modest summer house. Art had been an ambulance chaser until he took on a class action suit against an airline, accusing the company of negligence. Before long he was working for airline companies, finding ways to protect them from such suits. He and his partner, Robert Ashley, became extremely rich.
Hilly Wise, Art's 17-year-old son, falls in love that first summer on the Cape, with Savannah, the niece of his father's hired hand, Lem Dawson, a black man. The adults come between them and Art accuses Lem of theft, prosecutes, and sees that he is given a stiff sentence in state prison. Three months later Lem is murdered by another inmate. Hilly feels guilty and suspects his father had something to do with the murder.
Art denies it but as time goes along Hilly can't forget his part in Lem's arrest. And he doesn't forget Savannah. He refuses to take any of his father's money and becomes a newspaper reporter whose specialty is the civil rights movement. Reading that a brick had been thrown through the window of Savannah's father's cafe in a small Iowa town, he visits in hopes of meeting Savannah again.
He does, but things don't work out the way he had hoped. Savannah is married, and Hilly goes back to Boston and he marries, too. Eventually his dad gives him the house on the cape, where he and his family live for many years.
The fraught relationship between the nouveau-rich Art and his judgemental son is well portrayed. In the scenes in the beginning of the book, Hilly's immaturity and the lack of judgement that makes him responsible for Lem's prosecution are tense and sad. Late in the book the mood is elegaic as Art and Bob, the old men, are becoming frail. Hilly still thinks of Savannah and arranges for her to visit him at the house on the Cape.
Nadler spins the plot into gold. Hilly's relationship with his father and his inability to forget Savannah are touching, and the ending, which has some surprises as all good plots do, is splendid.