The setting is the little town of Fairview, Iowa, in the early nineteen hundreds. The Wood family - father, invalid mother, and seventeen-year-old son - are popular, respected people, and Philip, the son, is the bright, handsome valedictorian-to-be of the graduating class. In fact, the trio is a kind of bulwark, an exemplar of goodness for the town. And when it is discovered that John Wood is not an honest man, that he has betrayed his employer's trust and acted the hypocrite in his church, the news throws Fairview into a welter of dismay, as if one of its foundations had crumbled. Nearly everyone in the community has a violent reaction to the news, and so the essential fabric of the story is the revelation of how the town and its people deal, as individuals and as a group, with a moral crisis. Giving reality to this dramatic purpose is the wealth of authentic detail about Fairview: the houses, the furniture, the food, the social doings, the books read aloud, the whole atmosphere of a little American place fifty years ago. The novel has the impact of simple and profound human drama, and a whole some and moving likability that is rare in modern fiction.
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