The central focus of Russell Banks's novel is the tragic accident of the school bus going off an embankment and the intrinsic need of humans to fix blame upon someone. The focus of this blame, of course, has been the bus driver, Delores Driscoll, who swerved when she perceived from the snowy windshield something in the road, causing the bus to fall down an embankment. Told from the vantage point of several of the townspeople, this accident becomes the focus of the town.
That is, until the night of the demolition derby. On this night, Delores brings her husband Abbott to watch as Jimbo Gagne drives the old Dodge station wagon of Delores that he has renovated for the derby. When Delores arrives with her husband, people ignore them--all except Billy Ansel, who puts his arm around her. When Delores's old station wagon, called "Boomer" comes out in the third heat, the crowd cheers in unison whenever another car smashes it. But, when "Boomer" wins, they cheer as well. Like Delores, the car has taken a beating--she has been maligned by the townspeople and Nichole who has testified that she was driving 70 miles per hour. However, both car and Delores emerge from their battering experiences with some victory: she has been re-accepted into the community and the car wins the Derby. Nevertheless, as she drives home, Delores reflects,
Our childhoods that were gone forever [were] ...still calling mournfully back to us.
Delores realizes that now the town can begin to heal as "Nothing is the force/That renovates the world."